Specific Learning Disabilities

Travis Chapman

Did you know that 10-15% of school aged children have a learning disability1?  There are a lot of misconceptions about Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD).  SLD is not a limitation in intelligence or inability to learn, but more in how to translate the information.  These students learn differently than their rest of their peers.  However, SLD is not just one thing.  It is a broad term that encompasses several different learning disabilities like Dyslexia (perception of letters/reading), Dysgraphia (writing/forming letters, numbers or words by hand) and Dyscalculia (understanding numbers or math facts).  As guest staff, we won’t be implementing plans or evaluating progress, however, we may need to help these students learn, understand or communicate information.  We’ve put together some tips below that will apply for both teacher and aide positions.

Give verbal and written instructions.  Some of the students may have a difficult time processing the information that is being given to them, either visually or verbally.  If we give instructions both verbally and in writing, we help all our students access the information.  This could be writing the instructions on the board, or as an aide, write the instructions on a piece of paper for the student to reference.


Check for understanding. This may seem like a simple tip that we do automatically, however, with students dealing with SLD, be more intentional about checking that your students understand what needs to be accomplished.  Have them repeat the information, explain new or difficult terminology or communicate the steps needed to accomplish the task.


Allow assistive devices.  There can be any number of devices or systems used to assist students, depending on the individual need and what has been outlined in the student’s IEP. Students with SLD may need to use speech-to-text or to use a computer to type our information rather than to physically write it.  Perhaps they need to go to a resource room to obtain additional assistance.  If you haven’t been given any information about assistive devices, when working with students with SLD, proactively ask the full-time staff in the classroom.  This way, we can help students engage with the material as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2015-2016 school year, 34% of students served in IDEA based programs were diagnosed with Specific Learning Disabilities2.  This accounts for the largest group of students in special education programs.  While these students may anywhere between being mainstreamed or in a self-contained classroom, we want to help all our students to grow. As guest staff, these simple tips can help allow each student to continue their academic development. 
1 Lowell, S. C., Felton, R. H., & Hook, P. E. Basic Facts About Assessment of Dyslexia: Testing for Teaching
2 U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) database, retrieved July 10, 2017, from https://www2.ed.gov/programs/osepidea/618-data/state-level-data-files/i…. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 204.30.