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What Are the Specific Types of Disabilities?

Learning disabilities are described in a number of ways, depending on the perspective and the purpose of the analysis. Here are a few of the typical approaches:

Perceptual-Motor Disabilities

Auditory learning disabilities make it hard to differentiate between similar spoken words, to store what has been heard in long-term memory, to follow oral directions, and to comprehend abstract reasoning in a lecture. Visual learning disabilities can cause problems in discriminating between similar letters, in copying shapes and figures, using computerized answer sheets, making sense of graphs and charts, lining up numbers in math problems, and taking notes from the board or an overhead.

Spatio-motor disabilities can make it difficult for students to orient themselves to a printed page, to copy a sequence of actions (as in a lab procedure), to write legibly, or to handle lab equipment.

Perceptual disabilities can affect students’ social skills, making it difficult for some students to read communication cues, such as body language, facial expression, and tone of voice.

While all learning disabilities in some way affect cognitive processing, some professionals find it useful to describe processing difficulties in terms of sequential and simultaneous approaches to learning. Students who have problems with sequential thinking are likely to have trouble with tasks which must be done in a very linear fashion. Computer programming might prove especially difficult for such a student; math calculations could also prove to be a problem. Following a detailed line of thought in a textbook or a lecture could also be frustrating.

Students who have problems with simultaneous thinking tend to have problems putting things together and integrating knowledge into a larger picture. For instance, synthesizing specific ideas into a thesis statement for a composition might be difficult for these students.

Academic Difficulties

Often learning disabilities are described in terms of the specific academic domain that is affected.

Dyslexia refers to reading deficits, which can range from problems in decoding words, to remembering what has been read, to analyzing more abstract thought. It should be noted here that dyslexia does not refer to reading problems that are the result of inadequate or inappropriate schooling, lack of intelligence, or insufficient time on task. Students with dyslexia can be taught strategies to make the most of their current reading skills and to cope with their limitations, but the basic decoding or comprehension difficulties are likely to remain stable.

Dyscalculia refers to difficulties in using numbers and math functions. Students may have problems with recognizing and remembering symbols, understanding spatial relationships, aligning numbers, and performing operations.

Dysgraphia is the term used for students who have great difficulty with the psychomotor skills needed for writing. Such students are likely to have special problems with taking notes in class and in writing essay exams.

Physical Disabilities

Many students at Pacific have physical disabilities–possibly hearing impairments, mobility impairments, visual impairments, Epilepsy, or other chronic health impairments. Some of these disabilities are evident; some are not. The law requires that the university provide accommodations for students with physical disabilities. The Office of Services for Students with Disabilities will notify instructors each semester, once students have registered with the office and provided the appropriate information. The Coordinator is available for instructors to answer questions as to the appropriate accommodations, based on each student’s individual needs.

Temporary Physical Disabilities

If a student becomes temporarily disabled, due to an injury or other illness, they need to contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities. The office will provide cart transportation, note takers, or other appropriate services, on a temporary basis, depending on the needs of the student.

Social and Interpersonal Concerns

It is worth noting that the experience of dealing with any disability can have an effect on self-esteem and confidence. In turn, students’ ability to initiate and maintain positive relationships with faculty members and other students can be affected.