Throughout his childhood, sophomore Ary Herman had poor punctuation and messy handwriting. He was a slow test taker, and his compositions for school, which were difficult to read, were often returned to him with many corrections.
(The composition) would be dripping in ink, said Herman of his disorganized schoolwork. By sixth grade, his mother encouraged him to be tested for learning disabilities. He was diagnosed with an auditory processing/fine motor skills learning disability.
Throughout his middle school and high school years, Herman said he sometimes had trouble explaining his disability to his friends and teachers. His Simsbury, Conn., school practiced traditional education methods, he said, and as a result he sometimes experienced problems with his teachers. During his freshman year of high school, his math teacher refused to give him extra time for tests.
You sit there, they teach and any divergence from that methodology was questioned, said Herman of his primary-school classes. Though he had problems with teachers during high school, he still was able to receive extended testing time to help compensate for his learning disability.
Herman said GW’s method of helping learning disabled students is far better than support he received in his hometown.
The professors here have been extremely accommodating, Herman said. He remembers only speaking to one teacher who resisted acknowledging his special learning style.
A learning disability to her was how she defined it, not how the law defined it or how it was seen by the University, Herman said.
Herman said he is extremely impressed with GW’s Disability Support Services, which helped him design a study plan.
This office should be a paradigm for other schools, Herman said.
DSS offers learning-disabled students a variety of services ranging from individual tutoring to note taking. In order to be considered eligible for the services available at DSS, students must have official documentation of their disabilities. They must also follow the proper procedures required by the University to get their disabilities documented, according to the DSS Web site.
Susan A. Vogel’s manual, College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Handbook, says a learning disability is a handicap which affects the manner in which individuals take in information, retain it and express the knowledge and understanding they possess.
Most often disabilities affect reading comprehension, spelling, mechanics of writing, math computation and/or problem solving, according to the manual. Less frequent, but no less troublesome, are problems in organizational skills, time management and test-taking strategies.
Dr. Rose Mulaikal, a pediatrician with Clinical Associates, a Maryland medical practice, says learning disabilities are usually diagnosed after a student shows some sort of academic difficulty. Diagnosing a student with a learning disability can be a complex procedure, she says.
The collective decision as to whether a student is classified as learning disabled comes after extensive educational testing and the involvement of the student’s parents and teachers, she said.
Students, especially younger students with undiagnosed learning disabilities, are often perceived as lazy and indifferent because they have difficulty keeping up with the pace of classes.
Mulaikal said all colleges should make accommodations for students with learning disabilities by providing these students with services to help compensate for the disability as well as increasing faculty awareness about learning disabilities.
I hope colleges understand that there are people who learn differently, Mulaikal said.
Herman said the main problems he experiences as a result of his learning disability are difficulty in understanding parts of lectures, difficulty writing papers and poor handwriting. To compensate, he carries a tape recorder to his classes so he can listen to the material he missed in class. Because he needs more time to master concepts than his classmates, Herman, who plans to double major in philosophy and psychology, follows a regimented study schedule.
But following such a regimented schedule proves frustrating at times, he said.
I wish I could pull all-nighters, and just two days before the exam crack open the book and start learning the information, Herman said. I wish I could write the paper the night before.