Understanding Strengths and Weaknesses of a University Student with Learning Disabilities

Key Takeaway

Although students with learning disabilities (LD) may experience difficulties throughout their academic career, they can develop strategies to overcome them—at times, without professional guidance. Yet, “active use of mentorship, coaching and support service units for students with LD will also contribute to ensuring greater success in higher education.” —Frankie Garbutt

Firat (Adiyaman University, Turkey) and Bildiren (Adnan Menderes University, Turkey) were intrigued by the increase in number of students with learning disabilities amongst university students overall. They wanted to know how these students may experience difficulties when compared to neuro-typical students because only a small percentage of students with LDs eventually graduate from university.

What Was Measured

The researchers collected a range of qualitative data on one student with learning disabilities (defined as ongoing problems with literacy and numeracy as well as verbal language use). They measured the strengths and weaknesses of the student throughout his academic life (from preschool to university) and how the student worked to build methods to overcome barriers to their academic progress. 

The participant’s strengths over his education career included motor development, problem-solving, social skills, a desire to develop, and self-advocacy. His weaknesses throughout his educational career included subject content, social skills, executive functioning, and metacognitive skills. 

Many of the difficulties he experienced in primary school continued through university, while one of his specific weaknesses in preschool, social skills, became a strength in his university years. 

He was able to develop strategies to succeed on his own by studying lessons, improving memory methods, and learning to speed read. Interestingly, the student had not been identified with learning needs until he entered university and took a course on learning disabilities. Alongside his academic career, the participant learned to grow his self-esteem with activities outside the classroom like “chess or wrestling.”

Recommendations and Limitations

“Socio-emotional and academic difficulties experienced by students with LD may also continue throughout their university education. In this context, academic staff may receive additional training for increasing their awareness on the requirements of students with LD and for learning how they can support these students better.” 

There are limitations to this research because “the study was carried out with a single student in the final year of his university education. Accordingly, the opinions of a greater number of students could be examined to yield more generalisable insights.”  

Furthermore, the study data relied on interviews with the participant which may be tainted by him not accurately remembering the strengths and difficulties he experienced throughout his academic career. “The acquired data are limited by the self-awareness level of the student. Hence, this can be taken into consideration in future studies and the opinions of the student can be taken together with those of their peers, students, and family members.” 

Summarized Article:

Fırat, T., & Bildiren, A. (2021). Strengths and weaknesses of a student with learning disabilities: from preschool to university. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(7), 958-972. 


Summary by: Frankie Garbutt- Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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