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Definition of Learning Disabilities

The definition most often used in higher education is that of the U.S. Department of
Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, which reads as follows:

A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the central nervous
system processes involved in perceiving, understanding, and/or using concepts through verbal
(spoken or written) language or nonverbal means. This disorder manifests itself with a
deficit in one or more of the following areas: attention, reasoning, processing, memory,
communication, reading, writing, spelling, calculation, coordination, social competence and
emotional maturity.

This dysfunction continues despite instruction in standard classroom situations. Some common
attributes of learning disabled individuals are:

    Average to superior intelligence
    A chronic disorder of neurological origin which causes severe processing deficit
    A severe discrepancy between achievement and aptitude in one or more areas
    Measured achievement in an instructional or employment setting; and
    Measured age-appropriate adaptive behavior in an instructional or employment setting

Often people assume that students with learning disabilities are unmotivated and
unintelligent. Many question whether these students can succeed in college. In reality,
students with learning disabilities are not intellectually limited nor are they unmotivated.
They have the potential to succeed in higher education. The student's problems are
associated with information processing, whereby the information received or transmitted is

Common instructional methods, such as lectures, are often inadequate for the student's
learning needs. Alternative methods will increase the student's academic performance, as
well as decrease his or her frustration in learning situations.

Some of the specific terms for disorders included under the umbrella term "learning
disabilities" are:
    dyslexia (difficulty with reading)
    dysgraphia (difficulty with writing)
    dyscalculia (difficulty with mathematics)

The exact causes of a learning disability are unknown; they may be neurological,
biochemical, psychological, or environmental in origin.

Depending on the specific disability, some of the characteristics of college students with
learning disabilities may include the following:

    Study Skills
          Inability to change from one task to another
          No system for organizing notes and other materials
          Difficulty scheduling time to complete short and long-term assignments
          Difficulty completing tests and in-class assignments without additional time
          Difficulty following directions

      Interpersonal Skills
          Difficulty delaying resolution to a problem
          Disorientation in time - misses class and appointments
          Poor self-esteem

          Difficulty reading new words, particularly when sound/symbol relationships are
          Slow reading rate - takes longer to read a test and other in-class assignments
          Poor comprehension and retention of material read
          Difficulty interpreting charts, graphs, scientific symbols
          Difficulty with complex syntax on objective tests

          Problems in organization and sequencing of ideas
          Poor sentence structure
          Incorrect grammar
          Frequent and inconsistent spelling errors
          Difficulty taking notes
          Poor letter formation, capitalization, spacing and punctuation
          Inadequate strategies for monitoring written work

      Oral Language
          Difficulty concentrating in lectures, especially lectures of several hours
          Poor vocabulary, difficulty with word retrieval
          Problems with grammar

          Difficulty with basic math operations
          Difficulty with aligning problems, number reversals, confusion of symbols
          Poor strategies for monitoring errors
          Difficulty with reasoning
          Difficulty reading and comprehending word problems
          Difficulty with concepts of time and money

return to Guide to Accommodation

go to Learning Disabilities Program webpage