Surviving College with a Learning Disability

Rachel Spinella
Features Editor

PC: Rachel Spinella

Navigating university life can be difficult for any student. Imagine entering this new level of higher learning with a learning disability on top of that. This is why it is often so important to be able to identify those disorders, and to know where to find help when it is needed.

It’s safe to say that universities or colleges aren’t like grade school and much less high school. You’re basically on your own once you walk across that stage of your high school graduation. The material covered in college classes can be overwhelming, especially with the lightning-fast pace that many of these classes move at. If you’re someone that has a learning disability, you understand the struggles when it comes to learning new material, especially in a certain time frame.

So, what is a learning disability exactly? A learning disability or learning disorder, is a condition that creates difficulties comprehending or processing information, and can be caused by several different factors.

According to LDA (Learning Disabilities Association of America), at least 2.3 million students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities (SLD). This means that 35 percent of all students are receiving special education services. The percentage of special education students identified as LD, that have basic deficits in language and reading is between 75 and 80 percent. Even adults can have severe literacy problems that might have been undetected or untreated. LDA recorded that around 60 percent of adults may be living with a learning disability that is unknown or that they are unable to treat.

Types of learning disabilities include dyslexia, auditory processing disorder (APD), dyscalculia, dysgraphia, language processing disorder, non-verbal learning disabilities and visual perceptual/visual  motor deficit.

The most well-known disability that people probably have heard of is Dyslexia, which is sometimes referred to as ‘Language Based Learning Disability’. This is a disability that affects a person’s reading and related language-based processing skills. The severity of the disability depends on the person, it is different for everyone who has this disability. It can affect reading fluency, reading comprehension, writing, recall, decoding and spelling.

Some signs or symptoms of the disability include but are not limited to reading slowly, experiencing decoding errors (especially with the order of the letters), exhibiting difficulty in recalling known words as well as they may have difficulty handwriting etc. Reading slowly and decoding errors are probably the main symptoms that those with dyslexia live with. Those affected by the disorder often describe the experience as words floating off the page and getting jumbled around. This makes it so much harder for students or anyone with Dyslexia to read out loud.

The second disability listed after Dyslexia is Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), or Central Auditory Processing Disorder. APD is a condition that affects how sound traveling through the ear is processed or interpreted by the brain. Those who have APD do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even if the sounds are loud and clear enough to typically hear. Individuals who have this disability also might find it hard to tell where certain sounds are coming from, to make sense of the order of those sounds, or to block out competing background noises.  

Symptoms of this disability include difficulty processing and remembering language related tasks, processing thoughts or ideas slowly and having a hard time explaining them, misspelling or mispronouncing of similar sounding words (like celery/salary), misinterpreting or having difficulty remembering oral directions and other symptoms.

Some other related disabilities also include ADHD, Dyspraxia and Executive Functioning. ADHD is probably the most common and recognizable disability that can be treated with medication. ADHD is when a person has a hard time focusing or paying attention and is hyperactive. The Learning Disability Association (LDA) has discovered through research that from 30 to 50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, making learning extremely challenging.

So, if you have a learning disability, what can you do to help pave a way through college education? The biggest tip is to go the Office of Student Success or specifically for UNCG the Office of Accessibility and Resources (OARS). The advisors at this office are there to help students with learning disabilities, by helping and providing resources that will help students succeed in their academic journey. Students with a learning disability may also have accommodations that they can use to their advantage to help them in classes they especially struggle with.

Depending on your learning disability, accommodations can consist of class presentation/lectures (providing an audio tape, presenting instructions orally), response, timing, setting, test scheduling etc.  

Students with a learning disability can even form or join study groups to help them learn and study the material needed for a specific class.

Lastly, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed by your learning disability. You may have a harder time learning but you are just learning differently than others. Many famous and successful celebrities have a disability, including Tom Cruise, Kiera Knightly, Steven Spielberg, Will Smith, Florence Welch and even singer/actor Justin Timberlake. All these celebrities, and many more, were born with a learning disability, but that did not stop them from succeeding in what they wanted in life.

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