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Voices of the Global Community


Wanda M. Hadley, University of Dayton
Julie Q. Morrison, University of Dayton
Leslie L. Hemphill, NACADA Advising Students with Disabilities Commission Past Chair

Increasing numbers of high school graduates with learning disabilities are enrolling in colleges and universities each year. A learning disability may be manifested by deficits in the student’s reading ability (dyslexia), speech ability (dyspraxia), writing ability (dysgraphia) or math ability (dyscalculia). A student with a learning disability may also have difficulty with sustained attention, time management, and/or social skills. Some students think that when they transition to college they will “outgrow” their learning disabilities and be able to handle their studies on their own. Individuals do not outgrow a learning disability, although they may develop a host of strategies for compensating for the disability. Still, these students find that when they transition to college they continue to need academic accommodations.

Dyslexia is the most common learning problem reported by first-year college students with learning disabilities. Students with dyslexia experience such reading problems as poor reading fluency, uneven and inconsistent comprehension and retention of material read, difficulty identifying and differentiating main ideas in readings, and difficulty following written directions. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the inability to consistently apply concentration for long periods of time, is oftentimes diagnosed with dyslexia. Nearly 25 percent of college students with learning disabilities may also have ADHD. In addition to being easily distracted, students with ADHD may find it difficult to follow a train of thought to its conclusion, easily feel overwhelmed, and have difficulty breaking down and/or organizing information, thoughts, or tasks. College students with dyslexia have to deal with the unique challenges presented by their disability as well as the daily stressors of the college environment.

A knowledgeable advisor can use intrusive advising techniques to help increase the likelihood of success for these students. Advisors can help students develop enrollment plans that spread courses with heavy reading requirements across students’ entire educational careers. Awareness of faculty teaching styles and techniques can also allow an advisor to recommend that students fulfill requirements by enrolling in courses that best complement their learning styles. Depending upon student situation and college, advisors may be able to help advisees obtain course substitutions or attain full-time status even when students are enrolled in fewer than twelve credit hours. On a more fundamental level advisors can reinforce the use of successful accommodations, such as student using a tape recorder during lectures or reviewing lecture notes as soon as possible after class. Advisors can refer students for assistance from community and campus resources such as the Learning Assistance Centers. They can find additional intrusive advising techniques and resources in the Clearinghouse.

Students with dyslexia who choose to attend college must meet the same admission requirements as students without disabilities. These students may be particularly challenged by the expectation that all college students practice more independent behaviors. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that students with learning disabilities in kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) have access to a host of accommodations and services such as special classes, individual instruction, and alternative testing. These services are not required by law in the college environment and usually are not available. When students transition to college, they are protected by Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These laws assure that students with learning disabilities receive reasonable accommodations, but do not include the types and levels of services required by the IDEA.

Once enrolled in a college or university, students must request accommodations and provide documentation prepared by a qualified professional. This step is essential if students are to receive accommodations in classes. Because of a misguided desire to assert independence or because of negative experiences with the IDEA in high school, some students refuse to request accommodations. Advisors who become aware of such a situation should encourage these students to request accommodations.

Because the symptoms of dyslexia vary from student to student, it is important that students with dyslexia become knowledgeable about their disability so they can discuss the academic accommodations they need to be successful. Students with learning disabilities report viewing faculty as one of the variables in their academic success. Initially, advisors may need to assist students with dyslexia in communicating their needs to individual faculty members. Advisors can role play disclosure conversations with students and help students set up appointments with professors to discuss accommodations.

College students with learning disabilities are typically intelligent and motivated. Many are gifted and when provided with appropriate and reasonable accommodations, can be successful in college with a little help from their advisors.

The Advising Students with Disabilities Commission invites discussion regarding this article or other issues surrounding advising students with disabilities on the Commission’s electronic list.

Wanda M. Hadley
University of Dayton

Julie Q. Morrison
University of Dayton

Leslie L. Hemphill
Cloud County Community College


Association on Higher Education and Disability. (2001). College students with learning disabilities. University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Association on Higher Education and Disability. (2002). College students who have adhd. University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Hadley, W. M. (in press). The transition and adjustment to academic expectations of first-year students with specific learning disabilities: The initial follow-up study. Journal of College Orientation and Transition.

Hadley, W. M., Twale, D. J., & Evans, J. (2003). First year students with specific learning disabilities: Transition and adjustment to academic expectations. Journal of College Orientation and Transition, 11 (1), 35-46.

Cite this article using APA style as: Hadley, W., Morrison, J. & Hemphill, L. (2005, June). First-year students with dyslexia transitioning to college. Academic Advising Today, 28(2). [insert url here]

Posted in: 2005 June 28:2


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