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About Learning Disability
Learning disabilities refer to a number of disorders that may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. Learning disabilities result from impairments in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning. Learning disabilities range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and use of oral language, reading, written language, and mathematics. Learning disabilities may also involve difficulties with organizational skills and social interaction.
Although learning disabilities occur in very young children, the disorders are usually not recognized until the child reaches school age. Learning disabilities are lifelong and are not outgrown or cured, though many people develop coping techniques through special education, tutoring, medication, therapy, personal development, or adaptation of learning skills. Learning disabilities arise from neurological differences in brain structure and function and affect a person’s ability to receive, store, process, retrieve or communicate information.
JAN's Effective Accommodation Practices (EAP) Series: Executive Functioning Deficits is a publication detailing accommodations for individuals with limitations related to executive functioning. These ideas may be helpful in determining accommodations.
What types of learning disabilities are there?
Learning disabilities can be divided into three broad categories:
Specific Learning Disability: A disorder in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations. Included in this category are expressive writing and expressive language disorders.
- Dyslexia is the term associated with specific learning disabilities in reading. Although features of a learning disability in reading vary from person to person, common characteristics include the difficulty with individual sounds in words, and difficulties with word decoding, fluency, rate of reading, rhyming, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension and written expression. Dyslexia is the most prevalent and well-recognized of the subtypes of specific learning disabilities.
- Dyscalculia is the term associated with specific learning disabilities in math. Although features of a learning disability in math vary from person to person, common characteristics include difficulty with counting, learning number facts and doing math calculations, difficulty with measurement, telling time, counting money, estimating number quantities, mental math and problem-solving strategies.
- Dysgraphia is the term associated with specific learning disabilities in writing. This term is used to capture both the physical act of writing and the quality of written expression. Dysgraphia can manifest in difficulties with spelling, putting thoughts on paper, and poor handwriting, including difficulty in forming letters or writing within a defined space, organizing thoughts on paper, keeping track of thoughts already written down, and difficulty with syntax, structure, and grammar.
Associated Deficits and Disorders
While not designated as specific subtypes of learning disabilities, there are a number of areas of information processing that are commonly associated with learning disabilities:
- Auditory Processing Disorder is the term used to describe a weakness in the ability to understand and use auditory information. Individuals may have difficulties with noticing, comparing and distinguishing the distinct and separate sounds in words, picking out important sounds from a noisy background, recalling information presented orally, understanding and recalling the order of sounds and words, and difficulty with spelling, reading and written expression.
- Visual Processing Disorder is the term used to describe a weakness in the ability to understand and use visual information. Individuals often have difficulty noticing and comparing features of different items and distinguishing one item from another, distinguishing a shape or printed character from its background, distinguishing the order of symbols, words or images, difficulty engaging in short-term and long-term recall of visual information, and understanding how objects are positioned in space.
- Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities is the term used to describe the characteristics of individuals who have unique learning and behavioral profiles that may overlap with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia but that differ in significant ways. Most notably, these individuals often have strengths in the areas of verbal expression, vocabulary, reading, comprehension, auditory memory and attention to detail, yet have difficulty with math computation and problem solving, visual-spatial tasks and motor coordination, reading body language and social cues, as well as seeing the “big picture” in social and academic contexts.
- Executive Functioning Deficits is the term used to describe weaknesses in the ability to plan, organize, strategize, remember details and manage time and space efficiently. Executive functioning deficits are often seen in individuals who have a learning disability.
Learning Disability and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Learning Disability
People with learning disabilities may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with learning disabilities will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A building contractor with dyscalculia was inefficient when creating job quotes.
To ensure the mathematical calculations were accurate, the employee spent extra time “figuring” and “double-checking” the numbers. The site supervisor purchased a contractor’s calculator to help the employee “figure” fractions, triangles, circles, area (and more) efficiently and accurately.
A stockperson with poor visual acuity due to a visual processing disorder could not see in dimly lit areas, such as the back storeroom where many supplies were kept.
She had difficulty filling out charts and paperwork by hand. The employer provided a lighted pen, which enabled the employee to illuminate the writing surface, allowing her to complete paperwork and checklists quickly and easily.
A clerical worker with auditory processing disorder worked for a large employer where different work assignments were handed out daily.
To ensure the job assignment was accurate, the employee used a voice recorder to capture information about the work assignment, such as the job location, the supervisor’s name, and tasks to be completed. To refresh his memory, the employee was able to listen to this recorded information whenever necessary, sometimes several times each day.
A researcher in a technology company had expressive writing disorder.
The employee’s job tasks included gathering information for written reports. To accommodate this employee, software was provided to help the employee organize, prioritize, and then outline the information for reports. The employer also provided a hard copy dictionary and thesaurus.
A new-hire telemarketer had deficits in reading comprehension.
He participated in CBT (computer-based training), which included watching a customer service tutorial, then completing timed quizzes on the computer. To accommodate this employee, the employer adjusted the color scheme, resolution, and font size of the computer screen, making the appearance of material easier to view. The employee held a ruler to the computer screen to “stay on the line” when reading test questions. The employee was allowed to watch the tutorial over again, and was given extra time to complete quizzes.
A teacher with a learning disability had difficulty spelling words correctly on the board.
The employer provided a laptop computer and a PC projection system that projected the written information onto a screen or wall, negating the need to write on the board. With the help of word prediction software, the teacher was able to display correctly spelled information to her students. A researcher in a technology company had expressive writing disorder. The employee’s job tasks included gathering information for written reports. To accommodate this employee, Inspiration software was provided to help organize, prioritize, and then outline the information for reports. The employer also provided a hard copy dictionary and thesaurus.
An employee who had expressive language disorder had difficulty communicating with the supervisor.
This employee preferred to read communication, then respond in writing. The supervisor adjusted the method of supervision, whereby communication with this employee occurred through email instead of face to face.
An employee who works in a manufacturing environment had a learning disability.
The employee had difficulty remembering task sequences of the job. The supervisor provided written instructions, whereby each major task was broken down into smaller, sequential sub-parts. Each subpart was color-coded for easy reference (green means start, red means stop).
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Learning Disability
Accommodation and Compliance Series
Consultants' Corner Articles
- A Support Person as an Accommodation
- Accommodation Scenarios for the Interviewing Process
- Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) as a Work-Site Accommodation for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA
- Documentation of a Learning Disability
- Hidden Disabilities: Confidentiality and Travel
- Less Clutter, More Productivity
- Two-Way Radios as Accommodations