Speech and Language Disorders in College A Student’s Guide to Finding the Tools They Need to Succeed in College

College is often a time of academic challenge and opportunity, but those with learning or language disorders may find themselves with more stress and burdens than their peers. Luckily, a variety of laws protect their rights to equal access to education, meaning that schools and other institutions are often required to accommodate their needs. Continue reading to learn more about what unique challenges individuals with speech or language disorders may face as well as how they can overcome them.

Meet the Expert

Jules Csillag M.S., Speech-Language Pathologist

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Fast Facts on Speech and Language Disorders in College

Millions of Americans have disabilities, including speech and language disorders. The statistics below detail just how pervasive speech and language disorders are in college.

Students with specific learning disabilities and speech or language impairments account for over 55% of K-12 students with Individualized Education Programs. (Source)

Up to 97% of public two- and four-year postsecondary schools actively encourage students with disabilities to identify themselves to the school, which is the first step towards receiving reasonable accommodations. (Source)

9.5% of American college-aged adults have a disability. (Source)

Understanding Speech and Language Disorders and Their Impact on Learning

Speech and language disorders encompass a wide variety of communication and learning disorders. To support students with these disorders, many colleges are rapidly working to improve campus resources and provide support. Continue reading to familiarize yourself with common terms and disorders.

The Effects of Speech and Language Problems on Learning

Speech and language disorders can interfere with learning and prevent students from engaging in their courses as easily and thoroughly as their peers, which in turn can lead to lower grades and undue stress. Each person with speech and/or language disorders has their own unique set of challenges and strengths, but here are some examples of how speech and learning disorders may impact academic success and learning in college:

  • Difficulty Taking Notes

    Students whose language disorders prevent them from fully comprehending spoken word or from writing it down may not be able to take as helpful of notes as their peers.

  • Classroom Isolation

    Students with speech disorders may feel uncomfortable or unable to speak up in class, meaning they could ask fewer questions and not receive the valuable answers.

  • Low Test Scores

    Students who have difficulty comprehending written word may struggle to understand exams, which will negatively impact their grades.

  • Stress

    Students who have speech or language disabilities may have to work harder in their classes than their peers and may also have to participate in ways they are not comfortable with (such as verbal presentations).

Academic Adjustments for Students with Speech & Language Disorders

Academic accommodations are available for students who may benefit from reasonable adjustments in school. It’s very common for students to seek accommodations, so student shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help. In fact, state-funded institutions are required to provide reasonable accommodations and adjustments for students with disabilities, including speech and language disorders. Continue reading to learn about these types of accommodations and to better understand your rights in school.

Understanding Your Rights

Although the approaches may be different in comparison to pre-K through 12 schools, colleges and universities are still required to provide reasonable accommodations to receive federal and state-level funding. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) do not follow students past high school, but higher education institutions will still create accommodation plans with students who need them.

Want to know more about the specific ins and outs of disability laws and rights in college? Explore this guide to learn more.

Accommodations in College

Accommodations are often determined on a case-by-case basis with the institution’s student disability services. What a student is offered will help them have equal access to their education and give them the opportunity to be assessed accurately in their courses. There are a variety of adjustments and accommodations available; below are some examples of the types of accommodations students can receive.

It is exciting to see that colleges are waking up to what Temple Grandin has been saying for years: “The world needs all kinds of minds.” This will hopefully encourage colleges to support diverse students even better in order to allow those students that would like to graduate college do so with flying colors.”

Jules Csillag M.S., Speech-Language Pathologist
  • Altered Tests or Assignments. To assure that their knowledge and abilities are being fully assessed, students may be given testing instructions or assignments different from their peers.

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Technology. AAC refers to tools which help individuals with communication disorders express themselves more fully. AAC can include low-tech options like a whiteboard, high-tech tech-to-speech predictive word processors, and more.

  • Speech-to-Text. Speech-to-text technology often uses dictation software and other similar tools to convert the spoken word into readable text. This technology is especially useful for individuals who express themselves better when speaking than when writing.

  • Text-to-Speech. TTS technology includes apps, devices, and software that can convert text to audio. TTS can be used to have written word read aloud or to even facilitate a conversation.

  • Extended Scheduling. Students may be given extra time for tests and assignments or be permitted breaks during exams.

  • Note Takers. Students can possibly receive copies of the notes classmates take in their courses.

  • Proofreaders. Students may be offered software or the services of a proofreader to help them express their written ideas more clearly.

  • Speech & Language Clinics. Some colleges and universities have on-campus speech and hearing clinics, such as Arizona State University’s Speech-Language Clinic, which students may be able to use.

  • Verbal Tests. Students may be given the opportunity to have tests or exams read aloud to them.

How to Request Academic Accommodations

In postsecondary schools, students must be their own advocates; they will not receive accommodations unless they request them. Students who need accommodations should not go directly to their professors; instead, the school’s Section 504 coordinators (usually an office called “student disability services” or similar) will help determine what accommodations the student needs and how they will be supplied. Although students must disclose information about their disability or disorder to these coordinators, they have no obligation to tell their professors, advisors, or peers. Continue reading to see some of the basic steps for receiving accommodations and adjustments at college.

Find the Accommodations Office

The accommodations or student disabilities office will potentially play a large role in a student’s academic experience, so finding it is the first step. Some future-students may even want to explore the office’s services, either online or in person, before deciding to apply to the college in the first place.

Either in-person, over the phone, or online, the student can contact the office to determine what documentation they will need to receive accommodations.

The documentation needed can vary from student to student and school to school. However, a student will most likely need at least a letter from their physician. While an IEP will probably not be considered acceptable documentation, the office can use it to learn what accommodations the student used in the past.

Unfortunately, the accommodation coordinators might need a significant amount of time to determine what adjustments, if any, the student should receive. The sooner a student begins this process, the sooner they will receive their accommodation decision.

The student will be contacted by the accommodation coordinators with information about what accommodations they are entitled to. If necessary, the student will receive a letter to give their professors. Although the student does not need to disclose the details of their disability with their professor, they will need to discuss how their accommodations will work in the course.

Academic accommodations may require medical documentation and speech and/or language disorders are more manageable with a support team. Find speech-language pathologists and audiologists using these directories:

Scholarships & Grants for Students with Communication Disorders

The workload of college can be tough to manage, especially for students who have speech or language disorders. Luckily, scholarships can help reduce any financial stress and lets students focus on their studies. Additionally, some scholarships can even help pay for assistive technology and make college even more manageable.

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation: Graduate Student Scholarship $5,000

    The ASHFoundation graduate scholarships are for students entering master’s or doctoral programs focused on communication sciences. One of these scholarships is endowed by the Leslie Londer Fund and is awarded yearly to an individual with a disability who is pursuing a graduate degree in communication sciences.

    Deadline: Late May
  • The Dream Institute: Higher Education Assistance Program Varies; Need-Based

    Oklahoma students with a disability, including learning disabilities, who are enrolled or plan to enroll full-time at an Oklahoma college or university may apply for this scholarship. The award amount is need-based and intended to bridge any gaps left between tuition costs and other financial aid or scholarships. Dream Institute Scholars also have access to resources for transitioning to and succeeding in college.

    Deadline: Varies
  • Landmark College: Landmark College Scholarships Varies; Up to Full Tuition

    Landmark College is a small private college specifically for students with learning or attention disabilities and/or autism. The scholarship funds supplement federal financial aid and vary in amount as a result.

    Deadline: Varies
  • Learning Ally: Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards $2,000 or $6,000

    High school seniors who have a learning disability which makes reading difficult are eligible for this scholarship. Applicants may use award to fund a two- or four-year education at a college or vocational school; additionally, applicants must be members of Learning Ally.

    Deadline: Mid-June
  • Learning Disabilities Association of Arkansas: Ralph G. Norman Scholarship Fund $2,500

    Arkansas residents who are enrolled in or plan to enroll in a college or university and have a learning disability are eligible for this scholarship. Students can use funds for a four-year or two-year program.

    Deadline: Late March
  • Microsoft & the Seattle Foundation: Microsoft disAbility Scholarship $5,000

    Students passionate about technology who have a disability, including speech and/or language disorders, are eligible to apply for this scholarship. Students must demonstrate financial need, work towards a degree in technology, law, or business, and enroll in a full- or part-time program and a two- or four-year institution.

    Deadline: Late April
  • Moss Foundation: P. Buckley Moss Endowed Scholarship $1,000

    High school seniors whose learning is impacted by a language disorder are eligible for this scholarship. Applicants must plan a degree or career in visual arts and must demonstrate financial need.

    Deadline: Late March
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities: Anne Ford Scholarships $2,500

    This scholarship, along with the related Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship, is offered to high school seniors with documented learning disabilities. The Anne Ford Scholarship is for students entering full-time bachelor’s degree programs who demonstrate financial need; this scholarship can be renewed for up to three additional years.

    Deadline: Early November
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities: Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship $2,500

    The Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship is a one-time scholarship that can be used for two-year schools and programs. Only high school seniors with documented learning disabilities are eligible. The Anne Ford Scholarship, also offered by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, has similar benefits and can be used for four-year programs.

    Deadline: Early November
  • RiSE Scholarship $2,500

    The RiSE scholarship helps fund the postsecondary educations of students with learning disabilities or autism. Scholars can use the award for two- or four-year programs at colleges and universities. Only high school seniors are eligible to apply.

    Deadline: Early January

Expert Opinion: How Colleges Can Support Students with Speech and Language Disorders

Jules Csillag, M.S., is a licensed speech-language pathologist and teacher of students with speech and language disabilities, adjunct professor, and consultant who has worked in a variety of settings throughout New York City. She presents regularly at conferences and is also the author of Differentiated Reading Instruction: Strategies and Technology Tools to Help All Students Improve (Routledge, 2016).

Q: Are there any specific actions schools can take to support students with speech and/or language disorders?

A: Colleges and high schools are different in several ways, due to their structure, purpose, and governing laws. One thing that high schools can do is be really clear about these differences. For example, while in high school, students are covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but in college the American Disabilities Act (ADA) takes over as the legal support for services. From the college side, most professors are not trained teachers or instructors, and they are unlikely to have training in teaching students with learning differences. Therefore, colleges could make more of an effort to train professors in learning differences. Finally, while college is a time for greater independence, finding the Office of Disability Services should not be a scavenger hunt! Active outreach from disability services staff and volunteers, mentorship pairings with older students, and regular events can help students not only find, but benefit from the services that are available.

Q: Are there any schools going above and beyond to support their students with speech and/or language disorders?

A: There are several schools that have recognized the benefit of neurodiversity. Some of these schools include: Landmark College, Beacon College, and Manhattanville College. Some larger schools that have additional support services include: American University, DePaul University, and Northeastern University. Although not all support services are free, these programs all provide something additional for students — from support with accommodations to having a mentor, or from professor training to support with organization and scheduling.

Q: What sorts of accommodations are commonly offered to students with speech and/or language disabilities?

A: Basically, all college courses require strong decoding, comprehension, note-taking, and writing, as well as strong executive functioning skills. Each of these correlates with different types of accommodations. The most common accommodation overall [is] classroom note-takers or scribes, and this makes sense since note-taking is difficult for those with challenges in executive functioning, processing, attention, comprehension, and writing. Other common accommodations include written notes from a faculty member, extended time on tests or assignments, audiobooks or digital textbooks, and readers for those with dyslexia, attentional issues, or language processing challenges.

Q: Any additional tips for students with speech and/or language disorders to succeed in college?

A: There are several skills that correlate with college and life success. First of all, college isn't magic! Therefore, whatever strategies and supports helped students in high school are likely to help them in college as well. Related to this is the understanding of why something helps you (e.g., dictation software because of dysgraphia), which supports self-advocacy and self-awareness. This Self-Advocacy and Self-Assessment Guide can help students understand their strengths and make an Action Plan with clear, attainable goals.

Why is self-awareness so important? It correlates with success in college and beyond. It has been cited as a "protective factor against depression and anxiety" and as a "coping strategy," so students are encouraged to think deeply about what they like, what they are good at, and how these could correlate with a career or a hobby that can add enjoyment to their life.

Apps to Help Students Improve Communication

Now more than ever technology can make life easier and education more effective. There are a variety of applications available to help students succeed in the classroom, excel academically, and communicate more comfortably. Below are some of the top apps for college-aged students with speech, language, and learning disabilities.

Additional Speech and Language Disorder Resources

A variety of services and organizations exist to help students succeed in college and find community support. In addition to the apps, scholarships, and advice above, there are still dozens of more resources available for students, parents, and educators.

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) serves professionals and students within health and hearing science fields, so some resources here do not target individuals with disabilities themselves. However, the organization's website still hosts of wealth of information on speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and other services and tools within the field.

  • Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring. DREAM is sponsored by the NCCSD (see below) and supports college students with disabilities. This group especially dedicated to helping marginalized people within the disabled community.

  • DocsPlus. CrickSoftware's DocsPlus is a word processor that can be used by teachers, professors, and other professionals to help keep the classroom accessible to students with speech, language, and other disabilities. Users can build and share tests, for example, in addition to the thorough proofreading and word processing software.

  • International Dyslexia Association. This organization serves the dyslexic community. It has a wide range of dyslexic-specific resources such as study strategies and videos.

  • LD Online. Although this source is intended for educators, is includes a vast wealth of information about disability law, tools, and extensive FAQs. One specific section of the website specifically addresses the challenges and changes involved in attending college. The website focuses on learning disorders, but many tips and resources can be applied to speech and language disorders as well.

  • Learning Ally. Membership is necessary to use Learning Ally's best resources, which includes an extensive audiobook library. Learning Ally primary audience is individuals with vision and hearing disabilities, but it also serves members of the speech and language disorder communities.

  • National Center for College Students with Disabilities. The NCCSD is federally funded and links to a wide variety of resources for students, parents, and faculty. Additionally, all these resources focus specifically on the issues faced by college students.

  • National Center on Secondary Education and Transition. This organization unfortunately no longer receives federal funding; however, the website remains active and its resources still relevant. It specifically addresses the needs of disabled students and individuals entering the workforce.

  • National Stuttering Association. This organization promotes resources, events, and community for individuals who stutter. NSA also hosts an annual conference for people who stutter.

  • The Stuttering Foundation. The Stuttering Foundation has resources for nearly all audiences and age groups. The foundation also includes a sidebar with information on famous people who stutter.

  • TactusTherapy. This company creates speech-therapy apps for professionals and individuals with a variety of speech-related needs. Some apps help ease communication while others contain therapy-oriented ideas and exercises.

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