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Celebrating 40 years of work with neurodiverse students

In 1982, in response to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, two faculty members and seven students founded the University of Denver’s Learning Effectiveness Program (LEP). Forty years later, it remains one of the few college programs for students with learning differences in the U.S. and quite possibly the most comprehensive.

“Back in the early 80s, some DU faculty noticed some of the students coming in could handle school, brain power-wise, but they lacked executive functioning skills, or they needed supports in reading,” says Jim Bailey (BS ’83), a former high school principal and the current director of the LEP. “So, they proposed opening what became the LEP. They looked at students’ neuro-psych evaluations and started awarding accommodations before accommodations were even a thing.” 

Today, the program has 25 staff members—most of whom are academic counselors—and serves about 360 students, including individuals on the autism spectrum and those with diagnosed learning disabilities, ADHD and dyslexia. The program offers everything from college transition support, academic counseling and tutoring to help with organization and planning, as well as social skills and events.

LEP is student-driven, meaning students are responsible for applying the skills they learn and advocating for themselves with their professors in terms of getting such accommodations as extended test time, access to recorded lectures or help from a peer note-taker.

Tori Greenberg, a junior hospitality management major who is in her third year with the LEP, says the program has been “tremendously helpful” as she has navigated college and prepared for life after graduation. She learned about the LEP from her high school tutor in Connecticut and says that it was a factor in her decision to enroll at DU.

“Without the LEP, the beginning of college would have been really difficult and would have set me behind,” she says. “It was so helpful to meet with the same person every week who tracked my progress and kept me in check. I can’t really imagine what it would have been like without it.”

Looking ahead, Bailey says the program remains focused on helping students like Greenberg and prospective students from other states. 

“We’re really thinking about, how do we expand our reach? How do we support neurodiverse and learning-different students, not just at DU, but across the country?” This includes supporting DU students who aren’t part of the LEP, reaching out to the K–12 sector locally, and holding college-readiness camps for incoming students outside Colorado.  

Another focus involves working with the Office of Teaching and Learning to stage neurodiversity institutes that train DU faculty members to support neurodiverse education in their classrooms and implement techniques such as Universal Design for Learning into their lessons. 

This work, Bailey says, “allows more neurodiverse students—actually, it allows everybody—to access the curriculum better.”

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