Best practice when working with students with Specific Learning Difficulties

The following guidance is provided by the Disability Resource Centre.

How do Specific Learning Difficulties impact on study?

The impact of a Specific Learning Difficulty will vary from individual to individual and will depend upon a range of factors including the time since diagnosis, the range of strategies that have already been developed, and the support that is available. In general, it may take students with a Specific Learning Difficulty significantly longer to read material than their peers due to slow speed of processing. It may similarly take them substantially longer to write essays. This is because students with a Specific Learning Difficulty may experience difficulties in the following areas, particularly under time pressure: 

  • Absorbing information quickly from reading material 
  • Spelling 
  • Writing concisely
  • Fluency of written composition
  • Speed and legibility of handwriting
  • Planning, organising, ordering, and structuring writing and ideas
  • Retaining and manipulating long lists of orally given instructions
  • Formulating and retaining ideas
  • Proofreading (ability to recognise own errors)
  • Sentence structure / grammar / punctuation
  • Listening and taking notes simultaneously and selecting essential information
  • Summarising from source material / paraphrasing
  • Scanning and skimming information rapidly
  • Maintaining focus & focusing accurately on the text for a sustained period
  • Time and time management – including planning and structuring time

In addition, students with dyspraxia may also experience difficulties with physical co-ordination and spatial awareness, which can make some practical tasks difficult. 

It is important to note, however, that not all students will experience all of the difficulties listed and the range of areas of difficulty experienced will vary from individual to individual. Students with an SpLD will have developed a range of compensatory strategies. However, these strategies may come under pressure in different environments and also during times of increased stress. Therefore, the difficulties may become more noticeable when under time pressure (such as in examinations), where there is an increased burden on memory and the rapid retrieval and organisation of information. 

Key Support Actions 

  • Permit recording of lectures, supervisions, dissertation tutorials, and guest speakers 
  • Provide handouts in advance of lectures 
  • Provide directed reading lists and/or guidance with identifying and organising reading materials relevant to this student’s research (as appropriate)
  • Extend loan periods for books

Supporting and teaching students with Specific Learning Difficulties 


  • Give permission to take notes using a laptop computer 
  • Leave information on the board to allow adequate copying time 
  • Provide copies of PowerPoint presentations, handouts, lecture notes, and discussion documents, where available, preferably in advance in electronic format
  • Number PowerPoint slides and use a pastel coloured background where possible
  • Flag up/identify essential information
  • A synopsis at the start of the lectures and effective signposting throughout. At the conclusion of each lecture, review major points 
  • Provide reading lists in advance