Adults with SLDs in higher education are more likely than their peers to encounter problems understanding lectures and performing well on assessments, experience greater anxiety as a result and are at greater risk of discontinuing study . Education providers are legally mandated to make “reasonable adjustments” that ensure students with disabilities such as SLDs are able to participate “on the same basis as a student without a disability”. Academic accommodations are one such adjustment that benefit students with SLDs and involve modifications to the way students are required to learn or be assessed. Given reading disorders are the most prevalent of the SLDs , this review will summarise the main accommodations recommended for these disorders, as well as considerations surrounding their use.
Additional time in exams is the most common accommodation granted for SLDs . For students with a reading disorder, additional time is granted to ensure their exam performance reflects the construct the exam is designed to assess (e.g. their understanding of philosophy), rather than their reading ability. While additional time on tests has been shown to benefit people with reading disorders , like many accommodations, it is not free from controversy. Some argue, for example, granting additional time to students with SLDs is unfair to others, as other students have also been shown to benefit from additional time, a finding which suggests additional time may provide advantages beyond merely compensating for learning impairments .
There also remains controversy over exactly how much time should be granted. A general rule of thumb of time and one-half to double time has been identified as a valid starting point . Others argue only 25% additional time is required . Given the considerable variation in the time students with SLDs take to complete tasks , others have recommended a more idiographic approach that considers four key factors: the typical amount of time the client takes to complete a task compared to what’s considered average, the characteristics of any given exam, the client’s individual academic and cognitive presentation, as well as any other limitations or contextual factors evident in their clinical history.
Read-aloud accommodations that transform text into audio are another common accommodation recommended for people with SLDs . While studies have shown text-to-speech translator software can benefit students with reading disorders, a recent review found only a small effect size of these aids overall and called for more empirical studies to evaluate their efficacy . Support tutors are another more intensive option that has been shown to benefit people with reading disorders . Tutors work with students to help them develop optimal ways of studying given their individual difficulties.
In summation, providing academic accommodations to people with SLDs in higher education is crucial to ensuring they have the same chance of succeeding as their peers. This said, there remain valid concerns about the appropriateness of certain accommodations and clinicians need to be careful to make reasonable recommendations that are sensitive to the individual needs of the client and the empirical efficacy of any accommodation being considered.
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