How US Universities Help Students with Learning Disabilities

advice for students
campus life
Let us help you find your best fit university!Find your school
By Matt Killorin
Last updated on August 10, 2023

From classroom assistants to adaptive technology, many resources are available on US campuses to support all types of students.

A female international student from Asia wearing glasses, a cardigan, and a tie sits across from another female student and takes notes in a notebook

For students with learning disabilities, it can be difficult to understand coursework taught using traditional classroom methods. In the United States, many colleges and universities offer support services (also known as accommodations) to help students with disabilities learn and progress toward their university degree. These services could include classroom assistants, adaptive technology, or extra time to complete assignments. There are even federal laws in place to support the educational rights of all students at public learning institutions. Read on to learn how several US universities dedicate resources on campus to ensure all students have an opportunity to learn in their best way. 

What Are Learning Disabilities? 

According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA), learning disabilities are genetic or neurobiological factors that affect how some students process information. There is no one sign or signal that you or someone you know has a learning disability and, statistically, people with learning disabilities are of average or above-average intelligence. Many times, teachers are the first to notice learning disabilities, especially when a student’s classroom performance measures well below their assessed skill levels. 

There are several differences classified as learning disabilities in the United States; some affect a student’s ability to understand written numbers or words, and others affect oral language, motor skills, or a wide range of other areas related to learning and living. Let’s review the most common declared learning disabilities and then look at some methods for helping students overcome any related classroom challenges. 

What Are Some Common Learning Disabilities? 

Here are some of the more prevalent learning disabilities classified by groups such as the National Center for People with Disabilities and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Dyscalculia: Students with dyscalculia have a difficult time learning math facts or comprehending numerals and numbers. Some students with dyscalculia also have trouble with quantitative reasoning exercises. 

How many students in the US report having dyscalculia? 5–7%.

Dysgraphia: Students with dysgraphia find handwriting and actions involving fine motor skills to be challenging. Dysgraphia can affect both numeral and letter generation and is often correlated with executive functioning skills and challenges such as planning and organizing.

How many students in the US report having dysgraphia? Between 5–20%.

Dyslexia: Students with dyslexia have a difficult time decoding, recognizing, and spelling words. Dyslexia can make reading and language processing in the classroom a challenge for some students. 

How many students in the US report having dyslexia? Between 5–10%.

Some learning disabilities affect the way students process or express oral and written communication or how they read and process the word choice and order in a written passage. Other disabilities inhibit a students’ processing of non-verbal queues and information, such as facial expressions or body language. Some are associated with other developmental or mental health disorders such as autism, affecting approximately 1.9% of all college students, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), affecting as much as 8% of college students.

Campus Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities 

One in five undergraduates in the United States report having a disability or learning problem, according to the LDAA. Despite the 200,000-plus students with learning disabilities attending postsecondary schools in the US, many students still feel a stigma around their differences. They often think they have to work through their learning disability alone.   

Having a learning difference can be especially difficult for international students who are unaware of the resources and services available to them — and may feel too shy to ask. However, there are many ways universities can help students with learning disabilities and differences find accommodations and support. Many students with learning disabilities from the United States have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 Accommodation Plans. These plans — enforced by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the ADA, respectively — ensure that students have the instruction, services, and educational accommodations needed to help them succeed. 

Some ways instructors adapt coursework and learning methodologies to make a more welcoming and accessible learning environment include: 

  • Modifying the presentation of course content, testing materials, and project assignments. This includes allowing for more time when necessary.

  • Incorporating physical classroom accommodations as well as adaptive or assistive technology to improve understanding and learning outcomes.

  • Inviting students to take advantage of the different types of on-campus support centers and disability resource centers.

Some universities in the United States are recognized for their commitment to diverse teaching methodologies and are focused on helping students with different learning styles and requirements to excel. Most colleges and universities will have supportive technology and/or counselors available and will make classroom accommodations as required. It is essential to reach out to your prospective US universities before applying if you want to find out what resources are available for a specific learning disability. 

Shorelight advisors can help you find schools that meet your needs. Reach out today.

Shorelight Universities Are Your Learning Partners 

All Shorelight universities will be able to help you find the right learning environment for your needs. However, it is important to note, many of these programs are considered fee-for-service, which means students must apply for admission and that the program may require an additional tuition cost. Costs differ from school to school — your Shorelight advisor can help you find more information about learning disability assistance programs and their cost structure at your top universities. 

The following Shorelight universities are recognized for having great programs that benefit students with different learning disabilities, including Adelphi and American, which were both named to Peterson’s 20 Great Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities list. 

Adelphi University: Learning Resource Program

The Learning Resource Program at Adelphi University offers support to students with language-based learning disabilities and ADHD. Students meet weekly with a learning specialist and sign up for individual or group-based counseling sessions with a social worker. Students have access to specially designed classes and resources that can help with course planning and provide services such as summer programs, parent groups, and more. 

Learn more about the Learning Resource Program application process at Adelphi. 

American University: Learning Services Program for First-Year Students

The Learning Services Program (LSP) — part of the Academic Support and Access Center (ASAC) at American University — has been serving students with disabilities for 30 years, providing support and clearing a path to success for those new to college. Students receive individualized course advising and one-on-one meetings with program administrators and counselors in addition to other services, such as reserved space in specialized writing classes and more. After freshman year, students can take advantage of all the support offered by the ASAC. 

For more information on the LSP program at American, refer to the three-step application process

Auburn University: SKILL Program

The SKILL Program at Auburn University is recognized for helping students reach personal and academic goals through accountability coaching, structure, support, and encouragement. Similar to the program at Adelphi, students meet weekly with coaches that provide study strategy suggestions, action plans, course selection, registration assistance, and more. The SKILL program is available to all qualifying undergraduate students at Auburn. 

Learn more about applying for the SKILL Program at Auburn University

There Are Many Ways to Learn

Every year, more universities and colleges in the United States embrace alternative learning. And while there are still many steps universities could take to help students with learning disabilities, a wide variety of schools have programs, services, and resources available to educate students of all abilities. With the right advisor and a little bit of research, finding a university in the US that offers the help you need is a smart first step toward earning your degree. 

Find the best university for your goals with Shorelight >