How to Succeed When You Have a Learning Disability in College

How to Succeed With Learning Disabilities in College

We are very lucky to be living in a time where many disabilities are recognized, and many institutions, especially educational ones, make accommodations that facilitate the success of those with disabilities.

My Diagnosis 

In first grade, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, otherwise known as ADHD. I still remember my less-than-caring first grade teacher taking minutes out of my recess time for asking to go to the bathroom during class. I mean, I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I had all this energy, and all these thoughts, and I wasn’t trying to disrupt anyone, or skip questions on tests. I just needed something a little different from the other students.

Though I was diagnosed in first grade, and began taking medication, it was not until high school that I received any academic assistance for my disability.

We took a survey one year at my school about how long it takes us to read, do homework, and prepare for an exam. I thought my answers were normal, but I was told my answers were all at least 1.5 times that of other students. With those results, and the fact that my parents saw me working six to eight hours per night on homework after school, I finally had what is called a PEP, or personal education plan, put together. I highly recommend looking into this if you are still in high school or are in college and have a disability.

Student Disability Services

Having this plan set up in high school made it so much easier for me to get accommodations in college. However, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor and your disability services on campus. If there are no services provided on your campus, still reach out to your doctor for assistance in implementing a plan for you at school.

As previously mentioned, I did not receive any accommodations until my sophomore year of high school, and though I do advise getting accommodations set up for yourself as soon as possible, I think it was a really valuable thing that I went without help for so long. Although there were tough times, I had to manage without any additional accommodations.

How to Succeed with a Learning Disability 

In about fifth grade, I realized if I wanted to succeed, I needed to work twice as hard as everyone else, even if it means that I don’t do any better than them, and for a long time I wasn’t doing any better than anyone else… but then as classes got harder, and my study strategies better, I slowly began to stand out.

My first semester of college, I had a 4.0 GPA, and was setting the curve on exams in multiple classes. I am a senior now and still maintain a 3.8 GPA overall. My disability has taught me that not only can I do anything everyone else can, with hard work I can probably do it better.

My disability helped me to figure out how to study, what to study, where to study, and when to study. I have about a hundred different study techniques. My techniques might not be for everyone, but they have helped me. Some of the study tactics I use are:

• Writing notecards

• Recording myself going over notes and talking through concepts

• Writing out the step by step processes for math problems

• Reworking the same math problem over and over to develop the best method to solve that type of problem

• Rewriting and color coding notes

• Making posters

• Write up a cheat sheet and try to recreate it without my notes

• Writing songs with course material

Those are just a few of my techniques. You should experiment with different things to see what works for you. Make a game out of it. Make it fun. It’s so much easier to succeed when you know what works best, and when you’re enjoying the process.

Accommodations for College Students with Disabilities 

As I said in the beginning, many institutions offer resources to those with disabilities. Use those resources! I was stubborn my freshman and sophomore years of college. I had a doctor’s note so I could get accommodations, but I was convinced not to use the resources available to me because I wanted to prove how hard I could work.

Hard work is a great thing. Smart work is better. Once I began seeing a tutor, taking tests in a private room without distractions, and getting extra time to take tests, among other helpful accommodations, I realized these accommodations didn’t reduced how hard I was working, they just freed up some time and mental capacity for other enjoyable things.

Instead of spending three hours working through math problems, I would spend an hour going through them with a tutor. Back then I would have never been able to have a job and be a student at the same time. Now I work 25 hours per week while still getting the same - if not better - grades.

In my journey I learned a few things. Speak to your professors. They are people too, and they can be very understanding. The first professor I ever opened up to about my disability had a spouse who had faced the same thing, so they fully understood and allowed me to postpone an exam. When you show you are a very hard working and dedicated student, the majority of instructors will help you when you’re struggling.

I also recommend recording lectures on your phone. I still zone out and my mind races even with ADHD medication. I have days where, despite everything, I just cannot focus. I have jittery anxious days, and days where I forget my medication. Being able to listen to what I missed later is so helpful in all the above situations. This is my favorite tip to promote success.

No matter what disability you may be struggling with, whether it be a learning disability or any other type, please never underestimate your ability to succeed.

Overcoming Learning Disabilities 

The need to continuously overcome something every day already shows how strong you are. Use that strength, and the resources around you to achieve success. If there are no resources around you, be the one to speak up and take action for yourself and others facing the same adversity.

Recently I dealt with a professor who denied me assistance, claiming I was taking the easy way out, and that there are expectations students must satisfy, and that, disability or not, I must satisfy those expectations. I reached out and told this professor my story so that they could understand they were in the wrong. I also told this professor that I would be fine whether I got help or not because I know how to work twice as hard as everyone else.

Lastly, I reached out to my doctor and the facilities at my school and got the accommodations I needed legally implemented so this professor no longer had any say in my experience. When you come in contact with people like this, stand your ground. You are not receiving any special treatment, or taking the easy way out. Fight for what you need to succeed. Create the best circumstances for yourself, work twice as hard, understand how you learn, reach out, and believe in your strength. That’s how you succeed in college - and anywhere in life - with a disability.

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