Learning differences go to college

Watch a video of what it's like to be someone who learns differently, or see excerpts from a panel discussion held at SMU in spring 2007.

About 45 million Americans - 15 percent of the population - have some form of learning disability. Most likely you know such a person, are related to one or are one yourself.

Most learning and attention disorders are diagnosed while students are in grade school, where they receive special attention to help them along. But when students reach college, their learning differences become amplified because of tougher curricula, increased workloads and the absence of supportive family members.

On this Web page, you’ll find suggestions on how students with learning differences, their professors and their parents can work together as a team to ensure a successful college experience.

In this panel discussion, for example, Alexa Taylor, SMU learning and attention disorders counselor (LeAD), promotes faculty understanding, while SMU graduate Matt Tunnell (’07) shares his coping strategies and SMU student Jayme Clemente describes the pros and cons of taking medication.

The panel was sponsored by SMU’s Students for New Learning, an organization chartered in 2003 that meets monthly to provide support, share strategies and raise awareness of learning disabilities and ADHD on campus.

Parents can learn more about their role in helping their college students face new challenges in the question-and-answer with SMU experts and students, while SMU Psychology Lecturer Stuart Robinson offers teaching strategies for faculty. 

“At the college level,” says Rebecca Marin, director of Services for Students with Disabilities at SMU, “students who seek special services must advocate for themselves. This takes a considerable amount of organizational skill, time management and responsibility.” SMU students can find this much needed individualized assistance from the Learning and Attention Disorders Counselors in the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center.

Clemente, an art history major and the former president of Students for New Learning (SNL), credits her parents’ lifelong involvement and SMU’s resources, such as the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center, for her success. She adds that SNL has grown into a supportive network for its members.

“Our goal is to educate people who aren’t familiar with different learning styles to understand the shoes we have to walk in,” she says. “We also try to instill confidence in each other – in who we are and how we learn. We just do things differently.”

SMU’s Taylor and four students, including Tunnell, presented at the International Dyslexia Association annual conference in November, 2008. This was a chance for these successful college students to share the elements of their success, while coping with a learning difference in college. Professionals and families attended the international conference in Seattle, WA.

SMU was also involved in the IDA conference in 2007, when the conference came to Dallas, TX. Two SMU faculty members shared their experiences reaching students with learning differences. Patricia G. Mathes, Director of the Institute for Reading Research at SMU, spoke on effective practices and research findings for English language learners with reading difficulties, and Karen Vickery, Director of the Learning Therapy Program at SMU¹s School of Education and Human Development, spoke on "Teaching the Teachers: Effective Models for Colleges and Universities."

Some of the national statistics compiled by Bridges to Practice, a project of the Florida Department of Education, include:

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