Three Strategies to Help Students with Learning Disabilities By Heather Desjardins

October 9, 2020 by heather-desjardins

The Open Door is an organization focused on providing successful strategies and learning support for students with learning disabilities. We have been fortunate to partner with The Open Door on a feature guest blog on Learning Strategies for students with learning disabilities.

Learning Disabilities and impairments can affect children from any intersection of race, sex, or socio-economic class. With early detection and proper treatment, many students can develop coping mechanisms that allow them to excel academically. Some organizations offer treatments and services for free or at reduced rates, but for others, there may be an additional cost.  Thankfully in these cases, a family might be eligible to qualify for the Child Disability Tax Credit to help offset additional expenses. If you are looking for further information on The Disability Tax Credit, you can contact Disability Credit Canada for a free assessment.

But now, we are pleased to hear from Heather Desjardins with The Open Door!

We are all familiar with that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when a deadline is looming and you feel overwhelmed. You feel anxious, tense, weighed-down, and maybe a tad nauseous—and it’s all because something is coming due and you are stressed.

This feeling is often exacerbated for students with learning disabilities (LD) because of additional factors such as potential struggles with organization and planning (executive function difficulties). This can include organizing their space, notes and materials, their thoughts and plans for the content of the assignment, the tools and technology required, and their time.

While organization and planning will not take away all of the stress associated with an upcoming assignment, it will go a long way towards reducing that stress by giving a sense of control and confidence in the situation. It will also help to improve the quality of what is written.  The ideas will be more organized and cohesive as they will have time to plan, review, and edit their work.

Students, read on to find some suggestions for planning strategies to help tackle the deadline dreads.

1. Environment

You need a place to work that is comfortable (but not too comfortable), properly lit, and free from distractions. Distractions are the enemy, as it takes effort to not only get your body but also your brain back in gear after being distracted. If there is a place that can be reserved and used consistently as your work area it will help send the signal to your brain that it’s “working time” whenever you are there. 

2. Tools and Tech

Make sure you have everything you need at hand before starting to work. Frequently having to get up to grab that book, your laptop power cord, or those notes from class will serve to derail you. Remember that distraction is the enemy! Also, do not shy away from using whatever assistive technology is available to you. Project planning, voice-to-text, and editing software are just a few of the tools that can help you get those amazing ideas out of your head and onto the page.

3. Reverse Planning

This one got me through university, and I still use it today in both my personal and professional life. Make a list of the steps you need to complete the assignment. These will vary depending on what you are working on, but may include some of the following steps:

  • selecting a topic (and any research needed to help decide a topic)
  • research
  • reading source material 
  • choosing a thesis
  • choosing arguments
  • creating outline
  • creating skeleton essay (outline with augments/points and plugging in the quotes or research that supports each argument/point)
  • writing essay or assignment
  • edit written work
  • create or find visuals (if presentation)
  • assemble
  • final review

Take a calendar and start by finding the assignment due date. Then back up a couple of days and mark that as your personal due date. Whenever possible it’s always better to plan to finish an assignment a few days early. This gives an important buffer in case something comes up that could derail you (like getting sick or a poor night’s sleep). 

 Next, work your way back up your task to-do list. In the list above we would start with “final review.” Decide how much time we need to complete this (is it a one-sitting task or would it need a few days), and count the calendar days backward from your due date and put in the milestone deadline for the task “final review”. Continue working backward through the calendar, inputting milestone dates while working your way from the bottom of your task list until all the milestone tasks in your list have been input in your calendar. The larger and more involved the assignment is, the greater amount of buffer space you will want to work into your milestone due dates. Don’t forget, you can break any of your milestone tasks down into smaller tasks too.

Of course, being armed with a plan will certainly help, but actually following through with your plan is the real key here. Set alarms in your phone or computer to remind yourself when you need to be starting and finishing various tasks and learn from the process. Ask yourself if you need to set larger buffer times next time, if you need to subdivide your tasks more, or if you forgot to list and plan for a step altogether. 

Don’t forget, you can apply these tips to any type of project or deadline, whether school-related or not. As you use these strategies you will become better at executing them. Instead of being a thing of dread, deadlines will become tools you use to get things done while feeling confident about the process at the same time.  The best defense against deadline stress is a great plan that you can (and will) follow. 

Heather Desjardins is the founder and owner of The Open Door Educational Services, an organization dedicated to helping students and adults with known or suspected learning disabilities such as dyslexia. They work with struggling students online and in-person with specialized tutoring and assessments

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