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Learning Disabilities

Learning Disabilities

A Learning Disability (LD) affects the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or non-verbal information, which in turn affects performance in reading, writing, and/or math.  There are different types of LDs, depending on the nature and impact of the cognitive processing impairment(s), in areas such as reading (dyslexia), written expression (dysgraphia), and/or mathematics (dyscalculia).  

Common Characteristics

Adapted from: https://carleton.ca/pmc/disability/learning/#Footnote_1

A Learning Disability (LD) is a neurologically-based, specific impairment in information processing which results in unexpected academic under-achievement or academic achievement that is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support. A learning disability is a lifetime condition that presents in childhood, and its impact will vary at different life stages as a function of changing environments and the demands that these changes bring.

A learning disability affects the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or non-verbal information, which in turn affects performance in reading, writing and/or math.  There are different types of LDs, depending on the nature and impact of the cognitive processing impairment(s), in areas such as reading (dyslexia), written expression (dysgraphia), and/or mathematics (dyscalculia).  While having an LD does not impact one’s intelligence, it can have significant impact on learning and assessment in academic settings.  For this reason, students with LD generally require accommodations in college or university to address their challenges and allow them to access the educational material.  Like all accommodations, those for students with LD do not reduce the academic standards of the course or program; rather they allow students to access the curriculum in a different manner, bypassing the impairments caused by their disability.

Common Concerns and Struggles

Reading, Writing, and Math

Students with LD struggle with reading, writing, and/or math.  Depending on the course requirements and the degree of an individual’s difficulty, this can have a mild or profound effect. Students may benefit from academic support or tutoring, adaptive technology, extra time on tests, a reduced course load, or academic advising to choose a program that is a good fit with their interests and strengths

Processing Speed and Working Memory

Students with LD often have deficits in processing speed and/or working memory.  Processing speed is the speed with which an individual can perceive information, process it, and proceed to perform a task with it.  Slow processing speed affects an individual’s ability to learn, organize and recite information and knowledge. Working memory involves holding information in short-term memory and performing some operation or manipulation of this information.  Poor working memory affects an individual’s ability to hold small pieces of information in one’s memory while doing other tasks, such as listening and taking notes at the same time, or doing mental math.  Accommodations that can reduce the demands of processing speed and working memory on students include the following: note takers, exam accommodations (such as a use of a calculator, or answering multiple choice questions on the test paper instead of a Scantron sheet), adaptive technology, and extra time on exams. 

Executive Functioning

Students with LD often struggle with executive functioning, which includes skills such as time management, organization, problem solving, and task flexibility.  With the increased need for independent learning and time management skills in post-secondary studies, students may struggle to manage their learning and assignments in various classes.  Individuals with LD may benefit from attending transition programs, workshops, or visiting a learning strategist to learn explicit skills to assist with executive functioning.

Accessibility Services

All students with disabilities should register with Accessibility Services in order to arrange academic accommodations for their courses.  Accommodations are meant to be matched to specific functional limitations of a student’s disability to provide students with an equal opportunity to participate in the coursework. Possible accommodations for students with learning disabilities in post-secondary will vary considerably based on the individual.


Accommodations for students with learning disabilities may include:

  • A Learning Strategist or Academic Coach can help students learn how to manage their time and workload, and develop learning and studying skills.
  • A note-taker or audio recording of lectures can reduce the demand on a student’s processing speed and working memory skills, allowing them to focus more intently on the instructor, rather than listening and taking notes at the same time.
  • A reduced course load can include fewer classes per semester and can allow for more time for each course’s workload.
  • Extra time while writing exams can allow students with reading or writing disorders enough time to complete the full assignment or exam.
  • Adaptive technology such as text-to-speech and speech-to-text software assist students in their focus and attention, and mind mapping software to aid in organizing one’s ideas.

Documentation Requirements

The following information outlines common documentation requirements.  Visit our Colleges or Universities section and contact your post-secondary school’s Accessibility Office to learn what documentation is required at your school. Requirements can vary widely from school to school, and it is important to learn what specific documentation is required, especially before arranging or paying for an assessment or expecting reimbursement.

  • Most post-secondary institutions will require a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment conducted by a psychologist that is no more than 3-5 years old.
  • The psychoeducational assessment should outline the functional limitations that are connected to the learning disability and how they apply to an academic setting.  The documentation may also recommend some academic accommodations to help address those limitations.
  • Staff at your school’s Accessibility Services office should be able to assist with a referral to a psychologist if an updated assessment is needed.  They may also be able to discuss possible financial aid for paying for such an assessment.

Student Support Services

There are a variety of student support services to meet the many needs of post-secondary students, in addition to those provided by Accessibility Services (see above).  Some of the services that may be particularly appropriate for students with learning disabilities are listed below.

Orientation & Transition Programs

Orientation programs provide opportunities for students to familiarize themselves with campus and student services, and meet staff and other students before classes begin. Transition programs help students prepare for the differences between high school and post-secondary school, anticipate and address potential problems, and provide an avenue for students to connect with school support.

Academic Support and Peer Tutoring

Peer tutoring and academic support services can provide support for students in completing assignments or essays, reviewing and studying for tests and exams, as well as general support with coursework.

Academic Advising

Academic advisors can assist students in choosing courses and planning their academic paths. For students who are taking or considering a reduced course load, this is particularly useful.

Community Support Services

National and Provincial Organizations

  • Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO) is a registered charity dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth and adults with learning disabilities. LDAO offers many resources, services, information, venues and products designed to help people with LDs and ADHD, as well as parents, teachers, and other professionals.


Local Chapters & Community Organizations


  • Learning Disabilities Association of Ottawa-Carleton (LDAO-C)

160 Perry Street

Ottawa, ON



  • Learning Disabilities Association of Sudbury and District (LDAS)

P.O. Box 40012, 2015 Long Lake Road

Sudbury, ON


North Bay

  • Learning Disabilities Association of Sudbury and District (LDAS)

P.O. Box 40012, 2015 Long Lake Road

Sudbury, ON



  • Toronto Adult ADD Support Group (TAASG) via "Meet-Up"

CAMH, 33 Russell St, Rm 2029

Toronto, M5S 2S1

Website: http://adultadd.meetup.com/297

  • LDATD - Learning Disabilities Association of Toronto District

Adult Support Group

LDA Toronto office (North of Sheppard Avenue between Yonge and Bayview)

121 Willowdale Avenue, Suite 203

Toronto, Ontario M2N 6A3

Tel: 416-229-1680

Fax: 416-229-1681

Email: admin@ldatd.on.ca

Website: http://www.ldatd.on.ca/adult-programs/


  • Learning Disabilities Association of London Region (LDALD)

303 Richmond St., Unit 205

London, ON, N68 2H8

Phone: (519) 438-6213 x 21

Fax: (519) 438-0368

Website: http://www.ldalondon.ca/


  • Learning Disabilities Association of Peterborough

159 King Street, Suite 204

Peterborough, ON, K9J 2R8

Office: (705) 748-9455

Toll Free: (866) 503-3303

Website: http://ldaptbo.com/


  • Learning Disabilities Association of Kingston (LDAK)

993 Princess St. #116

Kingston, ON, K7L 1H3

(613) 546-8524


Website: http://www.ldakingston.com/index.html


  • Learning Disabilities Association of Peel Region

150 Central Park Drive, Suite 104

Brampton, Ontario, L6T 2T9

Tel: 905-791-4100

Fax: 905-791-5159


  • Learning Disabilities Association of Peel Region- Mississauga

165 Dundas Street, W. Suite 800

Mississauga, Ontario, L5B 2N6

Tel: 905-272-4100

Fax: 905-272-4863


  • LDA Chatham- Kent

P.O. Box 1424 285 McNaughton Avenue

East Chatham-Kent Secondary School, room 205

Chatham, ON, N7M 5W8

(519) 352-2024




  • LDA Durham

P.O Box 346

Pickering, ON, L1V 2R6

(905) 426-1442




  • LDA Halton

c/o Rotary Youth Building (top floor) 560 Guelph Line

Burlington, ON, L7R 3M4

(905) 333-1977


Lambton Country

  • LDA Lambton Country

560 Exmouth Street, Suite 109A

Sarnia, ON, N7T 5P5

(519) 344-4919




  • LDA Niagara Region

66 St. Paul Street St

Catharines, Ontario, L2R 3N2

(905) 641-1021




  • LDA Peterborough Clarington Office (Bowmanville)

93 King St. W., Suite 205

Bowmanville, ON, L1C 1R2

(905) 623-1852




  • LDA Peterborough City of Kawartha Lakes Office (Lindsay)

c/o Central Senior Public School 242 Kent St. W.

Lindsay, ON, K9V 2Z4





  • LDA Simcoe County

(705) 726-5553



Thunder Bay

  • LDA Sudbury

237 Camelot Street Ontario March of Dimes

Thunder Bay ON, P7A4B2

(807) 345-6595, ext 160



  • LDA Wellington County

233, 17A -218 Silvercreek Parkway N.

Guelph, ON, N1H 8E8

 (519) 837-2050




  • LDA Windsor-Essex County

647 Ouellette Avenue, Suite 101

Windsor, ON, N9A 4J4





  • LDA York Region

11181 Yonge Street, Suite 221

Richmond Hill, ON, L4S 1L2

(905) 884-7933