Dyslexia is a language based learning difficulty and refers to a cluster of symptoms which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills. Although individual cases vary, many people with dyslexia can experience difficulties in at least one of the following areas:
While many people with dyslexia share the above difficulties, it is worth remembering that the condition can vary greatly in its symptoms from one person to another. Hence, make no assumptions about a student’s requirements – ask them what support they need.
Many students with dyslexia have developed compensatory strategies to cover their difficulties. This allows many to cope well with their coursework. For others, however, the demands placed on them at third level mean that they may have to abandon old habits and develop new coping and learning strategies.
A student with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) may experience difficulty in the organisation of movement, often appearing clumsy. Gross motor skills (related to balance and co-ordination) and fine motor skills (relating to manipulation of objects) are hard to learn and difficult to retain and generalise.
Writing is particularly laborious and keyboard skills can be difficult to acquire. Individuals may have difficulty organising ideas and concepts. Pronunciation may also be affected and people with Developmental Coordination Disorder may be over- or undersensitive to noise, light and touch.
Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty involving the most basic aspect of arithmetical skills. The difficulty lies in the reception, comprehension, or production of quantitative and spatial information.
Students with dyscalculia may have difficulty in understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers and have problems learning number facts and procedures. These can relate to basic concepts such as telling the time, calculating prices and handling change.
The characteristics of SLD overlap and vary in degree between individuals. Characteristics include:
- Limitations in short-term memory and cognitive processing mean that they have difficulty following sequences or complicated directions and with integrating material from a number of sources.
- Information overload leads to confusion resulting from having more ideas than they can translate into acceptable words or structures.
- Difficulties with ‘search and locate’ strategies and in independent learning generally.
- Slow reading rate and comprehension creates difficulties where students must deal with a large amount of material in a short space of time, or when many new words or concepts must be learned and incorporated into understanding.
- Heightened anxiety levels are common in test or performance situations – anxiety about performing in front of others may affect participation in tutorials.
- First year students, in particular, may find the unstructured freedom of third level uncomfortable in comparison to the structured, controlled environment of the school system and will need input to help them plan and manage their time effectively.
- A student with a SLD can be disadvantaged when assessment takes the form of a written timed examination, and examiners are asked to consider the Marking Guidelines for Correcting Examination Scripts from Students with Specific Learning Difficulties.
Despite their individual characteristics, students with SLD are known to share a common learning style, which is characterised by:
- A tendency towards holistic thinking (looking for overall patterns and relationships and different sides to a situation or task).
- Original and lateral problem-solving skills.
- Developed visual or spatial skills.
- A preference for intuitive non-rational thought rather than rational explanations.
- A reliance on long-term memory and a need to associate ideas in order to fit them into memory.
- A need to compensate for poor short-term memory by over-learning facts.
- Difficulty in tracking direction and time and using numbers.
- Refer to the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment guidelines.
- Be sensitive of possible self-consciousness by the student about speaking or reading aloud in lectures and tutorials.
- Keep your writing style clear and concise.
- Try to use printed text rather than handwritten notes.
- Keep layout of your documents and slides clear and simple.
- Avoid patterned backgrounds on printed materials or slides.
- A clear font such as Arial or Comic Sans is easier to read than a serif font such as Times Roman.
- Don’t use too many font styles in a document or presentation.
- Try not to use dense blocks of text – use paragraphs, headings and subheadings, bullet points, numbered lists etc.
- Highlight text by using bold font, rather than underline or italics.
- Avoid red and green ink as these colours are particularly difficult to read (this will also benefit those students who are red-green colourblind).
- Use alternative ways of presenting information as well as text – flow charts, diagrams, graphs etc.