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.
How can dyslexia affect studying?
For people with dyslexia, reading is a protracted process and consumes an inordinate amount of time. It may also involve frequent mistakes and difficulties with reading comprehension. Problems with finding the essential content in a text may slow down reading. This also retards writing, as dyslexia complicates writing and affects the ability to break down text into the smaller units. Dyslexia is often seen in the person’s foreign language ability as well, especially in reading, writing and remembering the correct spellings of words. Since the person’s short-term memory or working memory may be poor, remembering a long series of instructions may also be problematic.
Tips for student guidance
- Help the student in finding suitable study techniques. Tips on study skills can be found on: https://www.aalto.fi/en/study-at-aalto/study-skills
- Clarify the guidance session and defuse any stress associated with it. Give the student time all the time they need to get familiar with the material given.
Pay attention to course practices
- Make the course timetables and schedules clear and legible.
- Give the students the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the study material in advance, if at all possible. Flipped classrooms, where students review materials before classroom sessions, are also a good option.
- Provide students with lecture slides well in advance of the lectures. A readymade outline of slide presentations can help students to follow the lecture, as they do not need to concentrate so much on taking notes then.
- Specify the lecture structure in your slides. Getting to know the outline of the lecture ahead of time also helps the student to grasp more clearly the structure the subject to be learned.
- Do not give exercises where the student has to read great amounts of text during class time or otherwise under time pressure.
- Help the student to reserve enough time to do the coursework, clearly telling them about the work in advance and if needed, giving extra time to do written coursework.
- Encourage the student to try out different ways of preparing for exams, such as using peer support and studying in small groups.
- Respond favourably to the use of study tools. The majority of modern reading and copy-saving programs, such as dictation, recording and speech-synthesis applications, work with a smartphone or tablet.
- Ensure well in advance that the learning material and literature is available in a file type compatible with the student’s device. PDF files, for example, are suitable for many devices. Textbooks may be available in e-book format in the Aalto Learning Centre. The Learning Centre can also help with the use of Celia, a service for finding accessible forms of literature.
- Focus on clarity and non-ambiguity in learning materials. Check that the guidelines are the same for everyone.
- For the material, use a sufficiently large font (e.g. 12 point), a clearly readable sans-serif font type (e.g. Arial) and sufficiently large line-spacing.
Best practices in teaching
- Keep in mind that the student may need a chance to make audio and/or visual versions for their studying needs. Students have the right to make such copies for their own use, but not to publish them without permission. The practices for saving different versions should, however, be agreed upon between the teacher and the student.
- Writing on e.g. a whiteboard while lecturing often interferes with diverse learners’ concentration and learning. Remember also to speak calmly and clearly.
- Break down subjects into smaller parts and organise instructions into different stages.
- Have your presentation or lecture subjects also broken down into a clear division of topics. Present the main points at the beginning and list them again at the end. In long presentations, also review the main points at other major section breaks.
- Make use of examples, stories and discussion with your students when teaching. Be illustrative or give practical examples of the content of your speech rather than just talking.
Best practices for examinations and evaluations
- When planning your teaching, make room for flexible procedures and alternative test-taking methods. Might an alternative form of testing work for all of the course students? Alternative methods of assessment for traditional tests include: oral exams, student presentations, project work and diverse computer-based home exams that may include e.g. examples from different types of materials or the use of different programs or videos.
- Ensure that assigned exercises and instructions for answering questions are written clearly. Instructions and questions may also be given in audio form rather than as text.
- Students with dyslexia often need extra time in examinations, as dyslexia can slow down both reading and writing. The need for extra time is often greater in assignments that include a great deal of reading or writing or where time is otherwise sparse. At Aalto, such students may receive one (1) hour of extra time for taking exams.
- Students may also be helped by having the chance to take their exam by computer and use a proofreading program when writing. Answering assigned questions on computer, where the answers may be modified, helps the student also to produce a more comprehensive response regarding what they have learned.
- Encourage the student to make use of study tools, such as colour overlays to facilitate reading, or computer utilities suitable for exams.
- Do not penalise for reading and spelling errors; provide an opportunity for an assessment in which spelling errors do not cause lower test results.
For more information, see:
- The Finnish Student Health Service: https://www.yths.fi/en
- Guide to accommodating special reading and writing needs in higher education [in Finnish only – Lukemisen ja kirjoittamisen vaikeuden huomioon ottaminen korkeakouluopiskelussa] http://www.esok.fi/esok-hanke/julkaisut/oppaat/lukeminen/
- Homepage for the Finnish diverse learners association: Erilaisten oppijoiden liitto (only in Finnish)
- Dyslexia - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
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