Skip to content

Students Who Identify as Learning Disabled

As a student who struggles with the challenges of having ADHD, I know all too well the frustrations and difficulties that accompany learning disabled (LD) students in their college careers. The good news is that one-on-one tutoring, like the work we do in the writing center, is an especially helpful resource for students who are learning disabled. Although it is clearly never a Writing Fellow’s job to “diagnose” a student as having a learning disability during a consultation, perhaps the time will arise when a student comes to an appointment and freely divulges with a tutor that s/he is learning disabled or requires special academic accommodations. Moreover, a tutee who displays any of the difficulties commonly associated with LD explained below can benefit from the strategies I will suggest whether or not they have a documented LD; as we discussed with regards to tutoring ESL students, these tutoring approaches need not be limited to use with LD students, but rather can be employed effectively in any consultation in which the tutor thinks that they would be helpful.

Different Learning Disabilities and Challenges:

LDs, as defined by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, are “neurological disorders that can make it difficult to acquire certain academic and social skills.” What follows is a list of various LDs and the challenges associated with them:


“Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing abilities. It can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. Because writing requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills, saying a student has dysgraphia is not sufficient. A student with disorders in written expression will benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment, as well as additional practice learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer.In Teenagers and Adults, some of the warning signs of dysgraphia are trouble organizing thoughts on paper, trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down, difficulty with syntax structure and grammar, and large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech.”


“Dyslexia can have different effects on different people, depending on the severity of the learning disability and the success of efforts to develop alternate learning methods. Traditionally dyslexia causes problems with reading, writing and spelling and those problems manifest themselves differently in each person. In fact, some children with dyslexia show few signs of difficulty with early reading and writing, but have more trouble with later complex language skills, such as grammar, reading comprehension, and more in-depth writing. Dyslexia can also make it difficult for people to express themselves clearly. It can be challenging for them to use vocabulary and to structure their thoughts during conversation. Others struggle to understand when people speak to them, not because they don’t hear, but because of their difficulty processing verbal information. This is particularly true with abstract thoughts and non-literal language, such as idiomatic expressions, jokes and proverbs.”


“AD/HD is a disorder of brain function. Most cases of AD/HD are genetic, but some result from brain injury. The National Institute of Mental Health has estimated that approximately 3% to 5% of school-aged children have AD/HD. People with AD/HD have difficulty regulating their behavior. There are different types of AD/HD – the predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined types. Individuals with the inattentive type of AD/HD have difficulty:

• Paying attention to details

• Sustaining attention

• Listening to instructions

• Organizing themselves

Individuals with the hyperactive/impulsive type of AD/HD:

• Are very active – children are constantly moving and fidgeting; teenagers and adults may have only a sense of internal restlessness.

• Have difficulty taking turns in games and conversations.

• Often act without thinking or anticipating the consequences of their actions.”


According to the NCLD, “Instruction for individuals with learning differences should be:

• Explicit — directly teaches skills for reading, spelling, and writing

• Systematic and Cumulative — has a definite, logical sequence of concept introduction

• Structured — has step-by-step procedures for introducing, reviewing, and practicing concepts

• Multisensory — engages the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic channels simultaneously or in rapid succession.

Multisensory teaching is simultaneously visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile to enhance memory and learning. Links are consistently made between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell.”

So, how can we apply these strategies to our consultations?

-take a more direct approach in consultations with LD students; the student may require more structure than other consultations.

-explain to the student at the beginning of the consultation what the structure of the session will be, i.e., “For the first ten minutes, I will read your paper while you brainstorm ideas. Then for the next ten minutes…”

-try to teach the student about different stages of writing, which will help them with time management. Perhaps draw a visual to demonstrate the processes of brainstorming/freewriting, drafting, and revision. If applicable, help the student to create a timeline of personal due dates for each of these steps of the paper, creating short-term, achievable goals.

-have the student underline texts as they read aloud, or have them read aloud something they freewrite, asking them to circle the most important concepts or words; this engages their mind in multisensory learning.

And, most importantly, why you shouldn’t worry!

In their study “Peer Tutoring for College Students with Learning Disabilities,” Gila Vogel, Barbara Fresko, and Cheruta Wertheim described some very positive results: “The level of satisfaction was extremely high for both the tutees and the tutors on all items. Both groups were pleased with the relationship, were satisfied that tutoring had contributed to the tutee, and would clearly recommend the program to others. Although both groups would recommend participation to the same extent, tutee ratings of the relationship and the contribution were higher than those of the tutors. These differences were statistically significant.”

Lastly, the college’s specialist in disability accommodations, Dean Holmes, is also a wonderful resource for any student seeking help for LD. Not surprisingly, I have found that the faculty and administration of the 5Cs are extremely committed to providing any learning support necessary for those in the community struggling with LD. As the Pomona website explains:

“The Pomona community includes students with disabilities who may require accommodations. The College is committed to providing appropriate services and reasonable accommodations for students who need them. Students and parents/guardians are encouraged to speak to the College’s specialist in disability accommodations, Dean Marcelle Holmes (Alexander Hall, room 102, extension 72147 or contact Marcelle Holmes regarding potential accommodations and the required paperwork. Other deans in the office can also offer advice and support.”