MET:Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities

From UBC Wiki

Edited by Hosein Moeini 2010

Edited by Behnaz (Dana) Mehregani 2015

What are Learning Disabilities?



Students_with_Learning_Disabilities refer to a number of disorders, which may affect information processing (Hutchinson 2007) through acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or nonverbal information. Students with learning disabilities have a discrepancy between their ability (as measured by an intelligence test) and performance or achievement in one or more of the following areas: reading, writing, language acquisition, mathematics, and reasoning and listening. It is important to note that the discrepancy is not the result of a visual, hearing, motor disability, emotional or behavioral, or the result of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage (Hutchinson 2007). The discrepancy between ability and performance distinguish students with learning disabilities from students with global intellectual deficiency ( such as Down syndrome or Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Learning disabilities are lifelong. The way in which they are expressed may vary over an individual’s lifetime, depending on the interaction between the demands of the environment and the individual’s strengths and needs.


Provinces report that roughly half of exceptional students have learning disabilities, making this the highest incident of exceptionality. Learning disabilities arise from one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in learning including: taking in information (listening, reading, and observing); making sense of information (relating, remembering, and evaluating); and showing (speaking, writing, and calculating) (Hutchinson 2007).


Clark-Edmands, S. (2000)

  • Language
    • May have poor vocabulary
    • May have difficulty with non-literal language (e.g. similes, idioms, metaphors)
    • May have difficulty finding names of objects
    • May have difficulty learning names of people or places
    • May have difficulty in using words to express thoughts and feelings
  • Visual perception:
    • May have difficulty with similar configurations and letters, e.g. d and b, p and q
    • May have difficulty copying
    • May have lots of reversals in writing
    • May have difficulty with puzzles
  • Fine motor:
    • May have difficulty holding pencil correctly
    • May have difficulty cutting with scissors
    • May have fatigue with writing
    • May have difficulty staying in line in coloring
    • May have difficulty tying shoes
  • Self-concept:
    • May have poor body image
    • May be shy, withdrawn
    • May be aggressive
    • May have difficulty shifting between activities
    • May be anxious
    • May resist change
  • Social and Behavioural Characteristics
    • Task avoidance
    • Social withdrawal
    • Frustration
    • Depression
    • Overwhelmed by volume of assigned work (often behind)


Curriculum Modifications and Inclusion:

The educational needs of students with learning disabilities are vastly diverse. On the one hand, they must, as their peers, get knowledge and skills required in the society they live. On the other hand, they have additional demands caused by functional limitations which affect learners’ ability to access standard educational methods of instruction. There is a large discrepancy between achievement and intelligence for students with learning disabilities. Students who have learning disabilities are at the average intelligence and therefore remediation is not necessary; the curriculum does not have to be modified for the child, the teacher must ADAPT.

Inclusion is a concept which refers to “the right to belong to the mainstream”; leaving behind the idea that only few learners have “special needs”, the social model of inclusion rather suggests that all students as individual learners present their own peculiar characteristics and have their own specific educational needs. Such a perspective implies a Copernican revolution which brings all students at the very heart of the educational process whilst the school is required to adjust and change in order to enable each of them to participate in the life of the school to the best of their abilities (Benigno et al., 2007). Consequently, inclusion requires considerable changes in perspective and management within schools.

Assistive Technologies:


Assistive technologies (AT) are important factors in making classroom adaptations for students with learning disabilities. An assistive technology is defined as any item, piece of equipment, product or system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that can be used to directly assist, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with learning disabilities. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20, Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25) USA.

As the above definition make clear assistive technologies can be both high tech and low-tech tools. The purpose of AT is to provide tools that help those with learning disabilities reach their full potential. The tools provide through AT help to minimize the gap between ability and performance as outlined in the definition of learning disabilities. AT works with students to capitalize on their strengths and work around their specific deficits.


  • Increases independent learning
  • Provides greater choices and freedom for content delivery
  • Creates self-confidence by fostering success
  • Works with learners of all ages
  • Improves quality of life by removing barriers for future educational possibilities

The key to maximizing the benefits of AT is to find the right tools for each individual learner. Often this will be done on trial and error basis and as such teachers must be willing to approach the process form a trial and error basis.


As each learner is unique not all technologies will be suitable or appropriate. As trial and error is often the best way to find a fit for learner and technology it is suggested that teachers be creative. In the selection of an assistive technology educators can use the following questions as a guide (LDAO):

1. What task is the individual expected to perform?

2. In what specific areas is the individual having difficulties?

3. What is it specifically that the individual cannot do or does not do according to expectations?

  • Organization:

Some students face challenges organizing information in order to stay on track and manage time wisely. The following are a few examples of assistive technologies that aid students with learning disabilities get organized and make assignments more manageable.

Highlighters, Index cards, Color-coding, graph paper, headphones and earplugs to reduce distractions, audio recording devices, voice activated day planners, and Soft-ware programs.

  • Auditory:

With auditory related learning disabilities learners may have problems discriminating between similar words and various letter sounds, following more than one direction at a time, and may need information repeated.

FM amplification devices, Laptop computers, electronic note books, variable speech control tape-recorder, Books on disks or computer based reading programs. Using a visual/auditory multimedia approaches work particularly well.

  • Visual:

Assistive technologies for students with visual base learning disabilities function by highlighting and representing visual tasks through multiple perspectives.

Audio recorders, software that enable students to change font size and color, large print, magnification software and hardware, voice output software, talking and large print browsers, and books on disc.

  • Math (Dyscalculia):

The learning disability related to math is known as dyscalculia. Dyscalculia takes two forms the qualitative and the quantitative (Rao Vaidya, 2004). The quantitative form of dyscalculia is a deficit in the skills of counting and calculating. The qualitative difficulty is when a student has difficulties in the comprehension of instruction or the skills required for an operation.

Color coding, hand-held calculators, talking calculators, on screen calculatar programs, large button calculators, and math course delivered through computer-assisted instruction.

  • Reading (Dyslexia):

Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin. Students with dyslexia are characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities. Consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Text-to-speech systems, optical character recognition system, screen review systems, books on computers/disc, audio recorders, information presented through visual means, multimedia.

  • Writing (Dysgraphia):

Dysgraphia characterized by illegible written text, difficulties with drawing and a general difficulty with paper and pencil tasks(Richards 1999).

Word processors represent the most commonly used assistive technology for students with dysgraphia. Webbing and concept mapping applications are also widely used.

  • Multimedia:

From the examples presented above it becomes clear that the best assistive technologies are those that present information in a variety of formats. Any technology that enable learners to experience new information through a variety of sense will aid students with learning disabilities to participate in meaningful way to their classroom settings.

Stop Motion Animation: Feb. 8, 2015, Dana Mehregani; Using iPads in the classroom for teaching primary students with learning disabilities:


  • Assistive technologies are unfair for other students.
  • Assistive technologies are expensive high-tech and therefore a luxury.
  • Assistive technologies are a magic cure for learning disabilities.
  • Assistive technologies directed towards a particular learning disability work for all those with that disability.
  • Assistive technologies are assigned only once and remain the same through the course of one’s education.

ICT in Education of Disabled Students:

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) offers a great potential to support lifelong learning for all groups of students, including those who have learning disabilities. The application of ICTs must enhance independence, integration and equal opportunities for such people and in this way will facilitate their inclusion in society as valued, respected and contributing members (UNESCO IITE, 2006).ICTs can help people, who have special education needs, to enhance their independence and integration by eliminating socially constructed labels, categories, and disabling phenomena. In spite of their functional limitations, they have the opportunity to take an active part in the learning process through facilities prepared by ICT.



  • General ICT Benefits

-Enables greater learner autonomy

-Unlocks hidden potential for those with communication difficulties

-Enables students to demonstrate achievement in ways which might not be possible with traditional methods

-Enables tasks to be tailored to suit individual skills and abilities

  • ICT Benefits for students:

-Can improve independent access for students to education

-Students with special education needs are able to accomplish tasks working at their own pace

-Visually impaired students using the internet can access information alongside their sighted peers

-Students with profound and multiple learning difficulties can communicate more easily

-Students using voice communication aids gain confidence and social credibility at school and in their communities

-Increased ICT confidence amongst students motivates them to use internet at home for school/work and leisure interests

  • ICT Benefits for teachers, non-teaching staff:

-Reduces isolation for teachers working in special educational needs by enabling them to communicate electronically with colleagues

-Supports reflection on professional practice via online communication

-Improved skills for staff and a greater understanding of access technology used by students

-Enhances professional development and the effectiveness of the use of ICTs with students through collaboration with peers

-Materials already in electronic form (for example, from the internet) are more easily adapted into accessible resources such as large print or Braille

  • ICT Benefits for parents and carers:

-Use of voice communication aids encourages parents and carers to have higher expectations of children sociability and potential level of participation (UNESCO, 2006).


Conditions for supporting disabled learners:

The key ways in which ICTs can support educational opportunities for people with special needs are as follows (Kotsik, Tokareva, 2007):

  • Identifying the preliminary level of personal development (experiences and skills), that is to say the starting point of a student
  • Assisting in personal development by shaping new skills or updating existing ones
  • Improving the access to information
  • Overcoming geographical or social isolation via communication support and networks
  • Improving the image / perception of an area by enhancing motivation and awareness regarding the ICT benefits in education

ICT policy for teaching students with learning disabilities:

Components of the ICT implementation policy in provision of accessible education for


students with learning disabilities can be considered as follow:

  • Providing appropriate ICT infrastructure satisfied the principles of usability,

accessibility, flexibility, affordability, and cost-effectiveness

  • Training and retraining of ICT specialists in special education that

should satisfy quality standards of professional teachers' excellence, and meet the technology standards of teachers' excellence

  • Modifying of all curriculum components (including methods of creating the content,

its delivery and ways of assessment of the students' progress) with due account for educational needs of students

Guidelines for Using Technology to teach Children with Learning Disabilities:

1) Allow the child time to experiment, explore, and have success. Students with disabilities often have processing deficits and decreased motor planning, and they require a longer time to respond to a task.

2) If the child is required to perform a physically demanding task, the cognitive demands should be minimal. If the child is struggling to understand the concept of the task, it is more difficult to produce the physical response because both require significant energy.

3) The activity should be motivating and personalized to the likes of the child, if they are known. The more engaging the activity, the greater the reward for the child.

4) The activity must be developmentally appropriate for the child.

5) Once the control site and control interface have been established, integration into the child’s environment is important. Allowing for the frequent use and opportunity in the child’s environment is important for skill development and mastery.

6) Having a back-up access system is important to always allow the child the ability to participate (McCarty and Morress, 2009).


  • Benigno, V., Bocconi, S., & Ott, M. (2007). Inclusive education: helping teachers to choose ICT resources and to use them effectively. eLearning Papers (nº 6).
  • Clark-Edmands, S. (2000). Screening checklists: early identification of children at risk for reading failure, handwriting difficulty, and spelling error analysis. Learning disabilities Journal, 10(3).
  • Hutchinson, Nancy. Inclusion of Exceptional Learners in Canadian Schools: A Practical Handbook for Teachers, 2nd Ed., Pearson Education Canada, Toronto, Ontario, 2007.
  • Kotsik, B., Tokareva, N. (2007). UNESCO IITE Contribution to e-Inclusion Policy Development for Education of Students with Disabilities. Information and Communication Technology and Accessibility (ICTA) 07, Tunisia.
  • McCarty, E., Morress, C. (2009). Establishing Access to Technology: An Evaluation and Intervention Model to Increase the Participation of Children with Cerebral Palsy. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 20 (3): 523-534.
  • Rao Vaidya, Sheila.(2004) Understanding Dyscalculia for teaching, Education, Vol. 24, No. 4 pp. 717-720.
  • Richards, Regina G. Strategies for Dealing with Dysgraphia (1999).
  • The Leaning Disabilities Association of Ontario
  • UNESCO IITE. (2006). ICTs in Education for People with Special Needs. Specialized training course. Moscow.

External Links

  • Assistive Technologies

  • Becta

  • Dyscalculia

  • International Dyslexia Organization

  • LD Online

  • The Leaning Disabilities Association of Ontario

  • Learning Disability Association of America

  • Orton-Gillingham Approach

  • Orton-Gillingham-based and/or Multi-sensory-structured approaches

  • Special education in Alberta

  • The World Bank - ICT for Disabled Learners

  • UNESCO - Inclusive Education