Specific Learning Disorders
In order to fully evaluate requests for accommodations or auxiliary aids and to determine eligibility for services, Student Disability Services (SDS) needs documentation of your disability. The documentation you provide should include an evaluation by an appropriately licensed professional that makes evident the current impact of the disability as it relates to the accommodation(s) requested and include a description of any and all functional limitations.
Specific Learning Disorders (LD) are a group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in academic skills or in the acquisition and use of reading, writing/spelling, reasoning, or mathematical ability. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction and are usually first diagnosed in childhood but may not become fully manifested until the demands for those affected academic skills exceed the individual’s limited capacities (e.g. as in timed tests, reading or writing lengthy complex reports) In addition, there may be problems in organization skills, self-regulatory behaviors, and social skills. A learning disability is not the result of 1) mental illness, 2) visual, hearing, or motor impairments, 3) intellectual disabilities, 4) emotional disturbance, or 5) environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.
Qualified Professional Must Conduct the Evaluation
Professionals conducting these evaluations must be qualified through professional licensing/credentials as well as through extensive training in the assessment and diagnosis of learning disorders. In addition, professionals must be able to render a diagnosis of a specific learning disorder according to DSM IV-TR or DSM 5 standards and make recommendations for appropriate accommodations for adolescents and/or adults. The name, title, and professional credentials of the evaluator (including information about license and/or certification) should be included on the report. Examples of professionals considered to be qualified to evaluate specific learning disorders might include clinical or educational psychologists; school psychologists; neuropsychologists; and certified educational diagnosticians with experience in the assessment of learning problems in adults. The evaluator must be impartial and not related to the person being evaluated.
Testing Must Be Current
Although a person diagnosed as having a qualified learning disorder is typically viewed as life-long, the severity of the condition may change over time. Because reasonable accommodations and services are based upon UT San Antonio's assessment of the current impact of the individual’s disability/ies on his/her academic performance, recent and appropriate documentation should be submitted. For the most part, comprehensive testing should be conducted within the past five years. However, each request will be evaluated on a case by case basis.
A high school plan such as an individualized education program (IEP), 504 plan and/or Summary of Performance is insufficient documentation in and of itself. However, sometimes this type of documentation in addition to a current comprehensive assessment/evaluation is useful in determining appropriate services.
A written report should include information on those specific difficulties in learning and using academic skills despite the provision of interventions that target those difficulties. Actual test scores must be substantially and quantifiably below those expected for the individual’s chronological age, and cause significant interference with academic and/or occupational performance, or with activities of daily living, as confirmed by individually administered standardized achievement measures and comprehensive clinical assessment measures for which the individual is requesting the accommodations. Documentation should also rule out any other variable that might contribute to a learning problem (i.e. visual/hearing impairments, psychological stressors, language acquisition, psychosocial adversity, intellectual disabilities or inadequate educational instruction, etc.)
According to the DSM 5, evidence of a significant academic deficiency should be present in at least one of the following areas as calculated by standardized test measures:
- Inaccurate or slow and effortful word reading
- Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read
- Difficulties with spelling
- Difficulties with written expression
- Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts, or calculation
- Difficulties with mathematical reasoning
A comprehensive report should include a clinical synthesis of the individual’s history (developmental, medical, family, educational), school reports, and psycho-educational assessment:
- Diagnostic Interview: This should include (but is not limited to) relevant historical information regarding the individual's academic history and learning processes in elementary, secondary and postsecondary education. Also, the report should include information summarizing previous testing completed by other clinicians. A combination of individual self-report, interviews with others, historical documentation (e.g. transcripts, standardized testing, etc.) is recommended. Also, information should be provided summarizing any developmental history and current or relevant medical history and must indicate the exclusion of the following as the primary disabling condition:
- Individual has a mental deficiency per DSM 5 standards
- Visually impaired
- Deaf or hard of hearing
- Physically impaired (and interferes with accurate test results)
- Emotional disorder
- Poor educational background or lack of opportunity to learn
- Cultural differences or lack of experience with the English language
- Assessment of Aptitude: There should be a minimum of one comprehensive IQ test and one processing test.
- Measurement of Academic Achievement: A standard score for the basic achievement areas of reading (word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension), math (calculation, application), and written language (mechanics, composition) needs to be available. Testing must include at least two achievement test scores in the specific area of the documented disability.
- (NOTE: Raw scores, standard scores and percentile scores are also required for each of the testing completed). In general, most students will have average or above intelligence with a significant deficit in at least one area of information processing (i.e. acquisition, integration, storage, retrieval). There may be a significant discrepancy between verbal and performance scores on a measure of overall intelligence, but this is not always the case. Documentation of a “learning disorder” must be based on the specific criteria outlined above.
- Summary: A summary includes a clear statement of the presence of a specific learning disorder, discussion of possible alternative explanations for the results, a statement of functional limitations and suggestions for reasonable accommodations, which must be directly linked to the stated limitation and supported by the test scores.
General Guidelines for all Disabilities
It is important to recognize that accommodation needs can change over time and are not always identified during the initial diagnostic process. A prior history of accommodations, without demonstration of current need, does not in and of itself warrant the provision of a like accommodation. Student Disability Services will make the final determination as to whether appropriate and reasonable accommodations are warranted and can be provided to the individual.
All documentation submitted to SDS is considered to be confidential under FERPA guidelines.
Documentation should be sent to the following address:
University of Texas at San Antonio
Student Disability Services
One UTSA Circle
San Antonio, Texas 78249-0690
210-458-4157 (voice-main), 210-458-2945 (voice-downtown)