Frequently Asked Questions

photostrip

Frequently Asked Questions about Students with Learning Disabilities

What is a Learning Disability (LD)?

A learning disability (LD) is a disorder that affects the way individuals with normal or above-normal intelligence record, store, organize, retrieve, and use information. Common types of LD are dyslexia (affects reading), dysgraphia (affects writing), and dyscalculia (affects mathematical calculations). People with LD can also have difficulties processing information in auditory, visual, or spatial form. The origins and causes of LD are not known, although many feel it is a neurological disorder.

How is a LD diagnosed?

A LD diagnosis is determined by an evaluation consisting of a battery of aptitude and academic achievement tests administered by a licensed medical/mental health professional, usually a psychologist or a psychiatrist. This process often includes a medical, psychological, and education history to determine other contributing factors and to gain an understanding of the person’s academic and life functioning. Testing can be expensive and is often not covered by insurance. Testing also requires a time commitment since the process can take several months from start to finish. Once someone undergoes the battery of tests and other evaluations, a summary report is provided with a diagnosis if applicable and recommendations for academic and vocational settings.

Is poor classroom performance a sign of a LD?

Not always. There are many reasons why some students do not do well in school. While someone with a LD may be experiencing difficulties in an academic setting, such as poor exam grades, students without LD often face the same difficulties. The opposite is also true. Students with LD graduate with honors, go on to medical school, become lawyers, scientists, and college instructors. Many times an instructor won’t even know a student has a LD. In fact, people with LD generally have above average to superior IQs, and one of the signs of a LD is a significant discrepancy between a person’s IQ and his or her performance on an achievement test. For example, a person with dyslexia may achieve perfect scores on graduate level exams but spell at an 8th grade level. The spelling isn’t due to lack of intellect but to a processing disorder. Thus, it can’t be assumed that every student with poor classroom performance has a LD.

What are the signs that someone has LD?

The most important sign is self-identification. Students with LD generally have been diagnosed at an earlier point in their education, such as in grade school. But this is not always the case. If a student is having problems in a class, the most important step is to have a thorough conversation with that student as to his or her perceptions of the problem. Simply present your concerns to the student. For example, “You’ve been getting Ds on all your exams, and your essays have common grammatical errors.” The student’s response is crucial. Is the student working two jobs plus taking a full course load? Is the student in need of more study and review time? Is the student unsure of why he or she is not doing well and claims to be putting in adequate time? Some common things to look out for are the following: poor organizational skills; difficulty with short- or long-term memory; discrepancies between what the student knows and how he or she performs on exams; trouble conveying information verbally but not in writing (or vice versa); common yet consistent spelling errors; and trouble understanding what’s been read or said in class.

What should I do if I suspect a student has LD?

The most important thing to do is to meet with the student and discuss your concerns. Again, state observable facts over speculations. For example, “I’ve noticed you make a lot of spelling errors” is a good way to initiate the discussion. Saying “I think you have dyslexia” can be off-putting to a student or serve as a premature and possibly inaccurate diagnosis. If the student reports having a history of LD, refer him or her to the Disability Services office. If the student is uncertain as to why he or she is having trouble in class Disability Services may be able to help them figure it out. If there is a suspicion of LD, the office can talk to the student about this in more detail.

What happens once I send the student to Disability Services?

Disability Services staff will sit with the student and help them sort through their concerns. Questions will be asked to help the student gain further understanding into their academic difficulties. For example, “Which specific tasks are easy in your history class, and which are hard?” We will ask the student directly why they suspect they have LD. We will also ask the student if he or she has ever been diagnosed before.

What can the Disability Services office do?

If a student has not been diagnosed but has an interest in being tested, we can discuss this with him or her. Our role is to provide information as a starting point for the student to further explore this area. We can discuss what to expect out of a LD evaluation in terms of time, cost, process, etc. If the student has been diagnosed we will ask the student to bring in their documentation for review and discussion. Once the documentation is received, we will talk with the student about what services will benefit him or her.

What kind of help is available to a student with LD?

Help can be divided into two main areas: (1) Academic accommodations (sometimes called adjustments) and (2) learning assistance. Academic adjustments are required under Federal law for students with disabilities. Common academic accommodations for students with disabilities include extended exam time, use of a computer for in-class essays, books-on-tape, private exam location, tape recording lectures, and preferential seating. These legally mandated accommodations will be listed on an Academic Adjustment Notice from the Disability Services office, which will be signed by both the student and Disability Services, and hand-delivered to you by the student.

Learning strategies are ways the students can be helped, but they are not legally required accommodations. That means that, while you don’t have to do these things, they can help. An example of a common strategy is meeting with students one-on-one during office hours to be sure the student understands instructions for assignments. Now this is something any student has the right to request from an instructor, and any student can benefit from. For a student with a LD, this is often a crucial step in achieving academic success. Of course, this meeting has to be initiated by the student.

Should students with LD be graded differently?

Absolutely not. Students with LD have a right to be held to the same standards as other student. This includes being graded on the same criteria. As long as accommodations are provided, academic success is up to the student. The accommodation process is designed to equalize the playing field so students with LD have the same chance of success as other students. To grade students with LD differently is discriminatory, as is lowering standards in other ways such as requiring less assignments. However, you can still treat these students the same as others by developing extra-credit assignments, alternative assignments, extensions, etc.

What if a student with LD is not doing well in my class?

Treat the student as you would any other student who is not doing well. Have a conversation with him or her. See if the he or she is taking advantage of available resources such as the writing center. Refer the student to Disability Services if the student has a LD and needs accommodations.

What if the student is receiving accommodations but is still not doing well?

If a student is not doing well even with accommodations, discuss this with the student and see if there are any suggestions you can make to help the student and/or support services available. Also, notify the Disability Services office so they can meet with the student and determine if additional or alternative accommodations may be helpful.

Does the Disability Services office offer testing?

It is important to note that testing can be expensive and may require planning on the part of the student. Testing also takes time. The student has to research and select an evaluator, schedule an intake, and then go through the testing process. It is not unusual for the process to take several months and to involve multiple visits. Also, there is no guarantee as to the outcome of an evaluation, meaning it may be determine that the student does not have a learning disability.

Frequently Asked Questions about Students with Attention-Based Disorders

What is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)?

ADD is an umbrella term used to describe several different disorders that affect an individual’s ability to concentrate. A person who has ADD generally has had one or more of the following symptoms over a long period of time: distractibility; short attention span, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. There are several types of attention-based disabilities including ADD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The acronym ADD is often used to represent all of these different types as is done here.

How is ADD diagnosed?

ADD is generally diagnosed by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or medical doctor using a behavioral checklist in combination with obtained history and observations both per self-report and by third parties such as parents and teachers. The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) lists the following symptoms: lack of attention to details; makes careless mistakes; difficulty sustaining attention to tasks; does not seem to listen when spoken to directly; fails to follow instructions carefully and completely; losing or forgetting important things; feeling restless, fidgeting with hands or feet, or squirming; running or climbing excessively; often talks excessively; often blurts out answers before hearing the whole question; often has difficulty waiting his or her turn. A certain number of these symptoms must be present and also be excessive, pervasive, and long-term. Other medical and psychological factors must also be ruled out. For example, low blood sugar or an anxiety disorder.

Is poor classroom performance a sign of ADD?

Not always. There are many reasons why some students do not do well in school. While someone with ADD may be experiencing difficulties in an academic setting, such as poor exam grades, students without ADD often face the same difficulties. The opposite is also true. Students with ADD graduate with honors, go on to medical school, become lawyers and scientists and college instructors. Many times an instructor won’t even know a student has ADD. In fact, people with ADD generally have above average to superior intelligence. It cannot be assumed that every student with poor classroom performance has ADD. And it cannot be assumed that a student with high grades does not have ADD.

How do I know if a student in my class has ADD?

The most important sign is self-identification. Students with ADD generally have been diagnosed at an earlier point in their education, such as in grade school. But this is not always the case. If a student is having problems in a class, the most important step is to have a thorough conversation with the student as to his or her perceptions of the problem. Simply present your concerns to the student.

Example, “I’ve noticed you make a lot of basic mistakes on your exams even though you really seem to know the material.”

Or, “I notice you have trouble staying on topic during discussions.”

What should I do if I suspect a student has ADD?

The most important thing to do is to meet with the student and discuss your concerns. State observable fact over speculation. For example, “I’ve noticed you move around a lot in class and take a lot of breaks.” Saying, “I think you have ADD,” can be off putting to a student or serve as a premature and possibly inaccurate diagnosis. If the student reports having a history of ADD, refer the student to the Disability Services office. If the student is uncertain as to why they are having difficulties, offer the services of Disability Services. Explain to the student that when a student is having trouble in class and is not sure why, Disability Services may be able to help them figure it out. If there is a suspicion of ADD, the office can talk to the student about this in more detail.

What happens once I send the student to Disability Services?

Disability Services will sit with the student and help them sort through their concerns. Questions will be asked to help the student gain further understanding into their academic difficulties. For example, what are your strengths in school and what are some of your challenges. We will ask the student directly why they suspect they have ADD. We will also ask the student is he or she has ever been diagnosed before.

What can the Disability Services office do?

If a student has not been diagnosed but has an interest in being tested, we can discuss this with them. Our role is to provide information as a starting point for the student to further explore this area. We can discuss what to expect out of an ADD evaluation in terms of time, cost, process etc. If the student has been diagnosed we will ask the student to bring in their documentation for review and discussion. Once the documentation is received, we will talk with the student about what services will benefit them.

What kind of help is available for a student with ADD?

Help can be divided into two main areas: (1) Academic accommodations (sometimes called adjustments) and (2) learning assistance. Academic adjustments are required under Federal law for students with disabilities. Common academic accommodations for students with disabilities include extended exam time, use of a computer for in-class essays, books-on-tape, private exam location, tape recording lectures, and preferential seating. Learning strategies are ways the students can be helped but are not legally required accommodations. That means, while you don’t have to do these things, they can help. An example of a common strategy is meeting with students one-on-one during office hours to be sure the student understands instructions for assignments. Now this is something any student has the right to request from an instructor, and any student can benefit from. For a student with an ADD, this is often a crucial step in achieving academic success. It is important to note that it is the student who is primarily responsible for requesting meetings with the instructor.

Should students with ADD be graded differently?

Absolutely not. Students with ADD have a right to be held to the same standards as other students. This includes being graded on the same criteria. As long as accommodations are provided, academic success is up to the student. The accommodation process is designed to equalize the playing field so students with ADD have the same chance of success as other students. To grade students with ADD differently is discriminatory, as is lowering standards in other ways such as requiring fewer assignments. However, you can still treat these students the same as other students in developing extra-credit assignments, alternative assignments, extensions etc.

What if a student with ADD is not doing well in my class?

Treat the student as you would any other student who is not doing well. Have a conversation with the student. See if the student is taking advantage of available resources such as the writing center. Encourage the student to seek assistance if needed and to meet with his or her academic advisor. Refer the student to Disability Services to determine if full accommodations are being utilized.

What if the student is receiving accommodations but still not doing well?

We can guarantee access but not success. While it is important we do everything we can to help student’s succeed, we cannot guarantee that every student will pass every course. Even with accommodations a student can fail a course. Be sure to refer the student to Disability Services so we can ensure appropriate accommodations are being provided.

Does the Disability Services office offer testing for ADD?

No. However, we can provide the student with information about getting evaluated and help connect students to available resources. Students are also encouraged to bring suspicions of ADD to the attention of their primary care physician and other health-care providers.

Besides providing accommodations, how can I help?

Encourage students to meet with you if they are having any trouble academically.