Disability Services for Students

302 Memorial Union Univeristy of Rhode Island Kingston, RI 02881


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Learning Disabilities (LD)

(Includes definition, how disability affects participation, and helpful strategies.)

Definition (from DSM IV, pp. 46-55):

Learning disabilities “are diagnosed when the individual’s achievement on individually administered, standardized tests in reading, mathematics, or written expression is substantially below that expected for age, schooling, and level of intelligence. The learning problems significantly interfere with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require reading, mathematical, or writing skills. The term “substantially below” is defined as discrepancy of more than two standard deviations between achievement and IQ.”

Using similar criteria, a language disorder may be diagnosed if an individual’s difficulty with language interferes with “academic or occupational achievement or with social communication.”

“There may be underlying abnormalities in cognitive processing (e.g., deficits in visual perception, linguistic processes, attention, or memory, or a combination of these) that often precede or are associated with Learning Disorders.”

How learning disabilities may affect student participation (from DSM IV, pp. 42-58):

“In individuals with Reading Disorder (which has also been called “dyslexia”), oral reading is characterized by distortions, substitutions, or omissions; both oral and silent reading are characterized by slowness and errors in comprehension.”

“A number of different skills may be impaired in Mathematics Disorder, including “linguistic” skills (e.g., understanding or naming mathematical terms…and decoding written problems into mathematical symbols), “perceptual” skills (e.g., recognizing or reading numerical symbols or arithmetic signs…), “attention” skills (e.g., copying numbers or figures correctly…and observing operational signs), and “mathematical” skills (e.g., following sequences of mathematical steps…).”

When a Disorder of Written Expression is present, “there is generally a combination of difficulties in the individual’s ability to compose written texts evidenced by grammatical or punctuation errors within sentences, poor paragraph organization, multiple spelling errors, or excessively poor handwriting.”

Difficulties associated with Expressive Language Disorder include “a markedly limited vocabulary, errors in tense, difficulty recalling words or producing sentences with developmentally appropriate length or complexity, and general difficulty expressing ideas.”

In addition to difficulties associated with Expressive Language Disorder, an individual withMixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder also has impairment in receptive language development (e.g., difficulty understanding words, sentences, or specific types of words). In more severe cases, there may be deficits in various areas of auditory processing (e.g., discrimination of sounds and symbols, storage, recall, and sequencing).”

Helpful strategies for instructing students with learning disabilities:

Deal with the student’s abilities rather than disability.

Help students to follow lectures with three steps: >preview>lecture>review

Provide lecture outlines and other handouts.

Use a multi-sensory approach when providing information to students. Increased learning can occur when material is presented simultaneously in a variety of ways, e.g., visual images with auditory descriptions.

Gain student’s attention when highlighting significant points by using eye contact, voice inflection, and body gesturing.

Provide concrete examples and practical applications of material whenever possible.

Review important points several times during the lecture.

Give assignments both orally and in written format to avoid confusion.

Develop a positive student-teacher relationship.

From students with Learning Disabilities, Spring 1997

“Most helpful thing a teacher did for me was ask me how I was doing in his class, knowing I have a disability.”

“Most helpful thing a teacher did for me was to give me a second chance.”

The best help I received “was to have one-on-one meetings with the professor every week.”

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