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Learning and attention deficit

Learning disabilities

Although no one definition for learning disabilities has been established, most experts describe learning disabilities as a group of neurological disorders that affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. They generally occur in people of average or above-average intelligence and affect listening, speaking, reading, writing and mathematics.


Attention deficit disorder (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a developmental disorder that presents during childhood, usually before age 7, and is characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention and/or hyperactive-impulsive behavior.  For a student to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD the condition must cause significant impairment of one or more major life activities, including interpersonal relations, educational or occupational goals, and cognitive or adaptive functioning.

Suggested instructional strategies


  • Employ the principles of universal design for learning.
  • Include a statement in your syllabus inviting students to talk with you about any disability-related concerns; make sure to include information about the Disability Center.
  • Provide textbook lists and other printed materials early. Many students with learning disabilities find it beneficial to use software that can read the textbook and other text-based materials aloud. Acquiring or converting electronic texts for this purpose requires advance planning.
  • Point out organizational features in textbooks, such as summaries, subheads, graphics and indices.
  • Clearly and early in a course define course requirements, announce the dates of exams, and tell students when assignments are due. Avoid last-minute readings or additional assignments, and provide advance notice of changes in assignments and due dates.
  • Assist the student in locating a notetaker if requested.
  • If possible use the Tegrityexternal link lecture-capture system, which eliminates the need for notetakers
  • Assist the student in coordinating with the Disability Center to ensure that exam accommodations are provided.
  • Work closely with the student to determine what accommodations will be helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or make suggestions.


  • Encourage students with learning disabilities to sit in the front row.
  • When teaching a lesson, state objectives, review previous lessons, and summarize periodically.
  • Outline the lecture on a whiteboard.
  • Break difficult concepts into smaller parts.
  • Explain technical terms used in class.
  • Engage as many senses as possible when presenting content; concepts can be better understood when you use sounds, movement and visual aids.
  • Use captioned videos. This will benefit not only students with learning disabilities or attention difficulties but also students who are deaf or hard of hearing and students for whom English is a second language.
  • Use multi-modal methods to present classroom material (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) in order to address a variety of learning styles and strengths. Use handouts, videos, group discussions, role playing and other methods.
  • Review material, and emphasize key points.
  • Include time for questions and answers.

Assignments and exams

  • Consider multiple methods for course assessment, such as oral or written exams or presentations and alternatives to exams (e.g. papers and projects).
  • Give all assignments in written and oral form.
  • Incorporate hands-on experiences when appropriate.
  • Encourage students to use programs that help them compose, edit and spell more accurately.
  • Give extended time when appropriate.
  • Offer alternative assignments when possible.
  • Provide study guides or review sheets.
  • Give students exam-prep questions demonstrating the format as well as the content of the test.