It is estimated that about 5 to 8 per cent of the population have some degree of dyslexia. Dyslexia can be simply defined as: “a disturbance in the coding of written language, caused by a deficit in the phonological system”.

The summary diagnosis “dyslexia” entails a persistent impairment of the ability to decode written language. Misreading written text often leads to a misinterpretation of its content. The decoding takes time, and dyslexics often have to read the text more carefully and perhaps several times in order to achieve good reading comprehension. Even the writing process is affected. Most students with dyslexia struggle with spelling and sentence structure. Many have developed other skills to compensate, which often means that other people have trouble understanding that the person is having difficulties. Different individuals with dyslexia have varying degrees of difficulty reading and writing, and thus their need for support varies.

Deafness and hearing impairment

There are about a million hearing-impaired people in Sweden. “Hearing impaired” is a collective term that includes several different groups: people with hearing loss, tinnitus, Meniere’s disease and hyperacusis, as well as people using assistive technology, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. The largest group is people with hearing loss, which can range from mild hearing loss to complete deafness.

In some cases, hearing loss can be offset by a hearing aid. However, if certain frequencies in the hearing range are gone, a hearing aid cannot compensate for the loss. Hearing aids amplify all sound, including traffic noise, the scrape of chairs, fan noise from air conditioners and projectors, etc., and this becomes wearisome if the person is exposed to such noise for an extended period of time. Many types of hearing loss affect the hearing of certain frequencies, which means that some voices/sounds are easier/more difficult to hear than others.

The inability to hear properly in the study situation affects the student negatively, as increased concentration and listening effort are needed in order to keep up. There is also a risk of misunderstandings. In addition to stress and fatigue, the strain may lead to headaches, neck pain and shoulder pain.

Deaf people and people with severe hearing loss use sign language, which is both a gestural and visual language that is conveyed using hand, body, mouth and face movements. Sign language has its own thematic and syntactic structure.

Neuropsychiatric disorders

Neuropsychiatric disorders is a collective term for a range of conditions and diagnoses, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, etc. Diagnoses can sometimes overlap. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) includes diagnoses such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome. The choice of the word “spectrum” in the name autism spectrum disorder refers to the great variation within the ASD diagnosis.

People with ASD may have trouble interpreting other people and understanding what is not explicitly spoken, which can lead to difficulties in social interaction and communication. They may also have clearly focused interests in which they acquire great knowledge. Symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) include inattention, poor impulse control and hyperactivity. The symptoms may occur separately or in combination with each other. For example, the person may be easily distracted, forget to bring things, or miss meetings and information.

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. Tourette’s syndrome causes tics, i.e. recurrent, involuntary, reflex-like movements and/or sounds. Many people with Tourette’s syndrome develop an ability to suppress their tics in public and unleash them when they are alone. More information is available from Riksförbundet Attention, www.attention-riks.se, and the Autism and Asperger Association, www.autism.se.

Psychological disorders

People with psychological disorders are a broad and heterogeneous group. What they have in common is that their troubles are persistent and recurrent. Psychological disorders include depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychoses, anxiety disorders, etc. These conditions may constitute more or less serious obstacles at different times. Even “milder” conditions can create difficulties in a person’s daily life and studies.

Bipolar or manic-depressive disorder involves wild mood swings, often in distinct depressive or manic episodes. There are, at times, symptom-free periods in between. During a manic episode, the person is in a high-energy state and can be very productive, but may have difficulty focusing on what needs to be done. During a depressive episode, the person often feels empty and useless. Circadian rhythms and sleep are disrupted, and the person may periodically become quiescent and slow.

Social phobia means that the person has an excessive fear of being the focus of attention from other people. Difficult situations for a student can be when he or she has to introduce him- or herself in a new group, participate in seminars and, above all, speak in front of an audience.

Mobility impairments

Mobility impairments is a collective term for injuries or illnesses that affect the musculoskeletal system, including injuries to the brain, the peripheral nervous system, muscles, joints or bones.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by a brain injury incurred during foetal development, at birth or in early childhood. A CP injury may vary in scope and severity and frequently involves spasticity (increased muscle tone) and/or involuntary movements. The group includes people with only light motor impairment, as well as people with severe disabilities. Many people with cerebral palsy also suffer from visual impairment, hearing loss or epilepsy. Cerebral palsy is the most common cause of mobility impairment in children and adolescents.

Acquired brain injuries include brain damage that was not present at birth. The damage may be caused by an external force or illness, for example, traffic accidents, falls, physical abuse, oxygen deprivation, strokes, viruses, tumours or exposure to solvents. Brain damage may lead to physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as behavioural disorders that can be either visible or hidden. Cognitive disabilities may affect a variety of intellectual and social functions, such as memory, communication, initiative, alertness, learning, planning, social perception, judgement and concentration.

Whiplash injuries are caused by blunt force trauma to the cervical spine. The most common cause is car accidents, but the injuries can also be caused by falls and diving accidents. Whiplash injuries give rise to chronic pain, restricted motion in the joints and muscular stiffness. People with whiplash injuries often take pain medication, which can make them very tired, and pain also has a negative impact on attention and concentration.

Spinal cord injuries are often caused by traffic or sporting accidents. Spina bifida, however, is a congenital disorder. Depending on where and to what degree the spinal cord is damaged, symptoms may vary from total paralysis to a slight weakness in the foot musculature. Movement and balance difficulties are common.

Visual impairment

The term “visually impaired” includes both blind and partially sighted people. Blind people have complete vision loss or can only differentiate between light and dark. Partially sighted people have low vision that cannot be corrected by regular glasses.

A visually impaired person finds it difficult or impossible to read printed text or to navigate using their sight, which leads to practical difficulties in various everyday situations. Most people with severe visual impairment are able to faintly discern colours and shapes, or can see with a very limited field of view. Other visually impaired people may have difficulty seeing in the dark or in bright sunlight.

Reading difficulties may be more or less severe. People with residual vision may be able to read printed text if the text is large enough, the contrast is high enough, and there is a logical layout that increases readability. Others have such low vision that they need the text in braille, audio-book format, or an electronic format that can be read using a computer with appropriate adaptations, such as speech synthesis or a braille display.

Since there are many different types of vision loss – from severe visual impairment to residual vision, tunnel vision or other visual deficiencies – the support is adapted on a highly individual basis.

Other disabilities

There are, of course, many other types of disabilities than those mentioned above, for example, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis (MS). Even allergies can pose difficult hurdles for the student. Any persistent disability that affects the study situation is grounds for support.