and accommodation in the classroom
"I worry that
there's an entire industry out there
of gurus who are basically getting paid nicely to create these
diagnoses, which may be built on sand."
Neill, Professor and Chair of Psychology
Academic Exchange October/November
2000 Contents Page
Exchange Why do you think there
is so much skepticism about learning disabilities, such as the
notion that if you have enough money, you can "buy"
Wendy Newby In my experience, most of the students who
receive this diagnosis come by it legitimately. But this is a
new field, and as we get better at understanding the nature and
characteristics of learning disabilities, we get better at the
diagnosis. Our tools are not always adequate, but new ones are
constantly being developed and old ones improved. We may miss
some cases as well as over-diagnose at times, but I do not consider
this to be a major problem.
AE What is a learning disability?
WN A skilled diagnostician using the right tools
and interpreting carefully can discover the processing difficulties
that would support the diagnosis of a learning disability. Basically,
the diagnosis of these disorders requires evidence of specific
cognitive processing difficulties in an individual of average
to above-average intelligence and a demonstrated effect of this
processing difference that interferes with a "basic life
activity," such as learning. Hidden disabilities like learning
disabilities and attention-related disorders are difficult to
diagnose because their characteristics change throughout the
life span of the individual. Often individuals compensate for
their difficulties, so the processing problems become less obvious
until confronted with increased demands. This would be the case
with many students at Emory. They have learned ways to work around
their problem areas, often working harder and longer to get the
same job done.
How do we know whether the recommended accommodation suits
the disability? Does it really create equity, or does it just
lower the student's anxiety?
WN This question goes to the heart of the "standards"
issue. The value of the Emory degree should not be compromised
in the eyes of either the faculty or the student. It is very
important that when the student leaves here, all recognize that
the degree of a student with a diagnosed disability has the same
value as that of any other student. Accom-modations like extended
time on tests are meant to allow a student with a disability
to have full access to educational opportunities. These changes
to instruction are not meant to ensure that all students are
successful. If I give a test in my history class and ask for
a written comparison between two events, I want to know if the
student understands this information. If it takes the student
a little longer to do this, that's all right with me. By extending
the time limit for this student with a learning disability, I
will have a more valid assessment of what this student knows
about this topic.
On the other hand, it would not be appropriate to grant extended
time to someone who needs to make rapid judgments about whether
to administer a drug to a patient in distress. If time is a critical
element to the job, then extended time would not be an appropriate
Do you think these accommodations ever erode a professor's
control over a course?
WN It used to be that a teacher would stand in
front of the class and lecture. If you had an auditory processing
problem and couldn't keep up with the flow of language, you either
borrowed notes from a friend or just lost out. Nowadays, we recognize
that people learn differently. We need to find the common ground
between teaching style and the characteristics of the learner.
In the college, the Center for Teaching and Curriculum is here
to support the development of effective teaching practices on
campus. If you have been teaching the same way for ten years
and someone comes in and tells you to change, you probably won't
want to do that, but if you learn about ways to teach that are
interesting to you, that make learning for students more efficient
and add to enthusiasm for your topic, who wouldn't want to do
that? That's not erosion of control; it's developing greater