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Several definitions of specific learning disability exist. The definition most often used in higher education is that of the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration. This definition reads as follows:
A specific learning disability is 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.

Each definition of specific learning disability concludes that individuals with this disability have:

Average to superior intelligence.

A chronic disorder of neurological origin which causes difficulty in receiving, processing, integrating, and/or expressing information.

A severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual capacity in one or more areas that does not primarily result from inadequate sensory acuity; environment, economic, or academic disadvantage; emotional disturbance, or mental retardation.


Developmental Reading Disorder
(dyslexia) - difficulty reading written material.

Developmental Arithmetic Disorder
(dyscalculia) - difficulty accomplishing arithmetic problems.

Written Expression Disorder (dysgraphia) - difficulty writing thoughts on paper.

Expressive and Receptive Language Disorder
(hysphasic) - difficulty speaking or understanding language.

Figure-Ground Perception - difficulty discerning an object from a background of competing objects.

Visual Discrimination - difficulty discerning differences in objects.

Spatial Perception - difficulty seeing objects in correct order.

Auditory Sequencing - difficulty hearing sounds in correct order.

Apraxia - difficulty in knowing one's position in space.

No one student will have all of the characteristics listed.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations for Learning Disabilities:  Students will present you with an accommodation letter each semester describing the accommodations that have been approved for them from the Office of Disability Services.  Please note not all examples of accommodations will be approved for individual students as accommodations are based upon the individual's disability and their supporting documentation.

Extended time to complete exams.

Textbooks on tape.

Assistive Technology located in Walsh Library.

In-class note-takers.

Tape recorded lectures.

Copy of faculty member's notes.

Real-Time Reporting

Use of transcriber for written assignments.

Use of a laptop computer.

Use of an electric spell checker.

Extended time to complete in-class written assignments.

Use of a basic, four-function calculator in class.

Tests administered in a non-distracting environment.

Proctored exams (oral responses, responses transcribed, audio taped test).


Choose textbooks that come with a study guide and are available in alternative formats.

Double-space all material.

Provide handouts in high contrast form.

Make syllabus available prior to first class to allow students to prepare early.

Use multimedia techniques in the lecture.

Provide lecture outlines, teach definitions and terms, emphasize key points.

Provide clear deadlines.

Allow alternative formats for class assignments (oral presentation, visual displays, etc.).

Read aloud material that is written on the chalkboard, handouts, or transparencies.

Minimize penalties for misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and poor grammar unless the object of the assignment is to demonstrate written skills.

Critique early draft of the paper.

Examine test for the types of errors (consider partial credit, student conference, tutor conference, etc.).

Provide alternatives to computer scored answer sheets.

Consider alternative test design.

The Association on Higher Education and Disability described some of the characteristic problems of college students with learning disabilities in the publication Support Services for LD Students in Postsecondary Education (1989).

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