A Learning Disability (LD) is a neurologically-based, specific impairment in information processing in the presence of at least average cognitive ability, which results in unexpected academic under-achievement, or academic achievement that is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support. It affects the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or non-verbal information, which in turn affects performance in reading, writing or math, and in some cases, social and organizational skills. There are different types of LD, depending on the nature and impact of the information processing impairment(s), in areas such as reading (often referred to as dyslexia), written expression, or non-verbal ability. A learning disability does not disappear after childhood. Instead, its impact will vary at different life stages as a function of changing environmental demands.
University students with LD typically need more time to complete their schoolwork, compared to their non-LD classmates, in order to achieve at a level consistent with their ability. Many take a reduced course load and require accommodations to compensate. In addition, they may benefit from working with a PMC Learning Strategist to develop individualized compensatory strategies, which may include Adaptive Technology.
In Canada, a Learning Disability can be formally diagnosed only through a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment completed by a registered clinical psychologist or psychological associate. This professional should be an expert in the field of LD diagnosis in adults, and his or her written report should include a description of the specific nature of the information processing impairment underlying the LD and its predicted impact at university. A list of recommended referrals in the Ottawa area may be found on this website.
Central Auditory Processing (CAP) Disorder and Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome are considered by some to be forms of LD. To be eligible for accommodations and PMC supports on the basis of these, in addition to a diagnosis from a specialist, you must complete a psychoeducational assessment with a registered clinical psychologist or psychological associate to evaluate the extent of educational impact of these conditions.
In order to obtain appropriate academic accommodations and supports on the basis of a learning disability, a student should submit any relevant documentation, including:
- A copy of a psychoeducational assessment report from a registered psychologist done within 3-5 years from starting university or as an adult
- If applicable, letters or other documents (e.g., IEP and IPRC reports) describing the supports and accommodations you had during elementary and high school
- If applicable, documentation of any supports or accommodations you were provided during past college or university studies
Of the above, an up-to-date psychoeducational assessment is required for permanent registration status and access to accommodations. Please see below for information on other documentation when a psychoeducational assessment report is not available.
Criteria for Psychoeducational Assessment Reports for LD
A Psychoeducational Assessment (PEA) report entitles you to the full supports available through the PMC, provided it includes the following criteria:
- Completed within the last 3-5 years, or as an adult
- Appropriate standardized tests of ability; for example, the WAIS-IV
- Appropriate standardized tests of Information Process; for example, the WMS-IV
- Appropriate standardized tests of achievement. Ideally, each of the following achievement areas are sampled:
- Reading (decoding, comprehension, and fluency)
- Writing (mechanics, expression, and fluency)
- Math (calculation, conceptualization, and fluency)
- Evidence of a significant discrepancy between (at least) normal ability and one or more achievement areas (such as reading, writing, and math), along with evidence of a significant impairment in at least one type of information processing that may logically account for this discrepancy
- Relevant medical developmental, educational, and family history
- The ruling out of other potential causes of the discrepancy noted above
- Behavioural observations and a statement confirming the validity of test results
- Test results reported and interpreted
- A clear diagnostic statement
- Recommendations and suggestions based on test results, including some relevant to the postsecondary setting
- Signature of a registered, licensed Psychologist or Psychological Associate
Please Note: If your report does not meet all of the above criteria, or if you are not sure, bring it to a PMC coordinator for review and consultation.
If a student does not have a psychoeducational assessment report, other documentation indicating a learning disability (e.g. IPRC, IEP, educational testing) may be accepted for registration purposes and interim accommodations for one term until a psychoeducational assessment is done.
Please note: IEP indicating ‘no exceptionality’ is not sufficient as documentation for accommodation purposes.
Accommodation decisions are based on consideration of information from the psychoeducational assessment report, course requirements, accommodations provided in high school, and information from students and/or parents. Each accommodation has to be justified as disability related by specific data from the psychoeducational assessment. Accommodations suggested by the psychologist on the psychoeducational assessment report may or may not be approved as accommodations by the PMC coordinator – the PMC coordinator decides which accommodation is appropriate considering the assessment profile, course requirements, and institutional policies.
- LDAC Transitions: www.youth2youth.ca
- LD Online: www.ldonline.org
- Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC): www.ldac-taac.ca
- Council for Learning Disabilities: www.cldinternational.org
- Nonverbal Learning Disorders Association (NLDA): www.nlda.org
- Nonverbal Learning Disabilities: www.ldao.ca