1.Perceptual-motor;Differences This category includes auditory, visual, spatio-motor, and perceptual differences. Students who find it challenging to translate spoken words into directions or who have
trouble comprehending spoken abstract reasoning may have
difficulty in lectures where the instructor speaks without using
visual stimulation. Students with visual learning issues may have
difficulty using computerized answer sheets, or making sense of
graphs or charts. They may benefit from a professor or friend talking them through visual stimuli. Spatio-motor differences may
manifest themselves in a laboratory course where students have
trouble handling lab equipment. Perceptual differences include
difficulty in perceiving the nonverbal communication clues, like
body language and facial expressions, that can be important to
learning in any context.
2.Processing;Differences Some students who find it challenging to think, either sequentially or simultaneously, may have a processing
difference. This type of learning difference will quickly present
itself in a chemistry course, where many problems require both
accurate, multistep solutions and the ability to integrate detailed
knowledge into the “big conceptual picture.” 14
3.Academic;Differences Dyslexia refers to a variety of reading difficulties. Dyscalculia is similar to dyslexia but refers to difficulty in
processing numbers and mathematical functions. Students with
Dysgraphia face challenges with the psychomotor skills required
for writing (for example, note-taking). Most of these serious
academic differences are observable early in childhood and tend to
be diagnosed long before a student reaches a college or university.
4.Social;and;Interpersonal;Concerns The stress of coping with learning differences can lead to problems with self-esteem, anxiety, and other
psychological issues. Students facing these issues should go
to their college health services to get a referral for appropriate
diagnosis and help.
Getting a diagnosis
Before they will provide accommodations for a learning difference, colleges and universities require documentation of the
difference from a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist who has
comprehensive training and experience working with young
adults with learning differences. For this reason, notes from parents or school counselors cannot be used as documentation.
Many students arrive on campus with the proper documentation for their learning difference, having been diagnosed previously in their academic career. Other students with learning differences might have been able to cope and succeed throughout
high school but are no longer able to thrive in the more demanding college atmosphere. Students in the latter category need to
seek a qualified medical or psychological evaluation as soon as
they suspect a difficulty with learning. Keep in mind that many
colleges and universities do not have qualified staff members
who can test for learning differences, but almost all ADA coordinators can recommend qualified professionals who practice
nearby. It is the responsibility of the student, and not the institution, to obtain psychological testing and provide documentation
that a learning difference exists.
The Department of Justice allows each college or university to
decide what constitutes “reasonable” accommodations for each
type of learning difference. Students are treated on a case-by-case basis, and input from the medical professional, student, and
professors may be used to decide on the best course of accommodations.
Some learning issues are “triggered” by external stimuli such
as noisy or crowded rooms. Accommodations in these cases
require removing the student from the trigger situation, especially during examinations. Other accommodations may be suggested and provided, such as assistance with note-taking, use of
a recording device for lectures, or the help of a special assistant
for lab experiments.
inChemistry • www.acs.org/undergrad