In working with adults with learning disabilities, you may find yourself needing to make some changes to what or how you are teaching. This can seem like an impossible task. This post is a starting point for taking on that task.
First, let’s clarify the difference between an accommodation and a modification. An accommodation is a help for the learner to be able to overcome or work around the disability. This is often a physical or environmental change. A modification is a change to the content the student is learning.
While there are education plans for adults and children in learning environments, most tutors are working in more informal situations. Just in case, be sure there isn’t a formal plan in place that could have listed accommodations and modifications. Most likely, you will have freedom to choose the best way to support your student.
There are some considerations when planning these supports. First, you want to choose the least restrictive support. Choosing a less intensive support ensures as much independence as possible.
The student’s goals should also be considered. It is important that any accommodations or modifications can be used in achieving the goal, or that over time those supports will be able to be removed. For example, when taking the written drivers license test in Arkansas, the computer will read the questions aloud. So, practicing for the test while reading content and questions aloud is reasonable. However, there is no possibility for some of the answer choices to be eliminated on that test, so if you use that support, be sure you slowly move to not using it before the student has to take the test.
It is also important to note that about 60% of adults with literacy struggles have an undiagnosed or undetected learning disability. While you are not the appropriate person to diagnose, you may notice some common symptoms and signs. It may be worth trying one of these supports and to see if they help your student make gains.
Also, your student may not know that if they have an identified disability, they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act says that a qualified candidate is someone who can perform the job functions. Job applicants with disabilities may not be disqualified or subjected to discrimination by virtue of their need for reasonable accommodations. Information about that disability must be kept confidential and must not be disclosed without your explicit (written) consent.
Now, let’s take a look at some common learning disabilities and supports that may help. Most of these are appropriate for multiple disabilities.
- Reading aloud content – This can include you reading aloud to the student or having them read it aloud as they practice. Sometimes just having a model helps the student practice again later.
- Audiobooks – Audio Books are a great way for students to practice comprehension and visualization. They can also help adults with reading struggles to engage with parts of our culture and community that often feels unavailable to them.
- Repetition of directions – Repeated directions, a long with breaking down the directions into shorter steps, can help give students time to process what is being asked of them. It can also help for students to repeat directions back to you for clarity.
- Putting fewer items on a page – Sometimes the amount of content can be overwhelming or be visually distracting. If it is impossible to move information around, simply folding the page or covering sections can help.
- Using songs, poems, and mnemonics to learn – Music and rhythm can help students remember information.
- Break the text into smaller chunks – This makes text manageable and ensure understanding.
- Text – to – speech and speech – to – text software – Technology has offered a lot for those with disabilities that we are all able to take advantage of. It is important to practice using this technology in a safe and supportive environment that helps the person use it fluently and confidently in other situations.
- Spell check and grammar check – For this to be useful the students need to have enough grasp of grammar and spelling to get close. However, it can greatly reduce the stress of writing for professional reasons if the student is taught to use it properly.
- Dictate or scribe answers for the student – Writing down the student’s response for them can take a lot of pressure off learning content. It can also help the student see the correlation between spoken and written language.
- Allow typed responses – For many people with learning disabilities, typing is easier than writing.
- Individual and small group settings – Most tutors meet this way, but for some people they may need a different setting if they are overwhelmed or need more attention than the one they are in.
- Reduce visual and auditory distractions – Use dividers, cubicles, binders, or even just facing a different direction to reduce visual distractions. Finding a quiet place or using headphones can reduce distractions from noise.
- Allow for more breaks – Working on a task while also having a disability can be taxing. Taking breaks can also help allow for time to process information or move around a bit.
- Timers to keep track of time spent on tasks – Many learning disabilities make time management and completing tasks at a reasonable pace difficult. Setting timers for each step or whole task can help. There are also many visual timers online for free.
- Highlighters to mark place or importance of task – Using bright colors to separate information or indicate how letters should be written can help bring focus and provide support.
- Planners for tracking – Organization is a major obstacle for many adults and having a disability adds to that difficulty. Using planners and supporting the adult in becoming proficient at using them can help the adult navigate learning and life.
- Allow the student to retell information frequently – Retelling can help with processing information and skills.
- Using graph paper to organize problems – Graph paper can help organize math problems into columns and lines so that those with spatial delays can focus on the mathematical process instead of the layout.
- Color code content (subject areas, text parts, etc) – When using this strategy the colors need to have assigned meaning. Colors for key words or steps in a process can help the learner build meaning.
- Practice visualizing – Visualizing is an important process in understanding what you are reading, hearing, or planning. This skill takes practice. Start with a real object before working your way towards written words, sentences, paragraphs, and books.
- Use discussions for students to study material – If you have a small group, prompting discussion can help students share their knowledge while also processing what they have learned.