Dyslexia: How Can You Help?
Students with dyslexia show pronounced problems with their reading pace, which means that it takes them much longer to review, process and study written learning materials. Texts written by students with dyslexia lack structure and are often less enjoyable to read. Before you assess the texts, it is useful to gain more insight into this functional impairment. Do you want to provide additional and more active support in your teaching practice? Read this education tip to find out how to adjust your assessment practice and teaching practice to students with dyslexia.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is one of the learning disabilities that can be situated on the spectrum of developmental disorders. “Dyslexie is een specifieke leerstoornis die zich kenmerkt door een hardnekkig probleem in het aanleren van accuraat en vlot lezen en/of spellen op woordniveau, dat niet het gevolg is van omgevingsfactoren en/of een lichamelijke, neurologische of algemene verstandelijke beperking” (Stichting Dyslexie Nederland, 2016). ["Dyslexia is a specific learning disability characterized by a persistent problem in learning how to read and/or spell accurately and fluently at word level, and which is not the result of environmental factors and/or a physical, neurological or general intellectual disability" (Stichting Dyslexie Nederland, 2016), our translation]. Students with dyslexia experience persistent problems converting sounds into words. As a result, they have great difficulty automatizing sound-sign units.
Students with dyslexia have a significantly lower reading speed than their peers, and have to make greater efforts to quickly and correctly recognize words. This is often accompanied by persistent spelling mistakes that cannot be 'fixed', no matter how often you repeat the rules. However, students with dyslexia are usually skilful and creative problem solvers. They try to avoid long, complex words in papers, for instance. The fact that dyslexia now seems to be more common than before is because the learning disability is now more often detected.
Who Suffers from Dyslexia?
The number of people with dyslexia differs from language to language. Among speakers of English, where spelling and pronunciation differ significantly, the number runs up to 20 percent; among speakers of Italian and Spanish, where there is an almost one-on-one relationship between spelling and pronunciation, the number is only 1 to 3 percent. The number of Dutch-speaking dyslexics is somewhere in the middle. Men are more likely to suffer from dyslexia than women, about 60 versus 40 percent. If your parents have dyslexia, you are 30 percent more likely to develop dyslexia yourself.
What are the Consequences of Dyslexia?
- students with dyslexia have a reading speed that is two to three times slower than that of their peers without dyslexia. If they find themselves in a situation in which they need to read a text quickly against a lot of with background noise, or under extra pressure (e.g. during exams), they will make more mistakes;
- students with dyslexia will read the following words incorrectly more often than 'ordinary' readers:
- ambiguously spelled words (e.g. missspell);
- words with multiple syllables (e.g. embarrassment);
- abstract words (e.g. proper nouns);
- foreign words (e.g. liaison);
As a result, they may copy, study and reproduce concepts incorrectly.
- dyslexics often find notetaking while listening challenging, which leads to incomplete and sloppy notes. They will pay less attention to language form, especially when the content is new;
- dyslexics find it more difficult than others to structure a text and to distinguish between key issues and minor points;
- dyslexics make more spelling errors than their peers: listening mistakes (e.g. 'poduce' instead of 'produce'), memory mistakes (e.g. 'genius' vs. 'ingenious'), rule-based mistakes (e.g. 'it's' vs. 'its');
- dyslexics sometimes avoid difficult, academic words and substitute them with simpler, easier-to-spell alternatives, which are often more colloquial and informal. As a result, the nuance in their texts is sometimes lost;
- dyslexics make more capitalisation and punctuation mistakes, leaving their texts less structured.
- dyslexics generally perform better in oral than in written tasks;
- dyslexics usually exhibit a slower processing rate.
How Does Ghent University Help Dyslexics?
Provided students submit a certificate, they can apply for special status as a student with a functional disability at the Contact Point for Students & Functional Impairment (Dutch: Aanspreekpunt voor Student en Functiebeperking):
- the disadvantage criterion: there must be a clinical score for reading and/or spelling;
- the exclusion criterion: the reading and spelling problems must not have any other cause;
- the didactic resistance criterion: the reading and spelling problems persist, despite at least three to six months of additional remedial action.
How to Help Dyslexics as a Lecturer?
When you have dyslexics in your class, refer them to the Contact Point for Students & Functional Disability. The staff will test the student and offer facilities. But you can also make a difference in your teaching practice.
Above all, realize that all dyslexia-related symptoms are persistent: there is no cure. Special facilities are a way to help dyslexic students to better deal with those symptoms As a lecturer you can support these students by making small adjustments in your lessons:
- give students with dyslexia more time. After all, they read and write more slowly than other students;
- provide your course material digitally so that your dyslexic students can listen to it using compensation software (e.g., SprintPlus, Kurzweil, ClaroRead or via DAISY player);
- allow dyslexic students to check their in a text via word-predictive and grammar-supporting compensation software (e.g., Alinea and WoDy by Skippy). This software is made available to those students by the Contact Point for Students & Functional Impairment, so you do not have to make those arrangements yourself. Please note that software is a tool Attention: this software is a tool, not a panacea.
- advise your dyslexic students to always have their texts proofread by someone from their network before submitting it to you. This is one of the reasons why you should give them extra time: the proofreaders have to be given enough time. Or direct them towards the Writing Assistant developed by our colleagues at KULeuven. Students can upload their writing tasks and they will receive feedback on style, structure and language form. TGhent University has purchased a licence for both Dutch and English;
- if you feel that the student is isolated and does not have a support network, please refer them to Ghent University's extracurricular support, e.g. (c)ENTER. At (c) ENTER, they do not proofread texts on spelling or typos but they will help students with dyslexia to structure their paper.
- if you assess student papers on language as well as content, you could be more tolerant of spelling mistakes and typos, and focus more on the content;
- keep your assessment as clear as possible for dyslexic students. Use different colours for:
- spelling mistakes, typos, grammar mistakes;
- structural mistakes;
- stylistic mistakes
Want to Know More?
- watch this documentary (Fabio Wuytack, 30') made by the Diversity and Gender Policy Unit, in collaboration with vzw BSH/Cursief, containing testimonies and academic research;
- consult the Disability Office