Posted in College Magazine

10 Things to Know About What Students With Learning Disabilities Need in College

10 Things to Know About What Students With Learning Disabilities Need in College Posted on 04/03/2018

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March 8, 2018


I need help

If you ever argued with a professor over a deadline, you know how difficult they can be. But students with learning disabilities often struggle daily with professors who don’t understand their learning processes. Professors should receive ample training explaining learning disabilities and potential accommodations they can arrange for students. “A lack of understanding can be problematic. We get pushback from some faculty members like, ‘They’re just lazy. That’s not fair; why do they get extra time [on tests] and the other kids don’t?’ It’s because the other kids don’t have a disability,” Dash said.

Drawling lectures, distracting classroom settings and forbidding electronic note taking hinder a student with a learning disability from doing well in a course. Not everyone uses their Macbook to surf Facebook during class. “[A professor] tried to remove me from a lecture hall setting because I was taking notes on my laptop, which was ‘strictly forbidden’ in his syllabus. He preferred handwritten notes, but I find it much better for me to have them in digital format,” Temple University junior Zachary Henning said. Publishing lecture slides online after class or allowing laptops fosters an accommodating learning environment.


Need a tutor

Whether Spanish, math or archaeology class threatens your GPA, we all need help sometimes. Dropping by a tutoring center to check out their integral services can make or break a passing grade for a student with a learning disability. Colleges usually provide on-campus tutors to help with a wide range of subjects. Learn to better navigate your class syllabus or figure out a study schedule that actually works at skill-building workshops.

Still looking for an extra push? See if your school offers academic coaching, a heightened version of tutoring. “[In coaching], students meet with a specific tutor weekly and actually plan strategies. [That] could entail connecting with other resources like [counseling services] or getting involved in student organizations or sports clubs,” Dash said. Coaching comes with a more intimate setting and might also include personal counseling during sessions.


Taking a test

Hearing about extra time on tests and private testing rooms might have you wondering where to sign up. Not so fast. Coping with a learning disability vastly out shadows receiving exam accommodations. In reality, these necessary resources for students with learning disabilities provide a solid foundation for their achievements. “People joke I’m lucky because I get time and a half on exams. I’m not lucky. It’s incredibly difficult sometimes to finish an exam in the time required,” Henning said.

Universities provide reasonable testing accommodations based on students’ demonstrated medical needs. Mere student preferences don’t impact the process.  “[Taking] tests in a separate room doesn’t mean it is an easier test because we can’t handle the other one. Also, having to take breaks isn’t because we don’t have the mental capacity to take the test or do the homework,” TU freshman Blair Strobel said.


I'm normal

Does your family often tell you you’re the most progressive one in the room? Before you pride yourself on your forward-thinking, take a look at any misconceptions you have about people with learning disabilities. “I wish people understood that we are not dumb, we just take longer and need extra help,” TU sophomore Karina Murcia said.

Students with learning disabilities look, talk and act just like you and your friends. In fact, many people with learning disabilities display above average intelligence. Learning disabilities don’t hold people back, they just might achieve their goals in a different way. “I am in the Temple University Honors Program and was in Honors and AP classes all throughout high school. People would always be shocked that I was succeeding in those classes…I wish people would know that there is nothing bad about [having a learning disability.] We are completely normal. We just have a slightly different way of operating,” Strobel said.


The struggle is real

Even the most intelligent students struggle their first year at college. Recall overstuffing your schedule freshman year and showing up eagerly to your first class to have the workload shock you. We all rejoiced when we left the nest and settled into our dorms. But getting used to college life and all the newfound independence can be ten times harder for students with learning disabilities. Heading off to college throws off routines and tests organizational and social skills.

Students must devise strategies to pay attention during long lectures or boring 8 a.m. sessions. Some turn to strategies like sitting in the front row or filling out a detailed planner to increase engagement. “College is a lot more independent than high school, so it’s on me to inform my instructors of my disability and complete work accordingly. I can’t just have my mom send a note. There are a lot of things going on all the time and it is definitely a more distracting environment than high school,” Donovan said.


I have no time to do anything

Juggling work, class and friends (and maybe a relationship here and there) can make anyone feel burnt out. Time management trademarks a successful college experience. But having a learning disability like ADHD can make devising a schedule a double-edged sword. Time management becomes imperative in university, but learning disabilities often make it difficult to effectively manage time. Plus, brutal workloads by professors and difficult degree requirements don’t help. “A lot of [the challenge] is maintaining the pace with all the schoolwork, readings and the context of all the readings assignments. For some students, it’s tapping into a range of skillsets from doing presentations, writing papers and reading volumes of chapters for multiple professors,” Dash said.


Friends hanging out

Making new friends in college rattles the nerves like the worst case of public speaking jitters. Finding people who understand your learning disability complicates things further. “The most difficult part is trying to find people with the same disability as you or trying to find people that even remotely understand or try to understand,” Georgian College freshman Taylor Grant said.

Thankfully, organizations like Eye to Eye, a mentoring program connecting college students with learning disabilities to middle schoolers with similar disabilities, operate chapters at many universities. Club members bond with others who ride the same boat on the river overflowing with college struggles. “The people I’ve met through Eye to Eye are some of my biggest supports and resources when it comes to my ADHD. I think peer-to-peer advice is a really overlooked resource for learning disabilities and ADHD,” TU sophomore Mara Bloom said. In offering clubs for students with learning disabilities, schools can facilitate a stronger sense of community among students. It also encourages students without learning disabilities to participate in the conversation.



No one needs more of a challenge staying awake during history class while your 90-year-old professor drones on about ancient French monarchs. Sitting through lecture-only courses feels like rubbing lemon juice on a paper cut. Focusing solely on note taking makes classes creep by, especially when you get in trouble for needing to move around. Offering technological resources like live scribe pens or classes with fewer students let students with learning disabilities better absorb the material. “I have a slower processing speed, so in lectures where the professor just spews information for an hour I have trouble sorting it out and discerning what is actually pertinent. I always end up with a sore hand and pages and pages of useless notes,” Donovan said.  This only leads to incomplete assignments because of distractions from potentially hundreds of people.

Instead, professors should come up with creative ways for students to do projects (honestly, this will help us all). “I like to try and take the most hands-on courses I can, especially if it includes a co-op or if a professor allows an assignment to be completed a different way…While doing a marketing course last year we were given real scenarios and told to come up with a solution that we thought would best promote a product. There were no set boundaries like create a poster or write a report [so we could use our] creativity,” GC sophomore Laura Daigle said.


Pill bottle

Despite medications like Adderall popping up all over campus during finals week, these pills help some students function every day. Prior to popular belief, stimulants don’t miraculously breed 4.0s. Students with learning disabilities need their prescriptions to function at the same level as everyone else. Doing homework still blows. Those prescribed Adderall or Vyvanse still get distracted from studying by cute cat videos on Facebook or Orange is the New Black binges on Netflix. “My medication doesn’t make me a homework machine! Because I actually need the medication, it doesn’t turn my brain into a machine like it does for people who don’t need it. I get my grades from my own hard work, not thanks to a drug,” Donovan said. People with learning disabilities can’t magically churn out error-free essays round the clock with a dose of medication.


Happy to be normal

“I always tell students, ‘Get rid of worrying about label and stigma. You don’t have time to focus on that,’” Dash said. Many people misunderstand learning disabilities or regularly invalidate people living with them. Some view learning disabilities as a ploy to get medication or as a “fake” disability.  Universities could better benefit students with learning disabilities by spreading awareness through all levels of the college system. Everyone from professors to financial aid services to student advisors should learn to effectively help students with learning disabilities.

“If [universities] wouldn’t treat [learning disabilities] like such a big deal [through the] grueling process to get accommodations recognized, students would feel more comfortable having their disability and accommodations at school. Many people just give up on trying to get schools to recognize their accommodations because [the university] asked for another round of testing for someone who has been diagnosed for years,” Donovan said. Stigmatization only perpetuates the problems students experience.


Let me live my life

1. “One experience that I think really sums up my experience with ADHD in college is when I walked into class the day an assignment was due, sat down and asked the people sitting around me how long the assignment had taken them. Everyone’s response was, ‘About an hour or two.’ I sat there after having pulled an all-nighter and spending 32 hours to finish that same assignment and replied, ‘Yeah, same.’ I feel like I have to constantly remind myself that just because my process is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I wish people knew just because I do something different or that a task may take me longer it is not wrong or a reflection of my intelligence. It’s just how I need to do things with how I learn,” TU sophomore Mara Bloom said

2. “Going to college with a learning disability is both frustrating and highly rewarding in a sense…I wish people could see things the way I see everything. I wish I could make dyslexia goggles and let people see the world my way and how I look at everything. It’s a struggle,” Georgian College freshman Taylor Grant said.

3. “Going to college while having [ADHD] is pretty difficult. [I wish people would understand] that something minor that won’t distract and deter someone without the disorder may distract me for quite some time and cause me to lose interest altogether. I want people to know that I’m just like everyone else, I just learn a little differently! Also, it affects temperament. Completely minor things that I shouldn’t get upset over will bother me for days. I’ll get mad over such insignificant things, especially when it comes to completing a task or having to do something repetitively, such as data entry,” GC sophomore Laura Daigle said.

4. “As soon as people find out I have ADHD, the immediate follow-up question is, “So do you have Adderall?” People tend to only see my disability as a way to get a drug…Another difficulty is that friends often want to work on homework together. I love my friends and love to spend time with them, but it’s hard for me to communicate that I simply can’t work with other people. I have to be at home, at my desk, by myself if I have hopes of getting anything done… I take Vyvanse daily and am offered time and a half on assessments as well as a reduced distraction room. However, I often do not take advantage of the latter two because it’s such a hassle for the instructor to reschedule tests and quizzes just so I can take them in a quiet room with extra time,” University of Colorado Boulder sophomore Ceci Donovan said.

5. “[Going to school with a learning disability] is nothing drastically different [than going to school without one]. It is just a bit more difficult to retain a lot of information within the lecture hall setting…I genuinely do not think of it as a disability. Having ADHD certainly makes life a little bit more challenging, but there is absolutely no reason to let that stop you from chasing after your dreams. I’m not the smartest in a classroom environment, but being able to say I’ve held five internships throughout college is a testament to how far one can get when they work hard. I currently work close to full time at my internship within tax consulting while also juggling being the president of a more than 60-person fraternity on top of a full course load,” TU junior Zachary Henning said.