Learning Disabilities

Students with specific learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence but may have difficulties acquiring and/or demonstrating knowledge and understanding content. This results in lower achievement for age and ability level, resulting in a significant discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability.


According to the National Joint Committee for Learning Disabilities, learning disabilities are a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. The specific causes of learning disabilities are not fully understood, however, these disorders are presumably related to central nervous system dysfunction. The effects of a learning disability are manifested differently for each individual and can range from mild to severe. Learning disabilities may also be present with other disabilities such as mobility or sensory impairments, or learning disabilities. Types of learning disabilities include:

  • Dysgraphia. An individual with dysgraphia has a difficult time with the physical task of forming letters and words using a pen and paper and has difficulty producing legible handwriting.
  • Dyscalculia. A person with Dyscalculia has difficulty understanding and using math concepts and symbols.
  • Dyslexia. An individual with dyslexia may mix up letters within words and sentences while reading. He may have difficulty spelling words correctly while writing. Letter reversals are common. Some individuals with dyslexia have a difficult time with navigating and routefinding tasks as they are easily confused by directions and spatial information such as left and right.
  • Dyspraxia. A person with dyspraxia may mix up words and sentences while talking. There is often a discrepancy between language comprehension and language production.
  • Non-verbal Learning Disorder. Poor motor coordination, visual-spatial organization and/or a lack of social skills may characterize non-verbal learning disorders.

For a student with a learning disability, auditory, visual, or tactile information can become jumbled at any point during transmission, receipt, processing, and/or re-transmission. For example, it may take longer for some students who have learning disabilities to process written information. Lengthy reading or writing assignments and tests may therefore, be difficult to complete in a standard amount of time. This may be due to difficulty discriminating numerals or letters because they appear jumbled or reversed. Inconsistencies between knowledge and test scores are also common.

Some students who have learning disabilities may be able to organize and communicate their thoughts in a one-to-one conversation but find it difficult to articulate the same ideas in a noisy classroom. Other students may experience difficulties with specific processes or subject areas such as calculating mathematics problems, reading, or understanding language. People with learning disabilities may have difficulty spelling and subsequently have difficulty creating or editing text or otherwise communicating in writing. Difficulties with attention, organization, time management, and prioritizing tasks are also common.


Examples of accommodations for students who have learning disabilities include:

  • note takers
  • recorded class sessions
  • extended exam time and a quiet testing location
  • visual, aural, and tactile demonstrations incorporated into instruction
  • concise course, lecture, and presentation outlines
  • publications in large print
  • books on tape and e-books
  • alternative evaluation methods (e.g., portfolio, oral or video presentations)
  • detailed printed or recorded project descriptions or instructions
  • reinforcing directions verbally
  • breaking large amounts of information or instructions into smaller segments

Computers can be adapted to assist students with learning disabilities. Students with learning disabilities might find these accommodations useful:

  • computers equipped with software that highlights and reads aloud text presented on the screen
  • word processing software that includes electronic spelling and grammar checkers, software with highlighting capabilities, and word prediction
  • screen- and text-enlargement software

Check Your Understanding

Imagine that a student with Dyslexia who has difficulty reading is hired to work in a campus service office. What accommodations might be effective to help this student succeed in this job? Choose a response.

  1. A computer with a scanner
  2. Audio recorded meetings
  3. Audio books 
  4. Written materials provided in electronic format


  1. A computer with a scanner
    A computer with a scanner and optical character recognition (OCR) and reading software can convert scanned text into speech output. This option may be effective for a student with a learning disability. The student would need to have access to the software and hardware, which may need to be arranged through disability support services or computer lab staff.
  2. Audio recorded meetings
    Audio recorded meetings could be helpful for someone who has difficulty taking notes. However, this accommodation would not help with reading requirements for the position.
  3. Audio books
    Audio books are an appropriate option for some students with reading disabilities. Campus disabled student services staff may help coordinate this service. Ample notice of reading material should be given in order for the student to make the request and receive the books in a timely manner.
  4. Written materials provided in electronic format
    If the student has access to a computer with speech output, the computer can read electronic materials to the student. A computer with optical character recognition software and a scanner can convert printed text to electronic text that can also be read aloud by the computer. The campus disabled student support staff or computer lab staff can assist with this accommodation.

Related Links

More Information

Explore DO-IT publications, Knowledge Base articles, and websites on this topic at Accommodation Resources: Learning Disabilities. To learn about specific accommodations for an academic activity, select from the list below.