Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention

Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention Department

◊ Signs and Characteristics ◊


Learning Disabilities


Students with learning disabilities are by definition of average or above-average intelligence but have neurological problems taking in information, retaining it, or expressing their knowledge and understanding to others. For most people with learning disabilities in college, their learning deficits affect the rate, accuracy, or efficiency of reading, writing, or doing mathematics.

Time management, project organization or initiation, sustained attention, and social skills are the most troublesome areas for some students.

The characteristics of adults with learning disabilities can include:

  • A marked discrepancy between academic potential and achievement with uneven abilities within the same individual.
  • Persistent deficits in auditory, visual, or memory functions. In spite of great effort, the individual may show an inability to perform or complete certain tasks in an accurate or timely manner.

Learning difficulties may also result from the following causes, but these do not constitute a learning disability. A learning disability is not:

  • A form of an Intellectual Disabilities
  • An Emotional disorder.
  • Primarily due to :
    • Other disabilities
    • environmental or cultural influences (although these may occur at the same time).

To qualify as a student with learning disabilities in college, a student must have had a comprehensive, standardized evaluation by a professional who is specially trained in assessing learning disability and differentiating it from other causes for learning problems. The Learning Disabilities Support Team provides this service to enrolled De Anza students who have not yet been identified or diagnosed.

As an instructor, you may notice students who are struggling. Use the signs and characteristics listed below to determine those students who might benefit from referral to the Learning Disabilities Support Team.  Remember that a student who seems bored, inattentive, or lacking in study skills may also benefit from referrals to Counseling, the Student Success Center, or other relevant campus services.

Typically, students with learning disabilities have developed a wide variety of strategies to compensate for their specific difficulties in processing information. The degree and severity of these difficulties and the student’s awareness of their abilities and limitations varies widely from student to student. Because this disorder is invisible, instructors, friends, employers, and parents often misinterpret or misunderstand the challenges that students face.

Because it takes more time and energy to accomplish some tasks that are easy for others, students with hidden disabilities are often discouraged although highly motivated and persistent. They may be able to handle a typical course or project load only if they are aware of and using their learning style and strengths. They need effective strategies to compensate for their limitations, appropriate accommodations, and institutional support.


Signs and Characteristics

You might observe some of the following indicators that suggest a learning disability.

  • Oral Language Problems
    • An inability to concentrate on or to comprehend rapidly spoken language
    • Trouble organizing orally presented concepts that are seemingly understood
    • Difficulty pronouncing multisyllabic words
    • Difficulty speaking grammatically correct English (not due to second language issues)
    • Trouble telling a story in sequence
    • Difficulty retrieving and expressing basic information, particularly when under perceived pressure
  • Reading Problems
    • Slow reading rate
    • Difficulty recognizing important points or themes
    • Inability to sound out or pronounce unfamiliar words
    • Difficulty reading for long periods of time
    • Skipping words or entire lines of printed material
  • Written Language Difficulties
    • Slow written production, often with poorly formed handwriting
    • An inability to take notes or copy from a board or overhead
    • Compositions lacking in adequate organization, transitions, and vocabulary
    • Difficulty with sentence structure
    • Frequent spelling errors
    • Difficulty proofreading written work and making revisions
    • Difficulty planning a topic, organizing thoughts on paper, or initiating written work on an assignment or in-class essay
  • Mathematical Difficulties
    • Computational skill difficulty, often reversing or getting numbers out of sequence
    • Difficulty mentally retrieving formulas or a sequence of steps without cues
    • Difficulty comprehending word problems, key concepts, and applications for problem solving
    • Incomplete mastery of basic facts (particularly multiplication tables)
    • Copying and aligning problems incorrectly
    • Difficulty with extreme test anxiety or with completing exams under time pressure even after demonstrating mastery of homework
  • Study Skills and Organizational Difficulties
    • Difficulty organizing and budgeting time
    • Repeated inability to recall what has been taught
    • Difficulty preparing for and taking tests
    • Difficulty initiating efforts to start and complete tasks
    • Lack of organization in materials and notes
    • Difficulty using library and research skills
    • Difficulty interpreting charts and graphs
  • Social Skills Difficulties
    • Difficulty recognizing social cues due to perceptual problems
    • Difficulty interacting with others in collaborative work
    • Difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues and body language
    • Difficulty recognizing and interpreting tone, mood, and humor in written and oral language


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Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention Building:

Last Updated: 6/13/17