Written in collaboration with the Study Advice and Student Counselling Service.
There are many different categories of functional disabilities, particularly physical disabilities, chronic illness, psychological problems, learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia, dyscalculia), concentration disorders (e.g. ADHD, ADD) or disorders along the autism spectrum (ASS). These tips focus on learning disabilities, ASS and ADHD. Each year, a considerable number of students with functional disabilities submit requests for special facilities. The number of requests has tripled in recent years. In the last academic year (2013/2014), approximately 240 students at the University of Antwerp had learning disabilities, 70 had ASS and 40 had ADHD.
Teachers often have many questions about how to take these students into consideration. It is not simple to provide additional support to these students without affecting the final competences of a programme. In this tip, we address several concrete and frequently asked questions concerning the supervision and assessment of students with learning disabilities, ASS or concentration disorders.
What is the responsibility of the student?
Students with functional disabilities can draw on special facilities. Examples of such facilities include using notes from other students, receiving additional examination time, taking examinations in the font of their choice, being the first or last to arrive at examinations and taking examinations on computers with compensating software. Students are expected to request these facilities themselves, based on a certificate. The student is free to decide whether to make this known. Some students prefer not to attract attention or be treated differently, and they therefore choose not to announce their functional disabilities to their fellow students and/or teachers.
What should be taken into account when having students with dyslexia write papers?
Students with dyslexia often have difficulty writing papers. They need more time to create a paper than other students do. Reading proceeds more slowly, but writing is also more difficult. For this reason, additional time can be a useful tool. Students with dyslexia may use compensating software (e.g. text-to-speech software, like Sprint or Kurzweil), although it does not work miracles. For example, the software does not eliminate faulty sentence structures. When assessing a paper, therefore, it could be useful to draw a distinction between the language that is used and the content of the paper. The use of a criteria list with clear weights can prevent students (particularly those with dyslexia) from being unfairly penalised for spelling errors.
Which tools can help students with dyscalculia during examinations?
These students often have difficulty with procedures (including non-mathematical procedures) and numbers (e.g. including dates). Additional time can help them think more calmly. Another way to help improve the assessment of students with dyscalculia involves reviewing the answers orally after the test, so that students can clarify their reasoning. At the same time, we should never lose sight of the final competences of the course. If mathematical operations are not part of the final competences, a simple calculator could be helpful for these students, so that they do not give incorrect answers due to errors in calculation. A limited formula sheet can also help students with dyscalculia to continue working out the solution on their own. One major tool for students with dyscalculia could obviously be to assign more consideration to how a student arrived at the solution, instead of considering only the final solution. This could prevent these students from being penalised for errors in addition, errors in copying numbers or similar errors.
How can I support a student with autism in a group assignment?
Many students with autism have difficulty with group assignments. It is not always easy for them to communicate smoothly with their fellow students and express their ideas. Because students usually do not inform their peers about their diagnoses, they are not able to take these problems into account. For students with autism, it is very helpful for the teacher to monitor the group assignment closely (e.g. by personally helping to form the groups or by providing an interim feedback opportunity in order to assess the status of the project) and to take the initiative to ask students with autism how the group assignment is going. If peer assessment is being used, an interim peer assessment should be organised. As is the case for other students, such interim opportunities are important for providing feedback that the students can use to make any adjustments that might be necessary. The most decisive factor could be the general attitude of the teacher. If students feel that they are welcomed by the teacher, even when they are confused or frustrated, they might be more inclined to report problems sooner.
Should a student with ADHD have more leeway than another student?
Studying and ADHD do not seem to be a good combination. Students with ADHD do many different things that teachers do not like: being late to lectures, submitting assignments late or holding chaotic narratives during oral examinations. A student with ADHD can be highly motivated and highly intelligent, while nevertheless having a great deal of difficulty with agreements and deadlines. It is certainly not the intent to adjust the rules or deadlines for this group of students. It is important for teachers to realise that these students have a disorder that can seriously disrupt a number of functions (e.g. attention, concentration, planning, organisation). Students usually do not ask for adjustments, but for understanding and additional support. If an assignment is submitted late, it could be worthwhile to talk with the student to determine what went wrong and how the next assignment could be approached better. An interim feedback opportunity or making the assignment more concrete could be very helpful, as could referral to the Study Advice and Student Counselling Service. These students have had enough sermons; they are looking for real solutions.
Want to know more?
Lecturers of the University of Antwerp can also contact the Student Information Point (STIP): firstname.lastname@example.org
Here you can find more information about the procedures and possible aids when studying at the university of Antwerp with a functional dissability.
Olofsson, Å., Ahl, A., & Taube, K. (2012). Learning and Study Strategies in University Students with Dyslexia: Implications for Teaching. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 47, 1184-1193.
The Open University (2018). Studying with dyslexia. Retrieved from the Open University website.