Success for Students with Learning Disabilities

What is a learning disability?

  • A permanent disorder that affects the manner in which individuals with average or above average intelligence absorb, retain or communicate information. Like interference on the radio or a fuzzy TV picture, incoming or outgoing information may become scrambled as it travels between the eye, ear or skin, and the brain.
  • A processing problem presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction.

The learning process can be divided into five steps:

  1. Taking information through the senses.
  2. Figuring out what the information means.
  3. Filing into memory.
  4. Withdrawing it from memory and remembering it.
  5. Feeding it back to the outside world through some form of expression-speech, writing, action (Duncan, 1983) .

For someone with a learning disability, there is a breakdown somewhere in one or more of these steps. It's like having a short circuit in the central nervous system. Learning or recalling information can become an overwhelming task.

  • Erratic and inconsistent. It may surface, disappear and resurface at any age. It may be evident in only one area or more-reading, math, languages, etc.
  • Frustrating. People with learning disabilities are often expected to "prove" their invisible disabilities.
  • Manifested by significant difficulties in one or more of the following areas:

    • Oral Expression
    • Listening Comprehension
    • Written Expression
    • Reading Skills
    • Mathematical Abilities
    • Reasoning
    • Social Skills

For Students with Learning Disabilities

  • Provide the Office of Disability Services with documentation of your learning disability and sign up each semester for any special arrangements.
  • If you have a documented learning disability, discuss it with your instructors before the semester begins.
  • Set realistic goals and priorities for course work.
  • Keep only one calendar with all relevant dates assignments and appointments.
  • Use a tape recorder and/or note taking assistance during lectures.
  • Listen to the tapes or review your notes after class as soon as possible. Then, reorganize your notes.
  • Write down your questions before the next class. Get them answered in the next class session.
  • Sit toward the front of the classroom to maximize eye contact and to reduce distractions.
  • Estimate how long a given class assignment will take, generally planning on two hours of study outside of class for every hour in class. Build in study breaks as needed, then resume studying.
  • If you are having trouble, seek out campus help as soon as possible. Consider these options:

    • Talk with your instructor
    • Tutorial Services, 117 Wickes Hall (964-4286)
    • The Math Resource/Support Center, 106 Science East (964-4648)
    • The Office of Disability Services, 112 Curtiss Hall (964-7000)
    • The Writing Center, 123 Zahnow (964-6061)
    • Student Counseling Center, 112 Curtiss Hall (964-7000)

Tips for Faculty

Students with learning disabilities may learn differently but this does not mean that they cannot learn, or the standards need to be lowered. Learning differently means they need access to information in a manner or mode that can be processed. For example, someone with a visual processing problem will get their textbooks on cassette tape and tape record lectures instead of taking notes. For each student the means necessary to learn may be different, but the goal is the same: to learn and obtain the quality education that SVSU offers.

To help ensure success for students with learning disabilities:

  • Provide students with a detailed course syllabus. Make it available before registration so that students with learning disabilities will know the requirements before registering for the class.
  • Clearly spell out expectations before the course begins (e.g. grading, material to be covered, due dates, etc.).
  • Provide an outline of lectures. Summarize key points.
  • Speak directly to students and use gestures and natural expressions to assist in complete understanding.
  • Present new and/or technical vocabulary on an overhead, the VSpace or on a handout.
  • Give assignments both orally and in written form.
  • Announce reading assignments well in advance for students who are using taped materials.
  • Provide study questions for exams. The sample question should demonstrate the format and the content of the test. Explain what constitutes a good answer and why.
  • Provide an environment with few distractions, especially during tests.
  • If necessary, allow students with learning disabilities to demonstrate mastery of course materials using alternative methods (e.g. extended time for testing, oral exams, taped exams, individually proctored exams in a separate room).
  • Permit the use of simple calculators, scratch paper, and speller's dictionaries during examinations.
  • Provide adequate opportunities for questions and answers during each class period.
  • Provide review sessions before quizzes and exams.
  • If possible, select a textbook with an accompanying guide for optional student use.
  • Encourage students to use campus support services including academic advising, disability services, personal counseling and the academic achievement center.
  • New editions of textbooks are typically not available to students with disabilities in cassette format. Consider waiting a year before ordering a new edition.
  • If assistance is needed in accommodating students with learning and /or physical disabilities, please contact the Office of Disability Services, 112 Curtiss Hall, 964-4168.

Legal Entitlements

Individuals with documented learning disabilities have the same legal entitlements as those with physical disabilities. In a post-secondary educational setting, reasonable accommodation for students with learning disabilities include taped textbooks and alternative testing arrangements. In the same way, curb cuts and ramped entrances into classroom buildings are required for students with physical disabilities.

Federal law requires reasonable accommodations for the handicapped for mastery of course content. It allows students with learning disabilities to use appropriate alternative methods to demonstrate their knowledge (e.g. taped exams, extended time tests, etc.)

The standards of appropriateness will vary according to the subject matter of the course. Generally, students with learning disabilities begin at a disadvantage in exam situations. Consequently, appropriate accommodations do not give students with learning disabilities an extra advantage but rather allow them an equal opportunity to express what they have learned.

A.D.A. Policy Statement

Saginaw Valley State University does not discriminate on the basis of disability in the recruitment and admission of students, the recruitment and employment of faculty or staff and the operation of any of its programs, services or activities.

Saginaw Valley State University will make every reasonable attempt to meet the needs of qualified individuals within a reasonable period of time, normally three weeks from the request for specific accommodations. Requests for accommodation should be made at the Office of Disability Services, 112 Curtiss Hall. SVSU does not provide personal care assistance for individuals.

Individuals may file complaints on matters related to disabilities with the A.D.A. Advisory Council. Initial contact should be made with the Office of Disability Services, 112 Curtis Hall.