Diagnosing A Learning Disability In College

Though learning disabilities are usually identified early in life, some students don’t discover their LDs until after they’ve entered the new academic environment of college.

If you find that you consistently take much longer than your classmates to finish your work, or that you seriously struggle with executive functions such as remembering deadlines, organizing paperwork, and following self-imposed study schedules, you might  want to consider being evaluated for an LD. According to LD America, as many as 60% of adults with severe literacy problems actually have some form of untreated learning disorder such as dyslexia or ADHD.

Different Types of Disabilities

Learning disabilities can take multiple forms, affecting students’ abilities to understand math, organize their writing, or comprehend what they hear. If you spell the same word differently in a single document, dread open-ended questions, or show some of these other signs of a learning disability, there might be a clear explanation.

Colleges operate a little differently than k–12 public schools when it comes to disabilities, but they are still required to ensure access to education under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s important to remember that the word “disability” does not have a negative connotation for experts and educators; there is absolutely no shame in understanding and acknowledging your own cognitive and behavioral challenges, and college students with learning disabilities must be willing to advocate for themselves and request the services they need.

Getting Diagnosed

If you suspect that you might have a learning disability, the first step is to contact your advisor and discuss your concerns. Next, you’ll get some assessments done, so that you can make an action plan for academic success. Your advisor will provide resources to help you find a local clinic, psychologist, or a chapter of Learning Disabilities of America where those assessments can be performed.

An evaluation for LD typically consists of a screening, an interview, and some formal testing. The cost varies depending on where you are and who does the evaluation, but it is generally somewhere between $500 and $2,500. Clinics or college psychology departments may offer a sliding scale of fees, but others may require out-of-pocket payment for the evaluation. Many health insurance policies will cover part or all of this cost, so check with yours to learn more.

At the end of the evaluation, you’ll leave with a report of official findings. This includes a diagnosis (if needed), as well as recommendations for next steps. You can take this report to your school’s Office for Disability Services to discuss a plan, and the recommendations in the report can help you ask for the accommodations you need. Accommodations could include extended time on tests or assignments, a distraction-free environment for tests, the use of dictation programs, or even some outside help with note-taking. Your Office for Disability Services will help you decide which accommodations are reasonable, and will let you know how best to request them. Documentation of a disability may also open up additional supports, like tutoring or help with editing papers.

Speaking to Professors

Keep in mind that even with all of these supports and services available to you, it’s still your responsibility to be upfront with your professors about what you need. Meet with them during office hours or after class to let them know, in a friendly and factual manner, that you have a documented learning disability. Tell them how it affects you, and explain that in order to get the most out of the class you will need specific accommodations. In return, it’s your professor’s responsibility to respect your needs; failure to do so can qualify as discrimination according to the ADA. Most professors are very supportive, and aware that many students require a little bit of flexibility.

Having a learning disability doesn’t have to define your college years, unless you let it. While it can be a uncomfortable (or inconvenient) to find out about a disability and request the services you need, it is the right choice for most students because it allows them to participate in their education on an equal playing field with non-LD peers. In fact, many of the strategies and recommendations provided for LD college students are helpful long into their adult years.