Learning Disability services

The Dalhousie Student Health & Wellness Centre team includes psychologists who may provide screening assessments, learning strategies, and advocacy services to students with learning disabilities (LD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) depending on information obtained from an initial intake interview with the psychologist.

About Learning Disabilities

What is a learning disability (LD)?

The term learning disabilities refers to a variety of disorders that "affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or non-verbal information" (Learning Disabilities Association of Nova Scotia). These disorders are caused by impairments in a specific psychological process or combination of processes that are related to learning in individuals whose other abilities essential for thinking and reasoning are at least average. Learning disabilities are therefore distinct from global impairments. Psychological processes typically related to learning disabilities include: language processing; phonological processing; visual-spatial processing; processing speed; memory and attention; and executive functions.

"Learning disabilities range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following:

  • oral language (e.g. listening, speaking, understanding)
  • reading (e.g. decoding, phonetic knowledge, word recognition, comprehension)
  • written language (e.g. spelling and written expression)
  • mathematics (e.g. computation, problem solving)

Learning disabilities may also involve difficulties with organizational skills, social perception, social interaction, and perspective taking." (Learning Disabilities Association of Nova Scotia).

Learning disabilities are life-long. They are caused by genetic and/or acquired neurobiological factors. They are not caused by cultural or language differences, inadequate educational opportunities, socio-economic status, or lack of motivation. However, these factors as well as others can augment the learning challenges that already exist for individuals with learning disabilities.

What is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that is characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. There is clear evidence that ADHD has a strong genetic component but environmental factors such as low birth-weight and prenatal environmental conditions have also been found to be causal agents. ADHD, however, is not the result of parenting style.

There are three main kinds of ADHD:

  • inattentive type
  • hyperactive type
  • combined type

Inattentive type

Individuals with predominantly inattentive type tend to have difficulty paying attention and are easily distracted by things going on around them. As a result, they may frequently make careless mistakes in their work. They often have difficulty organizing their tasks and activities, lose important items (such as keys, wallets, DalCards, etc.), and forget appointments.

Hyperactive type

Individuals with predominantly hyperactive type tend to fidget, feel restless, and are always on the go. They may have difficulty completing tasks quietly which others may find disruptive. As well, they may interrupt others, talk out of turn, finish others' sentences, or talk excessively.

Combined type

Individuals with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, combined type (ADHD - C) exhibit characteristics of both inattentive and hyperactive types.

What is Asperger's Disorder?

The essential features of Asperger’s Disorder may include difficulty with social interaction and stereotyped patterns of interests and behaviours. There are no significant delays in cognitive development, age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behaviour, or curiosity about the environment. Individuals may experience some traits as described:

Social/communication traits

  • An individual may experience difficulty developing peer relationships despite wanting friends
  • Difficulty understanding social or nonverbal cues
  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact during conversations
  • Conversations may appear to be one-sided with focus on particular areas of interest
  • Words or statements may be interpreted literally
  • Avoidance of social events that increase anxiety

Behavioural traits

  • Difficulty with changes in routine or transitions
  • Difficulty with sensory stimuli
  • Demonstration of repetitive movements (i.e. pacing, rocking) and speech (i.e. favourite topics)
  • Strong adherence to rules or routines
  • Difficulty regulating appropriate social behaviours as required by the situation
  • Exaggerated emotional response to situations (e.g. upset when required to change a routine)


Make an appointment

Students who would like to discuss possible learning concerns can stop by the Student Health & Wellness Centre for a same-day counselling session. After this session, you may be referred to a psychologist for an initial intake interview to further discuss these learning concerns.


Based on information from the initial intake interview with the psychologist, a screening may be completed at a follow-up appointment to investigate a learning disability, ADHD, and/or ASD. The student may then be referred to the Student Accessibility Centre to discuss next steps pertaining to any possible accommodations.