Guide to Coding With a Learning Disability

Coding offers a gateway to high-paying careers. In this guide read about common learning disabilities, the benefits of coding, and available resources.
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  • Anyone — including students with dyslexia, ADHD, and dyscalculia — can benefit from learning to code.
  • Coding bootcamps offer academic support, career services, and tutoring.
  • Flexible learning formats at coding bootcamps can especially help students with learning disabilities.
  • About 20% of the population, or 1 in 5 people, has learning disabilities.

About 1 in 5 people, or about 66 million individuals in the United States, have a learning disability. Students of all learning abilities can learn to code. Coding bootcamps teach problem-solving and critical thinking and offer interview and job placement help.

Whether they study on campus or virtually from a remote location, some resources can benefit students with learning disabilities. Coding bootcamps provide alternative learning formats with asynchronous assignments and pre-recorded lectures that can support students with learning disabilities that affect oral language, reading, written language, or computation ability.

Learning disabilities can make school frustrating and create barriers to career opportunities. However, federal laws provide services and special accommodations at primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. Read this guide to learn more about common learning disabilities, laws that protect students, and resources to help people with learning disabilities.

Common Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities, not to be confused with learning problems, may become evident when a learner has genetic and neurobiological characteristics that affect learning processes in environments that are incompatible with those characteristics. A diagnosis for a learning disability — such as dyslexia and ADHD — often comes in childhood. Still, many people do not experience help or accommodation for their characteristics until adulthood, if at all.

The seven learning disabilities identified by the Learning Disabilities Association of America include dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder, language processing disorder, nonverbal learning disabilities, and visual perceptual disabilities.

  • Dyslexia: Dyslexia affects the way learners process language. The four types of dyslexia —phonological dyslexia, surface dyslexia, rapid naming deficit, and double deficit dyslexia —can cause difficulties with language skills, particularly reading. This disability can last for years or a person's lifetime.
  • Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia affects a person's writing and fine motor skills. Students who have dysgraphia may have difficulty doing written assignments and difficult-to-read handwriting. This neurological disorder can also affect spelling and grammar. Assistive technologies and typing practice can help students with dysgraphia.
  • Dyscalculia: People who have dyscalculia, often called math dyslexia, have a learning disability that affects their ability to do calculations and other math assignments —especially abstract concepts. Dyscalculia remains with people for their entire lives. Signs of dyscalculia include trouble estimating time, counting money, and understanding speed and distance. Dyscalculia often occurs in families.
  • Auditory processing disorder: People with ADP have hearing abilities but have difficulty processing sounds. They may also have a hard time remembering what they hear. For example, instead of hearing the word "pat," they may hear "bat."
  • Language processing disorder: People who have trouble processing spoken language have language processing disorder. There are two types of LPD: those who struggle to express their thoughts clearly and those who have difficulty understanding while others speak.
  • Nonverbal learning disabilities: People with nonverbal learning disabilities often have trouble with social skills and nonverbal communication, such as tones of voice, body language, and facial expressions.
  • Visual perceptual disabilities: People with visual perceptual disabilities have challenges with understanding visual information. They often have poor hand-eye coordination and may have difficulty with fine motor activities.

Although not considered a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often occurs alongside other disorders and disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD remains one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders.

Symptoms can evolve over time. People with ADHD may have a predominantly inattentive presentation, where they cannot focus on tasks, or a predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, which causes impulsivity and constant movement. Others have combined presentation, in which the individual has symptoms of both types.

Coding Bootcamps for You

Know Your Legal Rights

The federal government protects students with learning disabilities under various civil rights laws. Before the enactment of these laws, only 1 in 5 students with disabilities received an education in the United States. Laws even excluded children who had disabilities.

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federally-funded programs must provide services to "qualified individuals with disabilities," including students with learning disabilities. Qualified students in grades K-12 and college cannot be discriminated against services and individual accommodations under 504. This helps students unqualify for services under Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA).

IDEA, enacted by Congress in 1975, provides special accommodations and funding for public schools. The law, amended through the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, also offers grants through the U.S. Department of Education to support research and technical assistance at colleges and nonprofits.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, prevents discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the workplace, school, transportation, and other places of public accommodation.

Enacted in 2004, the Assistive Technology Act provides people with disabilities equal access to education and employment opportunities. Programs vary by state, with some states offering software, training, or equipment.

Benefits of Learning to Code

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    Build your portfolio: Coding bootcamps help students build their portfolios. Portfolios live on a personal website or GitHub and showcase apps, web pages, applications, resumes, and online profiles. Academic or career advisors often help students curate their online profiles, including LinkedIn pages.
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    Cheaper than a college degree: When coding bootcamps opened in 2011, they quickly gained popularity as a cheaper and faster alternative to a college degree in computer science. Although coding bootcamps cost thousands, they provide a high return on investment. Payment plans also allow students to defer their tuition until they get paid.
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    Job guarantees: Students can often receive partial or full refunds if they do not find employment within a set number of days after graduating from coding bootcamp. Coding bootcamps often require students to prove they've applied to a certain number of jobs and not turned down valid job offers to receive a refund.
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    Grow your network: Coding bootcamps often have partnerships with companies and tech firms that allow students to make future connections that can lead to tech jobs. Bootcamps sometimes welcome hiring partners to career fairs to recruit students or for speaking engagements. Instructors and classmates also form relationships that can lead to lifelong friendships and career connections.
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    Learn new technology and programming languages: Coding bootcamps teach students to use Java, Python, and SQL. Specific programs offered depend on the coding bootcamp. Students studying web development may learn HTML/CSS, JavaScript, and PHP. Online learners enrolled in cybersecurity bootcamps may learn C and C++.

Skills Neurodiverse Students Can Learn From Coding

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    Build communication and collaboration skills: Coding teaches students how to communicate with computers — and people. Courses in coding bootcamps teach written and verbal communication through group and individual projects. Whether students take online or in-person coding courses, they must participate in team-building exercises and projects, discussions, and presentations.
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    Develop creativity: It takes a lot of patience and creativity to code. Computer programmers can fix coding issues or solve workflow and interpersonal problems at work through creative means. Software engineers and computer programmers use creative means to build and design apps, games, and websites. Additionally, UX/UI designers draw on their creativity to design marketing materials for new products.
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    Improve problem-solving skills: Computer programmers may learn by making mistakes and fixing them. Coding bootcamps teach students to get good at problem-solving by encouraging them to notice patterns that can help them solve issues on various platforms. Students who become adept at problem-solving develop patience, confidence, and logical reasoning.
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    Gain Time Management and Organizational Skills: Coding bootcamps often offer fully online courses that feature asynchronous formats. Asynchronous coursework benefits working students, but it also requires time management, independence, and organizational skills. Students learn how to prioritize their time to complete complex and simple assignments.

What to Look for in a Coding Bootcamp

Most coding bootcamps begin with assessing your coding knowledge and ability to learn. Assessments may help students with learning disabilities to understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Coding bootcamps offered through universities and private companies provide intensive training in a short time period. Unlike traditional college, which takes 2-4 years, coding bootcamps train students in months.

Not every coding bootcamp will offer the same services and accommodations to students with learning disabilities. Because learning disabilities vary in severity and symptoms, students should find a coding bootcamp that offers the best format, support services, and adaptive technology for their specific needs.

Support teams provide students with the tools to succeed, including professional development, one-on-one tutoring, and instructors who help students find the best way, such as visual learning, to understand computer science concepts.

Learning disabilities could impact a student's ability to use numbers, focus, or stay organized. However, coding bootcamps offer flexible formats and self-paced options that may provide additional time to complete assignments.

Resources for Students with Learning Disabilities

CPIR offers information, products, and resources also found at the 100 Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers. These centers offer direct services to families, children, and young adults as old as 26 who have learning disabilities. Parents and children with disabilities can find centers through the locator feature on the CPIR's website.

The ADA National Network, funded by the Department of Education, provides training and resources to help people with disabilities. Organizations and institutions can find access information about the ADA Act, online training, and onsite courses at 10 regional centers. The national organization also operates a toll-free information phone number where ADA specialists answer confidential questions.

Since 1964, LDA has provided help and resources to people with learning disabilities, teachers, and parents. Joining LDA offers members access to webinars, discounts at conferences, and information about national and local policies. Parents and educators can find information through LDA about specific learning disabilities, plus testing and special accommodations available for students with learning disabilities.

Founded in 2001, the LD Resources supports and advocates for children and adults who struggle with dyslexia and ADHD. Parents and individuals who have learning disabilities join LD Resources for free. LD Resources operates a helpline and provides schools and organizations with assistive technologies for people with learning disabilities.

The NCLD has for more than 40 years provided advocacy and grants to support research in learning disabilities. Visitors to the NCLD website can find laws, issues, and advocacy information. NCLD also offers scholarships and awards. The Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship awards $5,000 over two years, and the Anne Ford Scholarship provides $10,000 over four years.

Frequently Asked Questions About Coding

Can anybody learn to code?

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In theory, anyone can code. Learning to code has been compared to solving a puzzle — which can be easy or difficult — depending on the person and the puzzle. Complex coding may not suit every learner. However, no matter their ability or barriers, the persistent learner can learn to code with enough practice time. Programming, however, requires complex problem solving, which can be difficult for some.

Coding bootcamps have different levels — from advanced to beginner. Students with no experience can often take pre-courses that introduce them to basic concepts in computer science. Coding bootcamps often offer student support, office hours with instructors, and a collaborative and inclusive learning environment that can help people with learning disabilities to learn to code.

How can I teach myself to code?

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Many people identify as self-taught coders who learned entirely online. These individuals learn programming languages, theories, and applications through paid or free online courses. A beginner may start to code by using programs such as W3 Schools to understand basic code for using CSS.

This pathway can take longer than attending coding bootcamps or college courses, which offers a quick and sometimes guaranteed path to a well-paying tech career. Self-taught coders may not have the same benefits as students at coding bootcamps: job resources, career boards, recruiters, staffing events, and portfolio assistance.

Is coding worth learning?

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Yes. Coding can be worth learning since graduates earn a good paycheck.

Fullstack Academy graduates earned a median pay rate of $90,000, according to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting. Codesmith graduates made a median salary of $73,500 a year. Many coding bootcamps also have high graduation rates, with most students finding employment within 180 days of graduating. Flatiron School reports that out of 1,510 graduates, 86% accepted a job during the 2020 reporting period.