Learning Disabilities in the Classroom

Inclusive Approaches: Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder

According to Student Accessibility Services at Middlebury College, as of the 2012-2013 Academic year, approximately 1 in every 12 Middlebury students self-identified as having a disability. A majority of these students have a learning disability or attention deficit disorder. As faculty, we all seek to make learning more accessible to all students. There are a number of actions that faculty can take when planning a course that will make the course more accessible to all students, including students with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. The Office of Learning Resources offers the following suggestions to assist faculty in meeting the growing diversity of student needs in the classroom, with a special focus on students with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder.

Some of the Basics:

  • Place a statement in your syllabus and make an announcement at the first meeting of the class such as

"Students with documented disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact me as early in the semester as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion. Assistance is available to eligible students through Student Accessibility Services. Please contact the ADA Coordinator Jodi Litchfield can be reached at litchfie@middlebury.edu or 802-443-5936 for more information. All discussions will remain confidential."

This specific statement is recommended for faculty use by Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at Middlebury College. This statement preserves a student’s confidentiality and signals the student that they are responsible for initiating contact with you and with SAS in order to secure accommodations. It also conveys that you are willing to work with the student and SAS in providing recommended reasonable accommodations. (Please be aware that the student is responsible for contacting and securing an official authorization letter from SAS before receiving accommodations).

  • Have the completed class syllabus with all assignment due dates and a list of required readings available to students by the start of the semester. This is an example of a good teaching practice that benefits all of your students. Having a completed syllabus available by request prior to the beginning of the semester is particularly useful to students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder. This allows time for students to obtain these materials in alternative formats, (for example, books on tape and audio recordings of articles that are required reading), and to begin reading assignments. In addition, it allows students to think ahead about time management and develop plans for workload management in your course as well as all their other courses.  In your teaching practice, it is important to avoid last-minute additional assignments or readings. If you must make changes in assignments and due dates, it is critical to provide adequate advanced notice of changes to all students in your class.


  • When developing your syllabus keep in mind not only the optimal time in your semester for students to practice and demonstrate skills but also the time you will need to correct and give feedback on papers, tests, labs, exercises, presentations, projects etc. Students need timely feedback in order to improve their performance. Practice must be coupled with feedback that explicitly communicates some aspect(s) of the students’ performance relative to specific target goals, provides information to help students progress in meeting those goals, and is given at a time and frequency that allows it to be useful.1


  • In printed materials use at least a size 12 sans serif font such as Ariel, Verdana, Helvetica, etc.


  • If available select a textbook with an accompanying study guide for optional student use.


  • If available select films and videos that have captions supplementing audio. Give all students the option of viewing these materials more than once. For example, provide more than one viewing time, make materials available in the library for a period of time, or make films and videos available on a website.


  • Give assignments both orally and in written form, and be available for clarification. Some students process information better when hearing it and others process the information better when seeing it.


  • Highlight major concepts and terminology both orally and visually.


  • Read aloud what you write on the board or present on an overhead or other visual aid including graphs, etc.


  • Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge in more than one format. For example, is it possible to give students options in graded assignments such as writing a paper or providing an in-class presentation or providing a poster session or demonstration?


  • Encourage students to utilize your office hours and to use campus support services including the services provided by the Center for Teaching, Learning & Research. Included is this link containing more information on services available at CTLR. (go/ctlr)


  • Maintain student confidentiality. At no time should you inform other members of the class or other faculty that a student has a disability.


  • If you require assistance or guidance concerning a student with a disability, please contact the ADA coordinator, Jodi Litchfield at litchfie@middlebury.edu or 802-443-5936.


  • The Center for Teaching, Learning & Research is also a resource to faculty in developing teaching and learning strategies to facilitate the student’s access to the course material and the demonstration of knowledge.


  • Issue “course warnings” as early as possible. Warnings are not punitive, they are a form of feedback that allows students the chance to seek support and improve their performance. Give feedback on the course warning form that specifies what areas the student needs to show improvement in and encourage the student to meet with you during your office hours. When you send warnings using the official warning form, the students’ Commons Dean and the Director of Learning Resources in CTLR are also notified so that they can reach out to students to let them know the many academic and other resources available to assist them.


The above are all examples to assist faculty in making learning more accessible to all students.

What follows is not an exhaustive list of other resources on inclusive approaches for teaching college students, but some excellent general resources:

1. Academic Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities http://www.washington.edu/doit/academic-accommodations-students-learning...

2. Virginia Tech, Services for Students with Disabilities http://www.ssd.vt.edu/faculty_departments/captioned_media.ht...

3. Johns Hopkins University, Guidelines for Teaching Students with Disabilities http://web.jhu.edu/disabilities/faculty/guidelines.html

1How Learning Works: 7 Research – Based Principles for Smart Teaching, S. Ambrose, M. Bridges, M. Lovett, M. DiPietro and M. Norman. Page 6, Jossey-Bass 2010.
 McShane 2017