Learning Disability and ADHD Strategies

Brief Definition of Learning Disabilities

Northwestern University uses the following definition of learning disability:

Learning Disability is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and the use of listening, spelling, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perceptions, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not by themselves constitute a learning disability. Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabilities,...they are not the result of those conditions or influences.

National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities

Brief Definition of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)

AD/HD is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity that is more frequently displayed and more typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development. Some hyperactive-impulsive or inattentive symptoms that cause impairment must have been present before age 7 years, although many individuals are diagnosed after the symptoms have been present for a number of years, especially in the case of individuals with the Predominantly Inattentive Type. Some impairment must be present in at least two settings (e.g., at home and at school or work). There must be clear evidence of interference with developmentally appropriate social, academic, or occupational functioning. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Schizophrenia, or other Psychotic Disorder and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., a Mood Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Dissociative Disorder, or Personality Disorder).

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , IV-TR

Considerations When Working with Students with Learning Disabilities and AD/HD

Learning disability (LD) and AD/HD are not disorders that a student outgrows; they are lifelong disorders that should not be confused with lower intelligence although they do have a significant impact on learning. LD and AD/HD can often cause inconsistent academic performance and may only require accommodation in specific classes, or they may have a global effect on academic functioning.

  • Alternative print formats
  • Reduced-distraction test environments
  • Computer access for essay exams
  • Audio textbooks or Texts in e-text (may take a few weeks to order or convert text)
  • Recorded lectures
  • Note-takers
  • Exam modifications
  • Priority registration

Instructional Strategies

The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized reasonable accommodations.

  • Have copies of the course reading list ready two to three weeks prior to the beginning of classes so audio textbooks can be ordered or texts can be converted to e-text
  • Clearly define course requirements, the dates of exams, and when assignments are due; provide advance notice of any changes
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note-taker from the class
  • Allow the student to record lectures
  • Instructions should be presented in written and oral formats
  • Break information into small steps when teaching many new tasks in one lesson (state objectives, review previous lesson, summarize periodically)
  • Use more than one way (e.g., pictorial and written) to demonstrate or explain information
  • Provide handouts and visual aids
  • Allow time for clarification of directions and essential information
  • Provide study guides, review sheets, or practice test for exams
  • Provide assistance with proofreading written work
  • Stress organization and ideas rather than mechanics when grading in-class writing assignments
  • Allow the use of spell-check and grammar-assistive devices