Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are "hidden disabilities." It is the student's responsibility to disclose her disability and seek necessary accommodations. A student will usually provide documentation of her disability to Student Disability Services. The student and/or the disability specialist will contact you and discuss accommodations as needed.

  • During the first class session it may be helpful to tell students who need accommodations to arrange a meeting with you. Also include a similar statement on your course syllabus. Some students choose not to disclose their disabilities and their privacy should be respected by not asking them about the possible presence of a disability.
  • Presenting content using multiple modes (e.g., written, oral, hands-on activities, demonstrations, and videotaped formats) benefits all students and may reduce the need for specific accommodations for students with many types of disabilities. However, some students with learning disabilities will still require specific accommodations. Accommodations are individualized and may change over time as a student's needs change or the course requires different types of work. Access is most easily addressed if the course content is clearly outlined and there is an ongoing dialog between faculty, Student Disability Services, and the student. Please see our page on Accommodations and Services for more information.
  • When constructing test items, use a style consistent with that used during lectures and group related test questions together. This can help students retrieve information contained in their notes. Concise and well-organized handouts that highlight key points can also structure and reinforce content.
  • Allow students to use a computer as needed. Computer-based features such as spelling and grammar checkers can help students correct spelling and grammar errors in their writing. Word processing programs that include tools for outlining and color coding text can help people with organization and sequencing difficulties sort thoughts and ideas.
  • Some students require their course documents in an alternative format, such as e-text. Not every textbook is available on tape or in another alternate format. You can help students by choosing your textbooks well in advance. Students should order these books early and prepare the accommodations before the classes begin. Many students with learning disabilities manage their disabilities by careful time management to allow more time for reading; some may begin reading text material before the beginning of the term.
  • Some students may benefit from a computer-based reading system such as Kurzweil. These systems convert screen text (from disks, the Internet, or e-mail) or scanned text (from textbooks, journals, etc.) to speech output. You can also assist students by preparing handouts, tests, and other class materials in electronic format. Materials in electronic format are often easier and faster for the student to convert to alternative formats.
  • Low-tech solutions such as post-it notes, daily organizers, and highlighter pens may be helpful organizers and learning tools for students with learning disabilities.

This section adapted from Project Do-It from the University of Washington.