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) and their impact on academic skills, such as reading (dyslexia), written expression (dysgraphia), and/or mathematics (dyscalculia).
Information adapted from the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario
A Learning Disability (LD) is a neurologically-based, specific impairment in information processing which results in unexpected academic under-achievement. 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. LDs come in many forms and affect people with varying levels of severity. Between 5 and 10 percent of Canadians have LDs.
While having an LD does not impact one’s intelligence, the functional limitations caused by LDs typically affect a student’s ability to learn and demonstrate their knowledge in the post-secondary environment. 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.
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.
Students with LD often have deficits in working memory. 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 information in one’s mind 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 working memory on students include note takers and exam accommodations (such as a use of a calculator).
Students with LDs often struggle to efficiently process specific types of information. With the increased need for efficient task completion in the post-secondary environment, students may struggle to manage their learning and stay on top of academic tasks for all of their classes. As such, individuals with LD may benefit from attending transition programs and academic skill workshops and meeting with a Learning Strategist to learn the most effective and efficient work habits, as well as to make use of appropriate tools and adaptive technology.
All students with disabilities that impact on learning 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 specific areas of challenge.
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 that minimize demands on impaired cognitive or academic skills.
- A note-taker or audio recording of lectures can reduce the demand on a student’s working memory and/or compensate for limited writing skills, allowing them to focus more intently on the instructor/professor 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 interpret and respond to specific questions.
- Adaptive technology, such as text-to-speech and spell check software, can compensate for weak reading and writing skills.
The following information outlines common documentation requirements. Visit our Colleges or Universities section and contact your post-secondary school’s AS 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. Some institutions may publish specific documentation requirements on their websites (see Documentation Guidelines for Learning Disabilities from Queen’s University for an example).
- 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 AS 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.
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 include:
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 secondary and post-secondary education, anticipate and address potential problems, and provide an avenue for students to connect with school supports.
Academic Support & 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 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.
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, and products designed to help people with LDs, as well as parents, teachers, and other professionals.