Accommodations for College Students with Learning Differences and How to Ask for Them

Accommodations for College Students with Learning Differences and How to Ask for Them

Accommodations for College Students with Learning Differences and How to Ask for Them

Accommodations can be the difference between success and failure for college students with learning differences.

Many of the teens and young adults who attend Transitions programs at our campus near Albany, NY, are preparing to go to college. Transitioning to college is a turbulent time for most young people, with excitement tempered by the stress of a drastic change in environment and expectations. But for young people with learning differences, leaving the comfort and consistency of high school for the unknown of college can be downright frightening and overwhelming. In high school, almost 95% of students with learning differences take advantage of the available academic accommodations and resources. This is a huge contrast to the only 17% of college students with learning differences who do so.

Why are so many students with learning differences going without the assistance they need to succeed? Reasons vary from person to person. In high school, it is required for students with documentation of a learning difference to receive the accommodations they need. Once students enter college, they must take initiative to speak up or advocate for the support that they need. They are responsible for finding the appropriate resources on campus and speaking to the staff members. Many young people are not equipped to do this because it is not taught in school or at home. Some students feel embarrassed to disclose their abilities or do not know how to do so effectively. Others might be unaware of the services offered or who to ask to get them.

No matter the reason, there are resources and accommodations available to all college students with learning differences, no matter where they go to school or what their needs are. Accommodations can assist with a variety of challenges, including:

Oral language – Many people with learning differences struggle to verbalize their thoughts and ideas or understand what others are communicating.

Reading – Getting help with reading may give people with learning differences better understanding of phonetics, increase their reading speed, and/or help them process the information they are reading.

Writing – Many students with learning differences have trouble with spelling, sentence structure or grammar, which can impact their ability to succeed with writing assignments and written communication.

Study skills – Poor organization, trouble with time management and difficulty following instructions and directions are all common struggles for people with learning differences, and they all can interfere with the studying necessary to do well on tests and exams.

Accommodations Available to College Students with Learning Differences

Almost all colleges and universities have staff dedicated to helping students with learning differences obtain the resources and accommodations needed for academic success. Because learning differences are considered “invisible” disabilities, in that they affect cognitive rather than physical function, accommodations are not as straightforward as providing a ramp for a student in a wheelchair or an interpreter for a student who is deaf. Accommodations for college students with learning differences typically involve academic adjustments to teaching approaches and areas of evaluations. Some such accommodations may include:

Exam Accommodations

  • Extending the time allotted for test taking
  • Providing a quiet room with less distraction for test taking
  • Giving the option of taking exams orally
  • Allowing extra resources during exams (calculator, scratch paper, etc.)
  • Permitting the use of assistive devices for spelling and/or grammar

Classroom and Assignment Accommodations

  • Assigning a note taker/scribe to the student or providing him or her with a copy of the lecture notes
  • Offering accessible seating
  • Allowing a student to tape record lectures
  • Providing a quiet room for in-class assignments
  • Permitting additional time for in-class assignments
  • Giving assistance with proofreading work

Accommodations for college students with learning differences come in many forms, and therefore can be tailored to the unique need(s) of each individual. If you or your child is preparing to transition to college, research the school ahead of time to learn what accommodations it offers. It may be helpful to tour the campus or speak to an admissions representative who can answer specific questions about available accommodations. Seeking out special programs to prepare students to speak up for themselves might also be beneficial. For example, Transitions teaches young adults how to determine what rights they have at school, the accommodations or supports they might need in class, and techniques they can use to advocate for themselves and ask for those supports.

To find out more about how the programs offered at Transitions can help young adults transition successfully to college, contact us at (518) 775-5384.

About the Author:

Priya Winston is a social worker and Self-Advocacy and Leadership instructor at Transitions. Since she was diagnosed with Turner syndrome and nonverbal learning differences as a teenager, Priya is uniquely equipped to give the Transitions students firsthand, personalized counseling on how to ask for and use accommodations to succeed at college and in the workplace. She received her Master of Social Work from the State University of New York at Albany in 2017 and is currently working toward her Ph.D. in Social Work.


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