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.
Panic attack and panic disorder
What does it mean to have a panic attack?
A panic attack may involve the following symptoms: a racing heart, chest pains, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath and feeling of choking. Often the attack is associated with fear of death or fear of going insane. For the person experiencing them, panic attacks are very unpleasant, but they are not dangerous and will subside on their own, usually in less than 30 minutes. Afterwards, the student may feel very ashamed.
How can panic attacks affect studying?
Recurrent panic attacks may cause the student to avoid places and situations where they may have an attack (lecture halls, busses, etc.). Often the fear is related to a place where you cannot escape or a situation where the student feels they are embarrassing themselves in the eyes of others. However, avoiding certain situations for fear of having a panic attack does not help the student. Instead, it may worsen the symptoms. The student should little by little practice returning to the difficult situations, because in time, exposure to them will alleviate their panic attack symptoms.
How to support learning
- If panic attacks stop the student from taking part in a teaching event, give the student the possibility to compensate for the exams by performing some activity not requiring attendance, such as completing homework assignments or participating in online discussions.
- Students may find it easier to attend courses if they can choose a seat close to the aisle or a place from where they can leave discreetly if needed. You can reserve a suitable seat for the student by putting a ‘reserved’ sign on it before the lecture.
- If the student is typically unable to take examinations for fear of having a panic attack, you should go through alternative ways of demonstrating knowledge with the student in advance: discussions, portfolio, learning diary, project work, book exam, take-home exam, oral exam, peer teaching.
- The student may be able to take the exam in a separate room where the panic attack is easier to manage, should one occur.
What to do if a student has a panic attack?
- Take the student away from the lecture hall, to a calm and spacious area, for instance, to a corridor.
- Help the student to focus on something other than the feeling of panic. Friendly and calm everyday conversation will help. You can ask the student to tell you about what they see in the immediate environment or ask them to talk about a simple, everyday thing.
- You can distract the student from the panic attack’s bodily reactions by some light physical exercise, such as walking about.
- Taking calm, deep breaths eases the bodily symptoms. You can help the student by staying calm and taking deep breaths yourself, showing the student that everything is OK.
For more information, see:
- Finnish association for Mental Health on panic disorder: https://www.mielenterveysseura.fi/en/home/mental-health/mental-disorders/panic-disorder
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