Don’t Let Your Learning Disability Impact Your Education!


Succeed Despite Your Learning Disability

Learning disabilities can be a major frustration for students. Many individuals with learning disabilities turn away from academic pursuits due to frustration over the amount of extrawork they put in compared with their peers. The truth is, learning deficits can make for difficult barriers to overcome, and with persistence and some proactive planning, you can succeed in college or university despite your diagnosis. 

Today, more individuals than ever are challenging themselves to pursue higher education and our provinces’ academic institutions are working hard to provide a level playing field for all students. The term “learning disabilities” refers to a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organization or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information. Considered a neurological disorder, learning disabilities can be thought of as an area of weakness or inefficiency in a person’s brain function that significantly hinders learning.

People with learning disorders generally have average to superior intelligence, but their pattern of neurological dysfunction causes them to have difficulty correctly receiving information (perception), processing information (thinking), or responding to information efficiently (written and verbal expression, visual-motor coordination, memory, etc.). Despite such deficits, often times individuals have great strengths in other thinking abilities; however, their strengths are offset by interfering weaknesses that impact their ability to read or write, retain information they have learned, or understand information they have seen or heard. It is important to understand that these difficulties are not related to physical problems affecting the eyes or ears, or from behavioural issues related to laziness or low motivation, but rather they are due to differences in the basic neurological functioning of the brain.

Simply put, learning disabilities range widely in severity and cause interference with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following important skills:

·     Oral language (e.g., speaking, listening and understanding)

·     Reading (e.g., decoding and comprehension of material)

·     Written Language (e.g., spelling, written expression)

·     Mathematics (e.g., computation, problem solving, fluency)

Often times, learning disabilities cause challenges with organizational skills, time management, social skills learning and motivation. As individuals with learning disabilities learn at a different rate than their peers, isolation and frustration are common, especially when the disability goes undiagnosed in early childhood. Fortunately, with appropriate interventions and accommodations, students can overcome their deficits and succeed in postsecondary pursuits.

 While Ontario colleges and universities are indeed able and eager to assist students with learning disabilities, as well as with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD; stay tuned for an upcoming blog post dedicated to ADHD in college and university!), the responsibility for seeking out appropriate supports rests on the student. For the most part, a student cannot access certain accommodations unless the learning disability has been documented with a psychoeducational assessment. A psychoeducational battery of formal and informal tests is used to determine patterns of strength and weakness as compared to intellectual ability. Testing not only helps identify learning disabilities, but also helps to identify the most appropriate learning techniques based on a person’s cognitive profile. 

At Waterloo Psychology Group, testing involves a clinical interview with a psychologist and approximately 5-6 hours of cognitive testing. A comprehensive report and feedback is provided to ensure that the student (and parents, if desired) has a thorough understanding of the specific learning issues identified. If a diagnosis is found, certain accommodations can be recommended to assist the student with succeeding in their studies. Such accommodations can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Extended time for tests, exams

  • Reduced course load

  • Course counselling

  • Electronic or taped textbooks

  • Text-to-voice software

  • Voice-to-text software

  • Reader (support person)

  • Scribe for oral work (support person)

  • Specialized organizational tour

  • Tape recording of lectures

In addition to examining cognitive functioning, a psychoeducational assessment at Waterloo Psychology Group also involves a thorough assessment of a person’s emotional functioning. If emotional challenges, such as anxiety, depression, OCD or other psychological issues are noted, recommendations for treatment and/or referral to a physician for medication consultation may be made.

 If you or someone you know is thinking about postsecondary education, or perhaps is already studying at a college or university but struggling to keep up, please contact Waterloo Psychology Group to discuss how we can help. We offer comprehensive psychoeducational assessments and we work closely with Conestoga College, University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph to ensure that our assessment processes and recommendations meet each institution’s standards. More information about funding for an assessment using bursaries through your school or extended health benefits can be found on our website.

If you are a student currently conquering academia while dealing with a learning disability, Waterloo Psychology Group and our team of psychologists is here to help!