Community College of Rhode Island

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Cognitive Disabilities

Learning Disabilities (LD)

How learning disabilities may affect student participation (from DSM IV, pp. 42-58):

"In individuals with Reading Disorder (which has also been called "dyslexia"), oral reading is characterized by distortions, substitutions, or omissions; both oral and silent reading are characterized by slowness and errors in comprehension."

"A number of different skills may be impaired in Mathematics Disorder, including "linguistic" skills (e.g., understanding or naming mathematical terms...and decoding written problems into mathematical symbols), "perceptual" skills (e.g., recognizing or reading numerical symbols or arithmetic signs...), "attention" skills (e.g., copying numbers or figures correctly...and observing operational signs), and "mathematical" skills (e.g., following sequences of mathematical steps...)."

When a Disorder of Written Expression is present, "there is generally a combination of difficulties in the individual's ability to compose written texts evidenced by grammatical or punctuation errors within sentences, poor paragraph organization, multiple spelling errors, or excessively poor handwriting."

Difficulties associated with Expressive Language Disorder include "a markedly limited vocabulary, errors in tense, difficulty recalling words or producing sentences with developmentally appropriate length or complexity, and general difficulty expressing ideas."

In addition to difficulties associated with Expressive Language Disorder, an individual with Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder also has impairment in receptive language development (e.g., difficulty understanding words, sentences, or specific types of words). In more severe cases, there may be deficits in various areas of auditory processing (e.g., discrimination of sounds and symbols, storage, recall, and sequencing)."

Helpful strategies for instructing students with learning disabilities:

  • Deal with the student's abilities rather than disability.
  • Develop a positive student-teacher relationship.
  • Help students to follow lectures with three steps: preview, lecture, review
  • Provide lecture outlines and other handouts.
  • Use a multi-sensory approach when providing information to students. Increased learning can occur when material is presented simultaneously in a variety of ways, e.g., visual images with auditory descriptions.
  • Gain student's attention when highlighting significant points by using eye contact, voice inflection, and body gesturing.
  • Provide concrete examples and practical applications of material whenever possible.
  • Review important points during the lecture.
  • Give assignments both orally and in written format to avoid confusion.

From students with Learning Disabilities, Spring 2012

"I had a professor who offered a one hour meeting in their office, for someone who does not always catch what is taught, it was helpful to ask questions and be answered one-on-one instead of in a class of many with the teacher speaking far away."

"The most helpful thing a teacher did for me was allow me to correct my mistakes on tests."

Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADD/ADHD)

How ADHD may affect student participation:

"Signs of [ADHD] may be minimal or absent when the person is under very strict control, is in a novel setting, is engaged in especially interesting activities, is in a one-to-one situation, or while the person experiences frequent rewards for appropriate behavior" (DSM-IV, p. 79).

  • Intellectual range is generally average to superior.
  • Difficulty paying attention to details which may lead to careless mistakes or work that is sub-par for neatness
  • Difficulty listening, Difficulty responding to and organizing tasks,
  • Difficulty accepting tasks that involve sustained attention and self-application,
  • Difficulty staying focused and/staying seated for a long period of time (hyperactivity).
  • Distraction caused by otherwise irrelevant stimuli (i.e., side conversation).

Helpful strategies for instructing students with Attention Deficit Disorder:

  • Increased learning can occur when material is presented simultaneously in a variety of ways, e.g., visual images with auditory descriptions.
  • Allow the student breaks when engaged in sustained periods of testing or lecture.
  • Gain students' attention when highlighting significant points by using eye contact, voice inflection, and body gesturing.
  • Help students to follow lectures with three steps: >preview>lecture>review
  • Use a multi-sensory approach when providing information to students.
  • Identify, in private and with sensitivity, inappropriate behaviors, if necessary.
  • Create novel, interesting settings for learning whenever possible;
  • Experiential learning techniques are often effective.
  • Offer one-to-one learning whenever possible.

From a student with ADHD, Spring 2012:

"The most helpful thing a teacher did for me was give me extended time on quizzes and tests [and gave me a quiet spot to take them]."

"[A professor] was very helpful in understanding my needs and was willing to make up an assignment for another grade and was willing to see me in her office hours."

Asperger's Syndrome

How Asperger's Syndrome Affects Student Participation

  • Students have average to above average intelligence.
  • Students with Asperger's typically do not have language delays, but struggle with conversational expectations.
  • Students greatly rely on routine to maintain achievement.
  • Students with Asperger's Syndrome may have restrictive interests and points of view that can complicate their ability to accept presented material.

Helpful Strategies for instruction students with Asperger's Syndrome

  • Provide accurate prior information about classroom expectations and changes to schedule.
  • Provide written instructions that are concrete and specific. (rubric for projects)
  • Provide as much structure and routine as is appropriate to the situation.
  • Encourage students to break assignments into smaller sections.
  • Students with Asperger's Syndrome may have heightened sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, smells or touch.
  • Understand that lack of eye-contact, flat affect, and decreased "give and take" during conversations should not be regarded as disrespectful, but rather as an element of the syndrome.
  • Collaborate with DSS about specific concerns or behaviors that may seem unusual. DSS can be an essential resource to both the faculty and student.

From a student with Asperger's Syndrome, Spring 2012

"I got help [from a faculty member] by taking a DVD tutorial in Math when I was struggling. The faculty member showed me around the campus and made me aware of my surroundings."

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This page developed and maintained by Disability Services for Students. Send comments and suggestions to .


Last Updated: 9/19/12