What Is a Learning Disability?

All people learn differently. But while all students have naturally variable approaches to learning (read more about different learning styles here), others have difficulties with specific skills that generally come more easily to their peers. A learning disability is a neurologically-based processing disorder that makes it difficult for people to learn basic skills such as reading, writing, and math, or higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.

 

Some people have a learning disability in a specific area, in which case the individual’s performance would be significantly lower in that subject compared with every other area.

 

Do you suspect you have a learning disability? If you, your parents, or your teachers think that might be the case, it’s important to have a psychologist or other certified tester diagnose it through formal testing. Once you have a diagnosis, there are many resources to help you succeed. 

 

Also remember that having a learning disability doesn’t mean you’re not smart or won’t have a bright future. On the contrary, many successful people have learning disabilities, such as Steven Spielberg, Keira Knightley, Anderson Cooper, and Tommy Hilfiger, who all have dyslexia. They didn’t let it hold them back, and there’s no reason why you need to, either!

 

Read on for more for more information about resources for students with learning disabilities.

 

Types of Learning Disabilities

There are different types of learning disabilities. Here are a few of the more common ones.

 

  • One of the most well-known disorders, dyslexia, is a label for a large group of disorders that affect the ability to read, process, and interpret language.
  • Dysgraphia affects the ability to write and form letters correctly.
  • Dyscalculia concerns issues with learning math and solving problems.
  • Auditory Processing Disorder interferes with the ability to hear sounds correctly (this is not a physical disability, but instead affects how the brain interprets sounds).
  • Visual perceptual and visual motor deficits affect a person’s understanding of what he or she sees or the ability to draw and copy pictures and writing, respectively.
  • Nonverbal Learning Disability affects the ability to read facial expressions and understand body language (this is not related to the person’s verbal abilities or speech, but rather the ability to read and interpret nonverbal cues).

 

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Some disorders, such as ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and Dyspraxia, are not technically learning disorders, although they can still affect and impact students’ learning abilities. Many of the accommodations we describe below may also apply to students with these disorders.

 

Special Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities

If you have a learning disability and are concerned with how it’s impacting your schoolwork and other areas of learning, your first step is to get it diagnosed and make sure your high school has all the necessary documentation. Ask your parents to set up a meeting with your guidance counselor or other school administrators to discuss the situation and describe what accommodations you will need, if you know. You will probably need a letter or confirmation from your psychologist or whomever gave you the diagnosis explaining your disability and how it affects your ability to complete you schoolwork.

 

There are other types of support available to you. For instance, the SAT, ACT, and AP exams offer special accommodations for people with different types of learning disabilities, such as extra time. To learn more about how they can support you, check out our post, 2017 Welcomes New Testing Policies for Accommodations on the SAT. Additionally, many schools will give you extra time, assign you to a school therapist, allow you to type your assessments if need be, and make other accommodations depending on your needs.

Organizations that Support Learning Disabilities

If you have a learning disability, remember that you’re not alone. Millions of other students have one too. Because there are so many people with learning differences, there are numerous organizations and associations that are dedicated to supporting these individuals and their parents.

 

Other Resources for Specific Learning Disabilities

There are several unique resources for students with specific learning disabilities.

 

  • Bookshare is a database of ebooks intended to accommodate learning differences. Numerous formats, including audio, braille, large font, and many others, are available. The library is free for students with print disabilities, such as dyslexia.
  • AEM offers print- and technology-based educational resources for students with disabilities, such as textbooks, websites, apps, and more.

 

Other Steps to Take if You Have a Learning Disability

You’ll likely find that your high school and the other people with whom you learn and interact are more than willing to help and support you. Still, you should make an effort to seek out services that can assist you.

 

If you’d like a tutor to help you with your schoolwork or standardized test preparation, make sure you look for one who is specifically trained to work with students with your learning disability. You can often find tutors with this type of training through local learning centers, colleges, or your high school.

 

Document your learning disability on your college applications. For tips on how to address it, check out How to Address a Mental Health Issue or Disability on Your College Application.

 

When touring, visiting, or speaking with representatives at prospective colleges, ask if they have resources and accommodations for your learning disability. Many schools have dedicated learning centers that can assist you.

 

In addition, check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Our mentors drive significant personal and professional development for their high school mentees, and can provide insight on unique circumstances like navigating high school with a learning disability. Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills to help maximize their chances of success in college, business, and life.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine