Dyslexia is the most common learning difficulty, and 6% of Finnish higher education students have been diagnosed with it (FSHS, KOTT, 2021).Dyslexia is defined as an impairment involving both reading and writing. A key characteristic in dyslexia is difficulty identifying and processing connections in phonologic (i.e. sound-related) information.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity challenges
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. The abbreviation comes from the words Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The key symptoms are inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. The symptoms manifest differently in each individual and impair everyday functions.
There are three types of ADHD:
- Combined type (inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive)
- Inattentive type, known as ADD (no hyperactiveness or impulsiveness)
- Hyperactive and impulsive type (no inattentiveness)
Nowadays, there is also talk of ADT (attention deficit trait), which is a self-induced difficulty in concentrating, where we have taught our brain to concentrate only for short periods at a time. We have done so by, for instance, learning to take out our phones to browse social media applications as soon as the mind begins to wander or when we start to feel bored. ADT is not an official diagnosis like ADHD.
How can ADHD affect studying?
The challenges caused by ADHD in studying vary. The student may have difficulty in concentrating on the task or listening to a lecture. As the student may not be able to focus on one thing for very long, they may try to do many things at the same time or jump from one task to another. This may lead to careless mistakes or missing a piece of information that has been given. Hyperactivity and impulsivity may be expressed also as sudden reactions, acting before thinking or difficulty with waiting for your turn.
The student may lack perseverance or have difficulty starting or finishing tasks. Stimuli from the surroundings, sounds or other people moving around may distract the student from the task. Time management and limiting the amount of time spent on certain activities or understanding how one thing relates to another may also be difficult.
You should keep in mind, however, that even when the student faces challenges with hyperactivity or inattention, they will always have strengths, too.
Tips for student guidance
- When discussing with the student, patience, openness and confidentiality are important.
- Focus on the student’s strengths; every student has them.
- Supporting and helping the student to create new study routines may ease the student’s task of organising their activities.
- Support the student in planning their time use, such as preparing for an examination on time.
- Guide the student in how to make use of the academic timetable, calendar, notepads, and time management functions on their phone to help with reminders and planning.
- Help the student to set clear goals for themselves. Breaking up an assignment into smaller steps is helpful.
- Guide and support the student regularly in making and following up on their study plan.
- Address any issues early.
- Guide and encourage the student to develop their study skills.
- Give immediate feedback that is supportive and respectful; encourage and motivate.
Pay attention to course practices
- Provide clear and detailed information on the structure of a course, key dates, examination requirements and practical arrangements.
- Ask the student what kind of learning material and working methods support their learning.
- Emphasise the information that the student should learn, for instance, by presenting a summary of the lecture contents at the start of the teaching session.
- Have breaks in your teaching to give students time to process what has been learnt.
- Use diverse learning material and illustrative examples, such as pictures, videos and sound in addition to text.
- Provide an outline of the lecture and written material beforehand so that students may familiarise themselves with subject as a whole.
Best practices in teaching
Students with challenges in hyperactivity and inattention may be easily distracted by stimuli in the environment. Concentration can be aided by:
- A comfortable seat
- Supplies for reducing the number of unwanted stimuli. These may include earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, a hood, sunglasses, etc.
- A possibility to move about / change posture / stand up to maintain a suitable level of alertness.
- Making use of digital aides to support studying, recording audio and/or visual files for the student’s personal use.
- Adopting a multisensory approach to teaching and communication: presenting the content in writing, orally, by showing and by doing.
- Overall clarity and calmness in teaching are beneficial for all learners.
Best practices for examinations and evaluations
- Announce clearly and well ahead of time the materials that will be on the examination.
- Make sure that the student has a peaceful study environment that will support their concentration. (Earplugs / noise-cancelling headphones / chance to work in a separate space, if needed.)
- Learning may be demonstrated in alternative ways, too, e.g. a written examination may be replaced by a verbal one or the student may do written work at home.
- The student may also agree on extra time for the examination if needed. According to Aalto policy, the student has the right to up to one (1) hour of extra time for an examination, irrespective of the length of the examination.
- The student may benefit from study tools during the examination, such as a computer with a word-processing program.
- For exercises that assess the student’s command of the content, provide an opportunity to assess in a way in which spelling errors do not lower the exam results.
For more information, see:
The ADHD union (in Finnish): https://adhd-liitto.fi/adhd-tietoa/aikuiset/
Salakari, A. (2018). ADHD-aikuisen selviytymisopas 2.0: Tutkittua tietoa ja käytännön vinkkejä. Tammi.
Individual study arrangements
Visual-perceptual difficulties refer to difficulties with processing or making sense of visual or spatial information in one’s mind and to create images that support action. In practice, students with visual-perceptual difficulties may find it hard to find their way in the studying environment and find teaching spaces or complete assignments that require them to identify or assemble objects or understand dimensions and patterns.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity challenges may present in tasks requiring concentration or independent study. When diagnosed, attention deficit and hyperactivity challenges are referred to as ADHD.
Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of neurobiological developmental disorders that affect how an individual communicates and interacts with others, and they sense and experience the surrounding world. The condition is life-long, stemming from anomalous development of the central nervous system.
Mental disorders here refer to particularly to depression, but also to bipolar disorder. Of mental disorders, particularly depression is common with young adults. Students should listen to themselves and remember to reserve sufficient time for recovering from the strain of studies.
Anxiety means a state where a person feels tense, restless and worried. Short-term anxiety and nervousness or stage fright are very common and natural phenomena among students.
A panic disorder refers to recurrent panic attacks, meaning sudden, very strong experiences of anxiety. Panic attacks may be isolated events or related to general anxiety. Panic attacks are rather common: about 10 to 15 per cent of people experience one in their lifetime.
Each Aalto student has a right to receive reasonable individual study arrangements for medical reasons. A medical reason may be dyslexia, a sensory impairment, mental health condition or learning difficulty. Individual study arrangements should not be seen as a reason to stop aiming for the set learning outcomes. Instead, they are a way of supporting the student in attaining the learning outcomes.
Examples of individual study arrangements include additional time for examinations (1 hour at Aalto), a private space or computer for examinations, or adjusted schedules.
Feedback, comments and questions on the individual study arrangements toolkit