Unlike other disabilities, learning disabilities are not easily recognizable by the naked eye. For this reason, students — or adults — with LD can be overlooked and misunderstood. To succeed, they need understanding teachers, bosses, and family members who respect and understand their challenges, and provide the accommodations they need to let their best selves shine.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability — some organizations estimate that as much as 20 percent of the population exhibits some symptoms of dyslexia. For students with dyslexia, the following accommodations may be helpful:
1. Provide vocabulary and summaries ahead of time. This gives the student a chance to look over the pre-reading material on her own time — feeling more confident and prepared when the actual reading assignment begins.
2. Provide graphic organizers to help students mark up text. These can include markers, sticky notes, or anything else to help students sort, arrange, and highlight important concepts in the text.
3. Provide an audio version of the material, whenever possible. Reading along to a book on tape can be beneficial for dyslexic students.
4. Provide alternative materials. These can contain similar content at a more appropriate reading level, for example.
5. Use mnemonic devices! Many tried-and-true classics exist, but teachers should feel free to come up with some fun ones of their own.
Dysgraphia, or writing-related learning disabilities, are usually identified in young elementary school children, but can persist through adulthood. The following accommodations will work at any age:
1. Provide copies of notes. Teachers can give the student his or her own “teacher’s copy,” or allow another student to buddy up for sharing notes.
2. Accept key word responses. To cut back on unnecessary time struggling with handwriting, teachers can allow students to substitute “key words” for full sentences, in some cases.
3. Reduce the student’s required amount of rote copying from the board or textbook. Whenever possible, provide students with handouts or allow them to write in their workbook.
4. Create oral alternatives to writing assignments. This can include full exams, or even just a quick lesson summary at the end of the day.
5. Allow for some spelling errors. If possible, teachers should allow use of a dictionary or spell-checking device.
6. Utilize physical accommodations. Pencil grips, erasable pens, and paper with raised lines are all tools that can help dysgraphic students work on handwriting skills.
7. Go high-tech. Whenever possible, allow students to use computers with word processing software. Alternatively, allow students to use planning software before writing a long answer by hand.
Dyscalculia affects someone’s ability to compute math calculations, including counting, addition and subtraction, or memorize tables. Teachers and schools can provide the following accommodations to support struggling students with dyscalculia:
1. Allow extra time on tests. Children with dyscalculia will often feel rushed during standard-length math tests. If possible, avoid timed tests of basic facts like multiplication tables, which can be a roadblock for LD kids.
2. Provide frequent checks during classwork. It can be especially heartbreaking for an LD student to finish an entire worksheet, only to be told that every answer is wrong and he’ll need to do it again. Instead, teachers should check after every problem, or every three or four. This way, children can learn from mistakes before moving forward.
3. List the steps for multi-step problems and algorithms. Post clearly numbered step-by-step instructions on the board, or give students a copy they can keep at their desk.
4. Keep sample problems on the board. Students should also copy them down in a notebook for reference.
5. Use individual dry-erase boards for students to work at their desks. Students can complete one step of a problem at a time, erasing any mistakes they may make.
6. Use plenty of brightly colored, uncluttered reference charts and diagrams. Children with dyscalculia benefit from visual representations of math problems whenever possible.
7. Whenever possible, allow calculator use. When testing more complex concepts than addition or subtraction, allow students to use calculators to make these basic steps quicker and more accessible. Then, students can focus on showing what they know — not how good they can add in their head.
8. Reduce the number of assigned problems. Assigning ten problems, rather than a full page, is enough to assess students’ understanding.
LD on the Job
Learning disabilities don’t always fade in adulthood. If you find that LD is negatively affecting your job performance, you may want to ask for reasonable accommodations from your employer. Examples of these include:
- Text to audio conversion for documents and reports
- Calculators, prominently posted math tables, or other math tools
- Step-by-step to-do lists for major projects, and frequent check-ins with a supervisor
- Allowing verbal responses to written requests, or vice versa
- Adjusted fonts on computer screens to help dyslexic readers
Every student and adult is different, and may require specialized accommodations to suit their particular learning style. It’s important for parents and adults to advocate fiercely in order to secure the tools needed to succeed in school or the workplace.