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Transitioning from high school to college is often stressful, especially for those with learning difficulties. Taking class notes, studying, and sitting exams come with particular challenges for those with dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and other learning challenges. Without proper guidance and direction, some students with learning difficulties cannot meet the weighty demands of college; some are put on probation, some drop out.
While current law requires high schools to accommodate students with learning disabilities, the rules are not the same for colleges. At best, regulations such as the Americans With Disabilities Act ensure that all students have equal access to education without discrimination. This doesn’t mean college students with learning disabilities have no options. It does mean they often have to take the initiative and find out what accommodations are available to them. If you have a learning disability and are in college, these are some common accommodations that may be available to you.
Colleges will often allow students to substitute written texts with audiobook versions. This accommodation is particularly helpful if you suffer from dyslexia and often feel disadvantaged since it takes you longer to read books. Audiobooks also help increase comprehension for dyslexic students. Normally, a student with dyslexia has to work to decode the words on the page. This can detract from the flow of the narrative. In audio form, you can hear the flow of the text and better understand what is being said.
Using Text-to-speech Software
Text-to-speech software can also help you overcome the hurdle of trying to decipher words on a page if you are dyslexic. The software may come pre-installed on your computer or you can purchase it separately. Text-to-speech software reads to your web sites, documents, and any other written material you may have on your computer. This enables you to study class materials and perform online research at a speed comparable to other, non-dyslexic students.
Recording Lectures on a Digital Device
If you have trouble processing information when presented aurally, such as in a lecture, you could ask permission to record the lecture on your phone or some other digital device. You can then replay the lecture in your own time, perhaps at a slower speed, stopping and rewinding as necessary to comprehend the information. Some schools loan smartpens to students with learning disabilities. These pens not only digitize your written notes and drawings but can also record the lecture while you write. These devices can also be helpful if you have short or long term memory issues.
Providing Lecture Notes
If the use of a recording device is not an option for you, consider asking the professor or instructor to provide you with their notes ahead of time to help you stay focused on the material in class. These notes may be a summary of the presentation, or they could be guided notes that you compliment with your own.
You could also use a designated note-taker. This is someone who volunteers, or is chosen, to take notes for you. This person needs to have legible handwriting, or be willing to type up their notes. The notes you get from the note taker will, however, reflect the points and ideas that the note taker felt were important. These may differ from the notes you might have taken.
(Note that we are experienced in helping students find designated notetakers.)
Requesting Extra Time on Coursework
If your learning disability is impacting your ability to complete coursework or a particular project on time, you can ask for a time accommodation. Your professors are not obliged to grant this, but if you have already made them aware of your situation, they may be willing to give you extensions on a case-by-case basis. This would apply to any learning disability that impacts the time it takes for you to research, study, or write, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, or ADHD.
Requesting Extra Time on an Exam
Colleges will often grant additional exam time to students with learning disabilities. This could apply to you if you have dyslexia, or if you have dyscalculia and are taking a math exam. You may also need additional time if you suffer from ADHD and struggle to stay focused. The extra time may be as much as time-and-a-half or double the prescribed time for the exam. This allows you the flexibility to read and answer the questions at a slower pace and still be able to complete the exam on time.
Using a Calculator in an Exam
Not all college math exams permit the use of a calculator. If you suffer from dyscalculia, this can put you at a serious disadvantage compared to the other students. You can, however, ask to be allowed the use of a calculator on the basis of your special circumstance. Most colleges should be willing to accommodate you.
Using a Quiet Room for Exams
If you have ADHD, or a similar condition where you are sensitive to stimuli or have trouble concentrating, you could request to sit your exam in a separate location. This might be a quiet room with no visual or aural distractions, or perhaps the library. Be sure to inform your instructor of your particular needs so they can make the appropriate arrangements.
Using a Different Exam Format
Ask your instructor if you can take the exam in a different format if the current format is challenging to you. For example, if you have dyslexia, you may prefer to be examined orally as opposed to taking a written test. Conversely, if you have trouble processing aural information, you may prefer to take an oral test in a written form. These accommodations may or may not work depending on the exam, but instructors should be willing to make sure you are not disadvantaged by your disabilities.
If you are a college student with a learning disability, be sure to consult with your instructors and health professionals with regard to your options. If you need a professional neuropsychological assessment or would like to consult with a neuropsychological advocate, consider contacting NeuroHealth. With vast experience in psychology and in the academy, NeuroHealth is more than qualified to provide the help you may need.