College Students With Learning Disabilities – Critical Survival Skills

Are you a freshman college student with a learning disability? If so, you probably find yourself in need of a new, reliable support system. The general rule is that students with learning disabilities in college need approximately twice the support they received in high school.

In her 1991 study, Dr. Joan M. McGuire, Associate Director of the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability at the University of Connecticut, reports that many college-bound students with learning disabilities fail to understand the demands that they are about to encounter in the postsecondary setting. Thus, they end up overwhelmed by the quantity of material and speed of instruction. Likewise, many college students with LD lack the skills and strategies that are important for managing and monitoring learning in various milieus. In order to survive and succeed in college, students must have a well-devised plan which includes an arsenal of skills and strategies, ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Far too many students with learning disabilities think that that if they are interested in college and motivated to learn, they will succeed. Unfortunately, interest and motivation are not enough. According to Robert A. Carman and W. Royce Adams, authors of Study Skills, A Student’s Guide to Survival (1984, 2nd edition), without proper training, a student cannot expect to succeed in college. Thousands of students in this cohort, however, actually think they can navigate college successfully despite their lack of basic skills in like reading, writing, and math.

Choosing appropriate courses and enrolling for classes can be thorns in the side of any student, but they are far more so for students with learning disorders. In order to not only survive, but thrive, in college, students must seek support they find vital. Here are tips that can help:

Within three years of beginning college, undergo the psychoeducational testing that colleges require for documentation of a disability.

Students should consult each college’s campus disability services office and ask what is needed to make them eligible for support services for a learning disability. Provide the necessary documentation – your school needs to know your strengths and weaknesses, so they can assess which accommodations and/or services you are likely to need. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and American Disabilities Act, students with learning disabilities are entitled to accommodations. It is the student’s duty, however to submit proper documentation and then request accommodations.

Take a balanced schedule.

When you are thinking about the classes in which to enroll, be sure to balance your demanding classes with those that are easier for you; this will ease your study burden.

Review the syllabus of each course.

In her book Survival Guide for College Students with ADD or LD, author Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph. D., advises students to review the syllabus for each course after the first day of class to see if they can do the assignments and whether the workload is realistic for them.

Take advantage of the add/drop period.

In the first weeks of the semester, you are allowed to drop classes and pick up others. If, after the first few meetings, you think a class is not suitable for you, drop it and choose another that suits you better.

Inform your professor privately of your disability.

This, of course, is a hurdle, for many students, even the most outgoing. Telling your professor about the accommodations you need makes him aware of your situation. Break the ice with your professor by introducing yourself, explaining your deficits, and explaining the support that you will need to be successful in class.

Attend ALL of your classes

Students who never suffered a setback by an absence in high school find that skipping a college class can quickly put them on a downward spiral. Material that took a year to learn in high school is taught in 15-week semesters in college. The pace is more than twice as fast, so students who do not attend class find that they’re quickly digging themselves a hole

Summing it all up, surviving and thriving in college with a learning disability is possible if you:

1. Develop and practice strategies and study skills that work for you

2. Establish a network of support

3. Attend class and participate in discussions and activities

4. Discuss your need for accommodations with your professors

5. Check your progress and know when things are going poorly

6. Ask for help if you think you’re falling behind

7. Establish a support network with your school’s support services, professors, friends, and family

Remember, your fate, both success or failure, rests completely in your hands! Never be afraid to divulge that you have LD to those you can help you. Exert your best effort, and you’ll likely triumph over the hurdles of college.

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