Supporting Students with Specific Learning Difficulties

This section introduces the different Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) and explores how they may impact on a student's academic performance and participation in university. Here, the main focus is to suggest ways in which you as a staff member can support students with specific learning difficulties (dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia) within their role of being a student.


A learning difficulty or disability is characterised by a discrepancy between intellectual capacity and achievement. There are three major specific learning difficulties: dyslexia; dysgraphia; and dyscalculia. Other learning difficulties include difficulties with auditory processing, memory, reading/visual difficulties.

Dyslexia is a language based learning difficulty which mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. Many people with dyslexia can experience difficulties in the following areas: memory, reading, writing, spelling, maths, organisation, and speech. The difficulties in these areas are not related to a person's intelligence or cognitive skills.

Dysgraphia affects the student’s ability to write coherently regardless of their ability to read. Some of the problems include: poor structure of words; incomplete words and omitted words; significant difficulty putting thoughts and ideas in writing; increased or decreased speed of handwriting.

Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty specific to arithmetic or Maths. 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.

Specific Learning Difficulties Awareness Leaflet

Difficulties that may be experienced by university students with specific learning difficulties

  • Students with specific learning difficulties can underachieve within the education system unless they receive appropriate support.
  • Students may underperform in university examinations or require more time to complete assignments than other students.
  • Taking notes in lectures can be difficult for students with SpLDs.
  • Students may have significant organisational difficulties.
  • Students may have difficulty with handwriting and producing written work.

Strategies staff can use to support students

  • As explained here, students may have disclosed a specific learning difficulty to their School. Access the LENS report for details on how you can support the student. Implement and support a student’s reasonable accommodations with efficiency and discretion. Be mindful of how having a specific learning difficulty may impact a student’s experience of university life.
  • Make lecture notes available in advance if possible. Student with specific learning difficulties may have difficulty writing notes in lectures. Having access to the notes within the lecture (printed or on a laptop) facilitates the student to follow the format of the lecture, and add in notes as appropriate.
  • A written outline of the course in the student handbook may assist student with learning difficulties to follow the course and revise for exams.
  • Outlining each lecture at the beginning and highlighting new terms and key points can help a student to focus. Periodic summaries of the lecture and summaries at appropriate points in the course can also be helpful.
  • Providing templates or guidance for assignments online may be useful for supporting a student to understanding the expectations of third level education. Providing clear feedback on assignments enables students to understand how they can improve.
  • Please note, special accommodations for marking the spelling and grammar of students with dyslexia do not apply to essays and other forms of continuous assessment.
  • Provide, where possible, course material that is presented through varied and accessible methods, to engage students with different learning styles. Typically, a university environment focuses on learning through the written word, with less emphasis on visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic (learning by doing) styles. Students with specific learning difficulties may have a preference for these alternative learning styles. Consider using alternative assessment options.