Diagnosing a Learning Disability in College

Most learning disabilities are identified early in life, but it’s possible to discover that you have one in college.

If you find that you take much longer to finish your work than you classmates do, you may want to look into being evaluated for an LD. According to LD America, 60 percent of adults with severe literacy problems actually have untreated dyslexia. Could this be you?

Different Types of Disabilities

Learning disabilities can take multiple forms, affecting your ability to understand math, organize your writing, or comprehend what you hear, but the most common type is a reading and writing disability called dyslexia. If you spell the same word differently in a single document, dread open-ended questions, are lost when it comes to big-picture concepts, or show some of these other signs of a learning disability, you may have one that has gone undiagnosed.

When it comes to disabilities, colleges operate a little differently than K–12 public schools, but are still required to ensure access to education under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By the time you get to college, you’ll need to be much more proactive about advocating for yourself and seeking the services you need.

Getting Diagnosed

The first step if you suspect you may have a learning disability is usually to contact your advisor to discuss your concerns. She’ll provide resources to help you find a local clinic, psychologist, or a chapter of Learning Disabilities of America to get assessments done. An evaluation for LD typically consists of a screening, an interview, and some formal testing. The cost will vary depending on where you are and who does the evaluation — anywhere between $500 and $2,500. Clinics or college psychology departments may offer a sliding scale of fees or require out-of-pocket payment for the evaluation. Some health insurance policies will cover part or all of this cost, so check with yours to learn more.

At the end of the evaluation, you’ll leave with a report of official findings, including a diagnosis (if you need one), as well as recommendations for next steps. You can take this report to your school’s office for disability services to discuss a plan. The recommendations in the report can help you ask for the accommodations you need — these could include extended time on tests or assignments, a distraction-free environment for tests, the use of dictation programs, or some help with note-taking. Your disability services office will help you decide which accommodations are reasonable and how to request them. Documentation of a disability may also open up additional supports, like tutoring or help with editing papers.

Follow this link to learn more about what support an on-campus disability services center can provide.

Speaking to Professors

Keep in mind that even with this plan, with all of the supports and services available to you, it’s still your responsibility to be upfront with your professors about what you need. You can meet with them during office hours or after class to let them know, in a friendly and factual manner, that you have a documented learning disability, how it affects you, and that in order to get the most out of the class, you will need specific accommodations. In return, it’s your professor’s responsibility to respect your needs, and failure to do so can qualify as discrimination according to the ADA. It’s probably not news to them at this point that some students will need a little flexibility, and most professors are very supportive.

Having a learning disability doesn’t have to define your college years, unless you let it. While it can be a little uncomfortable (or a pain) to find out about a disability and get the services you need, most students who go through this are so relieved to get help and ensure passing grades that, when they look back, they realize that getting evaluated was the right choice. In fact, you may find some of those recommendations helpful long into your adult years.

For more information on addressing learning disabilities as an adult, consult LDAamerica.org or Noodle's advice section on learning disabilities and differences.