Students With Learning Disabilities – College Academics Through Hands-On Learning

Some students with learning disabilities experience greater success through hands-on, or active, learning. Finding a way to balance that need with the academic requirements of college can be a challenge.

Some parents of students with LD seek a college with little or no “academics”. If college didn’t have academics, what would be the value of a diploma? If everyone were able to earn a degree, the degree would be worthless. As it stands today, standards in college have been watered down from years past with grade inflation. There was a time when a Bachelor’s degree signified entree into a different “class”. However, because BAs are so common today, their worth has declined. I think it is important for us to uphold the standards of a college degree, and that means maintaining rigorous “academics”. That said, there are “hands-on” learners who absorb academics more easily when there is “active” involvement. It doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent. It just signifies that the information needs to be targeted to their strongest channel.

There are several choices for students like this. They can choose to go to a college that offers a co-op program, where they attend classes one semester and get work experience the next. If your teen is great with his hands, he can make an excellent living at certain trades – perhaps even a better living than a college grad. Just remember, you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. You teen should be in a stimulating, challenging environment that teaches to her strengths. Only then will she thrive.

I think of my father, whose own father, an immigrant and master cabinet maker, wanted more for my dad and his sister. He enrolled my aunt in “elocution” courses, so she would sound “upper class,” and she willingly participated. My father, however, was cut from a different cloth. In fact, he was similar to his dad in that he excelled at doing things with his hands. The idea of sitting behind a desk all day was abhorrent to my dad. While my aunt attended college and excelled, my father dropped out of Pratt Institute after one semester. He had always had a fascination with flying, and more than anything else, he wanted to go to aviation school. Aviation school was not college however, and my grandfather made it clear that that was not an option. At the age of nineteen, my dad’s interest in flying led him to defy his father and follow his heart. He drove to California and enrolled in aviation school. As a result of his decision, my dad was told never to come home asking for money. Indeed, upon my grandparents’ death, my grandparents made their disappointment clear – evidenced by leaving all of their considerable assets to my father’s sister. Aside from physical abuse, I can’t think of a more dramatic way to indicate disapproval and make one’s offspring feel like a failure.

When making a college selection, it is critical to understand how your teen learns best. Having that information affords you the opportunity of seeking the college that best suits his/her style. Considering the financial magnitude of the college investment, it is wise to take the time to make the best match possible.