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How to Teach: Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities.” 

In federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.

“Learning disabilities” is an umbrella term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. Find the signs and symptoms of each, plus strategies to help:

  • Dyslexia: A language and reading disability
  • Dyscalculia: Problems with arithmetic and math concepts 
  • Dysgraphia: A writing disorder resulting in illegibility
  • Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder): Problems with motor coordination
  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder: Difficulty processing and remembering language-related tasks
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disorders: Trouble with nonverbal cues, e.g., body language; poor coordination, clumsy
  • Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit: Reverses letters; cannot copy accurately; eyes hurt and itch; loses place; struggles with cutting
  • Language Disorders (Aphasia/Dysphasia): Trouble understanding spoken language; poor reading comprehension

Tips for professors

  • Have clear due dates on syllabus for all assignments and projects. Do not post some due dates on different platforms, some on class emails, some on MyCourses, some on the course syllabus. This is okay but still have list of all due dates on a Master Due Date List for students with challenged executive functioning skills. 
  • Whenever possible, provide students with visual cues by writing on the board, reviewing PowerPoints, etc. 
  • Whenever possible, start each lecture with a summary of material to be covered, or provide a written outline. If you use broad margins and triple-space, students will be able to take notes directly onto the outline: an aid to organization. At the conclusion of each lecture, review major points. 
  • For longer class sessions and when covering difficult material, consider giving the class a short break to refresh their senses.
  • Consider recording your lectures with Echo360 or Zoom so students can revisit material they may have missed the first time.  (contact Instructional Technology and Instructional Development for assistance) 


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