Online Learning November 9, 2023

How Can Colleges Help Students with Hidden Learning Disabilities?

Writen by Editorial Team

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Hidden Learning Disabilities

Did you know that almost 8 to 10% of American students under 18 years of age have some form of learning disability?

This is a big deal because these students struggle a lot with language and reading. What’s more, at least 60% of adults in America have undiagnosed learning disabilities, which affect their overall performance.

Understanding the extent of these stats would mean understanding what learning disabilities are and how they can affect the quality of life for affected individuals. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines learning disabilities as disorders that affect the ability to understand or use language, coordinate movements, focus, and even perform mathematical calculations. Such symptoms are relatively standard in young children, but they usually go unnoticed until these children reach school age.

Unfortunately, learning disabilities can be very isolating, even though they’re pretty standard. Since students with learning disabilities can’t read, write, spell, speak, or listen as well as their peers, they might not fit in at school. However, learning disabilities are not intellectual disabilities, so they don’t reflect the intelligence or motivation of these individuals.  Still, some people might need special accommodations to match their peers’ pace and succeed academically and professionally.

How Do Learning Disabilities Affect Students?

Learning disabilities affect different people differently and to varying extents. However, ultimately, they negatively affect these people’s quality of life. They can even cause academic failure, low self-esteem, frustration, and lack of social skills, primarily if undiagnosed. Nevertheless, these students can go far in their personal, educational, and professional lives with the proper support and accommodations – precisely why we’re stressing the importance of seeking help!

Effects of Learning Disabilities in Adults vs Children

Effects of Learning Disabilities in Adults vs Children

Children with learning disabilities tend to struggle academically, and this often manifests as behavioral issues. These children also can’t socialize with others their age, and this can develop feelings of isolation and low self-esteem. Therefore, these students must be provided the support they need to flourish in their personal and academic lives. As for adults, learning disabilities are generally harder to spot since these people usually develop different coping mechanisms to deal with symptoms. Atypical individuals often “mask” their symptoms, which makes it much harder to diagnose them since they always have their guard up. Nevertheless, their problems are still valid, so they still need proper support and accommodation to manage their learning disability.

The Different Types of Special Needs in the Classroom

The Different Types of Special Needs in the Classroom

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, only 24% of college students tell their school about their learning disability – and that’s alarming!

That means only 24% of college students with learning disabilities can access proper support to manage their condition, while the majority choose to suffer in silence. What’s worse, these students are generally not able to meet their full potential because their learning disability acts as an almost insurmountable obstacle in the way of their academic success. But before we can talk about how to overcome learning disabilities, let’s highlight the most common types of learning disabilities in college students.


Dyslexia is a condition that affects reading and comprehension skills. Students with dyslexia struggle with phonics, delayed speech, reversed letters, spelling, proofreading, and visual processing.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) causes inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder and is considered the second most common learning disability. It can affect people of all ages but is usually diagnosed in children. ADHD makes it hard to focus, and if left untreated, it can prevent students from reaching their full academic potential. It can also affect their relationships and employment potential.


Dyscalculia has to do with mathematical concepts and abilities. It affects students’ ability to do well in maths. Many students might not like maths but can learn with enough practice. However, dyscalculia is a severe case, and such students can’t even understand fundamental concepts like measuring time, making estimations, counting, addition, and subtraction.


Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing and motor skills but can also manifest as difficulty spelling, poor grammar, problems with organizing thoughts, or having trouble with written expression.


Dyspraxia, also called developmental coordination disorder (DCD), is another common learning disability among college students that hinders their coordination and planning ability. For example, such students might have problems with hand-eye coordination, tying their shoelaces, balancing themselves, or performing tasks in the correct order.

Processing Deficits

Processing deficits are common among college students and can affect their ability to process sensory stimuli like sound and sight. It might stem from a brain injury, a concussion, or even genetics.

Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction or Executive Function Disorder (EFD) comprises poor planning and prioritization. It’s not a specific disorder but includes a range of difficulties with administrative functions. Students with executive dysfunction have problems understanding which tasks must be completed first and how to organize their schedules. Ultimately, this means they end up with missed deadlines, forgotten and incomplete assignments, and other issues that can negatively affect their academic lives.

In short, learning disabilities are pretty standard – more common than you think. However, the main point is that college students with a learning disability must seek help if they want to be able to compete with their peers. Fortunately, though, most good colleges are willing to provide the required resources and accommodations to facilitate the academic success of these students.

Support for Students with Learning Disabilities in High School vs. College

High school students with learning disabilities are usually accommodated by their institutions with an individualized education plan (IEP), but things are a little different in college. For starters, there are no IEPs in colleges, even though the needs of students with learning disabilities are pretty much the same.

Legal petitions change when a student transitions from high school to college. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) binds schools to recognize and subsequently accommodate students with learning disabilities. However, after turning 18, student support and services are governed by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 emphasizes equal access to education, but it doesn’t oblige colleges or universities to identify students with disabilities. At this point, students must disclose their disability independently and even provide evidence through evaluations. These accommodations might vary from institute to institute as well.

Additionally, even after they receive accommodations, students are required to self-monitor their progress and the associated effectiveness of the program. That’s not to say the institution absolves itself of all responsibility regarding the student. They’re still responsible for ensuring that no information related to the student’s disability and progress is disclosed to family members and professors until and unless explicit consent is obtained from the concerned student. Moreover, the whole point of placing the primary responsibility on the student is to instill self-advocacy skills that would also help them later in life.

How Can Educators Cater to Special Need Students?

Educators are vital players in the academic success of students with learning disabilities. That means they must strive to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment to meet the diverse needs of all learners. Some strategies that can be particularly helpful include:

  • Using multisensory instruction, especially diagrams and other visual content alongside text
  • Providing clear and specific instructions
  • Breaking down big tasks into small sub-tasks in assignments and quizzes
  • Providing reminders for deadlines
  • Providing additional learning materials to help students make connections between various concepts
  • Adjusting the difficulty level and allowing more time for assignments

By incorporating these strategies, educators can ensure that all their students can learn and understand the concepts being taught. Plus, while the effectiveness might vary with specific students and disabilities, it’s a significant step to making learning more accessible for students with learning disabilities.

How Can Technology Empower Special Needs Students to Learn Faster?

When it comes to helping students with learning disabilities in the classroom, sometimes educators can’t do enough. Not all students with a particular learning disability will be the same – nor will they need the same accommodations. So, while educators can take specific steps to make education more inclusive, they can’t help all their students.

The big question is, ‘How do you overcome learning disabilities?’

Well, inclusivity in the classroom is still essential. However, the effectiveness of such efforts can be augmented with personalized learning.

And that’s where technology comes in. Technology can help students with learning disabilities in the classroom by providing them with personalized, adaptive, and accessible learning experiences. So, institutions can ensure that the specific educational needs and preferences of all students, including those with learning disabilities, are met, thereby allowing them to perform their best. This would also enable students with learning disabilities to work on problem areas or weaknesses and ensure that they’re improving over time. Adaptive learning would further ensure that the pace and difficulty level match the needs and aptitude of these students, which means they won’t be ‘left behind.’ So, technology can be a game changer for students with learning disabilities.

If you want to know more about overcoming learning disabilities, check out SimpliTaught, an online learning platform for students. It provides personalized, adaptive, and accessible learning experiences for students to help them learn faster and smarter!

Visit our website here or contact us at info@SimpliTaught.com with your queries!

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