Tutoring Strategies: Working With Writers With Learning Disabilities

As tutors we can face all kinds of difficulties during appointments. These kinds of difficulties can vary from language barriers, to writers being resistent because they do not want to be there, to working with writers that have ADHD or a learning disability. Working with writers that struggle with these things can be a challenge and can easily end with the tutor feeling like they got nowhere during the appointment. There are, however, some strategies we can employ during appointments with writers with ADHD or learning disabilities that can cause the appointment to go more smoothly.

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to writers that you suspect may suffer from ADHD or a learning disability is not to tell them or ask them if they suffer from one. For one, it is illegal to do so. It also could make the writer feel uncomfortable or inferior. They might not even know that they have a learning disability and it is not our place to speculate or inform them that they do. Some writers might identify themselves, and tell you that they suffer from one thing or another, but this is not always the case so these strategies should always be kept in mind.

The first thing is, if someone does identify themselves as having a disability, always ask them what strategies they find helpful with reading and writing. This will allow you to tailor your appointment more toward them and it might teach you new strategies as well. You should also ask them if they are working with the Office for Students with Disabilities, and tell them where the office is located if they do not already know.

You should also start an appointment by discussing the writing assignment they wish to work on so you can get an idea of how much they understand the material and so you can get a general idea of the topic of the assignment and the class. Then  read though the assignment aloud, but do it in pieces and address each paragraph one at a time. This way you focus their attention on just one piece or aspect of the paper, rather than looking at the whole thing at once. Looking at the whole paper at once can be daunting and distracting. By breaking it down, their attention is focused on just five or six lines of writing at a time, rather than five or six pages.

Other ways you can cut down on distraction are by using blank sheets of paper to cover the rest of the words on the page that you are not focusing on with the writer at that point in time, or by using colored highlighters to highlight topic sentences or where the student has used the wrong tense of a verb, etc. It is up to you, but colors are helpful in making things stand out since it will draw a writer’s eye and help them to focus on those specific words.

You should always be conscious of how fast you are speaking as well as allowing writers plenty of time to respond to you. Writers with disabilities may take longer to process information than others, so always be sure to be patient and use positive reinforcement. Do not let them get away with saying that they can’t do something. When they do something correctly, do not just tell them that they are correct, but explain why. Also, make a big deal with praising them to insure that they feel like what they did write was an accomplishment, which will keep them from being down on themselves.

Really, these strategies could be useful in any appointment, but with ADHD or LD writers, they become even more important. LD and ADHD students tend to have very little organization, have a difficult time expressing their ideas verbally, and seem to be nervous or are easily distracted. However, just because someone exhibits these traits in their writing or in appointments does not mean they have a LD or ADHD, which is why it is important to always have these strategies in mind so you can employ them if need be.