SSWD Learning Disabilities Handbook for Students/Faculty


The information in this handbook is meant to enhance the faculty member's understanding of specific learning disabilities and to assist the professor in working successfully with students with learning disabilities. The term "specific learning disabilities" is a comprehensive one that encompasses several different disorders. More familiar terms might include "dyslexia," which affects reading or "dyscalculia," which impacts mathematics.

The label "learning disabilities" is misleading because it implies that the student is unable to learn. However, students with Learning Disabilities (LD) possess average to very superior intelligence. Despite average learning potential and traditionally successful instructional methods, a student with LD experiences significant learning and memory difficulties. To be successful, a student with LD must use alternative ways of learning, storing, and retrieving information.

Learning disabilities often remain hidden or unrecognized for years with students puzzled and frustrated by failure despite persistent motivation and effort. Sometimes the student may be falsely perceived as lazy or lacking motivation when in reality the student may work harder and longer than their non-LD peers. Many students are not diagnosed until they reach the university or community college level when high demands are made on complex language and mathematical skills.

The diagnosis of the learning disability is the first step in a process of self-understanding and a renewal of self-confidence for the student. The diagnostic assessment provides the student with an in-depth knowledge of learning strengths and limitations. The student then has the opportunity to change unproductive behaviors and to discover more effective ways of learning. Because learning disabilities cannot be "cured," accommodations, support services and aids may be necessary to help the student bypass or overcome the effects of the learning disability.
Often, after diagnosis, emotional issues arise. For example, some students become angry that the learning disability was not recognized earlier by parents or teachers. Many are afraid that they will be discriminated against by instructors or employers. Other students are too embarrassed to ask for accommodations and, due to fear of humiliation, will refuse to reveal the disability to instructors, families, or friends.

Students with LD learn that they must, at times, face the skepticism of others. Since learning disabilities are invisible and the student has no observable disability, it can be difficult for others to accept the disability as real. Therefore, a student with learning disabilities is doubly challenged: first, in coping with the disability and second, in confronting attitudes of disbelief or doubt. The faculty member plays a critical part in assisting the student with LD to realize his potential for success. The support of the instructor is crucial in helping the student to meet the challenges imposed by the learning disability. Working together, staff, faculty, and student can build the necessary bridges that will span the obstacles in learning and lead to greater opportunity for academic achievement.


Learning disabilities are real... they aren't a myth. 
Learning disabilities are commonly defined according to the following basic criteria:

  • Average to very superior intelligence.
  • Academic achievement is not commensurate with potential.
  • One or more cognitive or processing skills are deficient, i.e., auditory/ visual processing, memory, language, or reasoning.
  • Other handicapping or environmental conditions and factors can be excluded as the direct cause of the learning difficulty.

The CSU Office of the Chancellor official definition of specific learning disabilities is as follows:

"Specific learning disabilities is a generic term that refers to the heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. These disorders occur in persons of average to very superior intelligence and are presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, even though a learning disability may exist concomitantly with other handicapping conditions (e.g., sensory impairments) or environmental influences (e.g., cultural/ language difficulties), it is not the direct result of these conditions or influences." (Coded memo AAES 89-07 BP 89-08)

In other words, a specific learning disability is considered to be caused by neurological disorders which interfere with the reception, retention, and expression of information. The brain might be compared, on a simplistic level, to a television set with its various stations that receive and relay information.
If the station is not functioning properly causing a disturbance in the transmission, the brain receives distorted and inconsistent information. The communication may be incomplete or incorrect and information can get lost. Memory functions can fail. The brain then will have difficulties assimilating patterns and integrating systems that are required for reading, writing, listening, and mathematical skills.


The challenge for the future is to discover the potential for learning disabilities early so that intervention can begin before learning becomes a problem.

Multidisciplinary research programs at a variety of universities, such as Yale University, the University of Colorado, and Harvard University, have led to progress in the understanding of the etiology of learning disabilities. The results of these scientific studies and others indicate the construct of learning disabilities involves the following factors:


Research is currently being conducted to determine a chromosomal link to reading disorders.
Major research indicates that the ability to decode words fluently is dependent on phoneme segmentation ability. Deficits in phonologic awareness reflect the core deficit in dyslexia.


Toxicity and malnutrition can adversely affect the development of the central nervous system. Such conditions as maternal smoking or drug use, illness, or accidents can cause prenatal or postnatal neurological damage.


Individuals who are dyslexic show atypical neurological organization of the left and right hemispheres. In people with dyslexia, the normal left greater-than-right asymmetry is absent with atypical structure found in the region of the posterior temporal planum. The posterior left hemisphere demonstrates an anomalous organization of tissue and processing systems. Endocrine imbalances caused by abnormal functioning of the pituitary and thyroid glands can affect learning, memory and attention.


There is no one test for learning disabilities nor is there one pattern of results. The evaluation is considered as a whole.

The assessment process is a uniform procedure that adheres to guidelines established by the CSU Office of the Chancellor for all campuses in the CSU system.  For the full text of the CSU Guidelines for the Assessment and Verification of Students with Learning Disabilities see, Appendix A.

Students are not eligible for services and accommodations until the diagnosis is completed and the eligibility requirements are met. If the student does not meet the requirements, a referral is made to other campus programs as appropriate.


Abstract Reasoning

Even though the student may have average to superior intelligence, the processes of non-language based analysis and conceptualization may be impaired which affect the following areas, particularly as related to mathematics or science:

  • Analysis of differences and similarities
  • Drawing inferences and conclusions
  • Transference and generalization
  • Retention of facts, formulae, problem solving steps

Auditory/Perceptual Processing

Even with normal hearing, the student demonstrates deficits in auditory discrimination, sequencing and memory, which affect the following skills:

  • Listening and writing simultaneously
  • Memory of orally presented information
  • Oral pronunciation
  • Reading: phonetics and word attack
  • Spelling

Language Comprehension (Oral and Written)

Even though the student may be a native speaker, deficits occur in the ability to comprehend and retain linguistic concepts, which affect the following areas:

  • Grammar and syntax
  • Organization of thoughts/ideas into logical format

Short and Long Term Retrieval

Deficits in associative or rote memory may occur in the following areas:

  • Auditory memory
  • Visual memory
  • Both auditory and visual memory

Visual Perceptual/Processing

Even with normal or corrected vision (with prescription lenses), the student demonstrates deficits in visual discrimination, sequencing, and memory, which affect these areas:

  • Mathematical concepts, visual-spacial information
  • Reading comprehension and vocabulary
  • Speed of processing written or graphic material
  • Spelling

Visual-Spatial and Motor Coordination

The visual-spatial-motor systems can be impaired which causes difficulties in the following areas:

  • Directionality: left, right, north, south, east, west
  • Fine motor control: handwriting, typing, copying, drawing
  • Gross motor control: sports, dance, movement
  • Spatial awareness: judging distance and depth
  • Visual tracking, scanning, focusing
  • Speed of reading and writing
  • Vocabulary


While students have rights to reasonable accommodations and confidentiality, they also must act responsibly in consulting with staff and faculty.
Students need to understand their disability and appropriate accommodations and services:

  • The student with LD should have a clear understanding of their learning disability and its effects on learning style and need.
  • The students should know that among the post-secondary systems, the level and type of support services vary. In the CSU system, the supported services are limited to advising, reader, note-taking service, and aids such as adapted equipment, alternate formats, etc. Tutoring and special classes are NOT funded in the CSU system.

Students need to make timely arrangements for support services and accommodations:

  • The student with LD is responsible for making arrangements for accommodations and support services with the LD Specialist and the instructor in a timely manner. Use of reader, tutor, or notetaker requires certain office procedures that the student must complete before these support services can start.
  • The LD Specialist will provide a letter for the student to give to their professor certifying the learning disability and listing the various accommodations that are necessary. The student should meet as early as possible with each instructor and make arrangements for testing accommodations, notetaker services, tape recording, etc.
  • Coursework Testing accommodation plans should be confirmed with the instructor and testing resource facility (Testing Center or Departmental Office) at least one week before the test date and three weeks for final exams.
  • Students should not expect staff and faculty to be able to arrange accommodations or services on short notice.

Students need to understand legal and privacy rights:

  • The student with LD is provided with information regarding the laws that protect the rights of disabled individuals. Furthermore, the student with LD is advised that any accommodation must be reasonable and appropriately based on individual diagnosis and need.
  • Students are advised that their disability is considered a private and confidential matter and they are not required or expected to discuss it in a public setting. The professor must respect the student's right to confidentiality and refrain from discussing the student's disability or needs with others without the student's permission.
  • The LD Specialist must respect the student's confidentiality when discussing their needs with faculty but will need to disclose their academic accommodation needs and general nature of the disability, when appropriate.


The law requires that reasonable accommodations be made in education and in the workplace.

The rights of students with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, are protected under two major laws:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Under these two laws, persons with documented learning disabilities have similar legal entitlements as those with physical or sensory disabilities.

Section 504 and ADA

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and ADA address the issue of program access stating that "no otherwise qualified handicapped person shall on the basis of the handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal assistance." California State University, as a public institution of higher education under Title II of ADA, is legally required to provide academic adjustments and reasonable accommodations to students with learning disabilities. 

Equal Access and Accommodations

The purpose of these laws is to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities. A student with learning disabilities may need such accommodations and aids as extended time for tests, taped textbooks, notetaker and scribe services and use special equipment such as tape recorders, computers, spell checkers, and dictionaries. However, faculty members are not required to lower academic requirements or to change essential academic requirements.

One of the most commonly used accommodations for students with learning disabilities is extended time for examinations. Normal time limits do not usually result in a fair evaluation because a learning disability often affects the speed of processing, accessing, and producing information. The purpose of providing alternate testing arrangements is to ensure that a fair measurement is made of the student's achievement, not the functional limitations caused by the disability.

The CSU Office of the Chancellor has given the responsibility of determining eligibility for services and appropriateness of accommodations to the students with disabilities office at each university. At Sacramento State, students with disabilities are referred to the Office of Services to Students with Disabilities (SSWD) which then makes individual eligibility and accommodation determinations based on the specific disability-related needs of each student.

If the instructor has questions or concerns regarding the recommended accommodations, you should first contact the LD Specialist and then the Equal Opportunity office in Human Resources if further clarification is needed.


Teaching strategies that work well for LD students can be highly beneficial to other students in the class as well.


  • Provide students with a detailed course syllabus, which is available before registration.
  • Clearly spell out expectations at the beginning of the course (e.g. grading, material to be covered, due dates) in writing.
  • All faculty should have a statement at the bottom of their syllabus indicating that all requests for accommodations must go through SSWD. If a student asks for an academic adjustment without an Accommodation Letter from SSWD they should be referred to SSWD directly. It is recommended that the department heads make labels available to each faculty member for attaching to their syllabus with a statement such as:
    • "If you have a documented disability and require accommodations, please provide a copy of your accommodation letter from Services to Students with Disabilities (SSWD) and contact me as early as possible so that your learning needs may be appropriately addressed.”


  • Announce during the first class meetings that any student needing course accommodations should meet with you PRIVATELY during your office hours. It is also helpful to place this announcement in writing in your syllabus.

Multi-Modality Presentation

  • Since students with LD often have either a visual or auditory processing/memory deficit, provide course content in both visual and auditory formats; i.e., lectures accompanied by written outline or notes. Tape-recording or notetaker services may be also necessary. Alternative formats may also include electronic text, computer programs or other technology.

Study Guides/Techniques

  • Provide a well-organized study guide for the text and lecture notes. Study questions and review materials are also very helpful. Refer students who appear to have inadequate study skills to available learning study skills tutoring or workshops on campus; i.e., LD Program, Peer Academic Resource Center, EOP/Academic Achievement Center.

Vary Activities

  • Provide different ways of learning and educational experiences; i.e., group and team projects, videos and movies, visual and graphic representations and illustrations, experiential activities, oral presentations, dramatic role plays, learning games, etc.
  • Also student progress may be measured by using a variety of active hands-on student projects, reports, demonstrations and portfolios as an alternative measurement of progress. Such activities are engaging, motivational and lead to the development of mastery.



Students should meet regularly with the LD Specialist for advising on issues related to the disability and on appropriateness of accommodations and services. It is the student's responsibility to initiate appointments.


Auxiliary aids such as enlarged print; use of personal aids (computers, spell checkers, calculators, tape recorders, word processors or laptops may be used as an accommodation with LD program approval.

Notetaker Services

Audio-recording, volunteer or paid note-takers.

Reader Services

Paid student readers and recorded textbooks.

Learning Ally (Formerly Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic)


High Tech Center

Specialized Courses

  • Limited Adaptive Computer Tutorial for qualified SSWD Students.
  • Workshops on specific learning strategies.

Testing Accommodations

The student coordinates testing accommodations with the instructor and the Testing Center in a timely manner with authorization from the LD Specialist.


Available on a limited basisf or eligible undergraduate students, through a federal grant, depending on SSWD's eligibility criteria.

Various other campus departments provide tutoring. See Other Campus Tutoring Resources.