SOAS University of London

Student Advice and Wellbeing

Specific Learning Differences

Study Inclusion Plans (Learning Support Agreements)

The Disability & Neurodiversity Team will usually have been in touch with the student and an individual Study Inclusion Plan (SIP) will have been drawn up.

The Study Inclusion Plan describes any adjustments that need to be made or support the student will need to access the course. These might include preferred method of accessing written information, exam arrangements and library support.

The Study Inclusion Plan (SIP) will be automatically distributed to all the student's module convenors each year, with the student's consent. If the student changes modules or wants to share the SIP with other teaching staff (eg Graduate Teaching Assistants or Programme Convenors), it will be up to them to send it separately. The faculty office will also have a copy of the SIP.

Whether or not the student has an SIP, please feel free to liaise with the disability advisors throughout the course regarding any questions or concerns you may have.

list of FAQs about Study Inclusion Plans.

Marking Criteria 

There are no specific SpLD marking guidelines for students' coursework. Staff use the following general marking criteria for all students' coursework: 

The marking criteria can be found alongside the Marking Policy on the Degree Regulations, Policies and Procedures page.

The UG and PG Marking Criteria have been designed to be inclusive for all students by focusing on the courses' Learning Outcomes:

Where spelling/grammar errors are not part of the learning outcomes and do not interfere with the meaning of what is being communicated, these errors are not considered as part of the mark awarded. However, in courses where spelling/grammar errors are part of the learning outcomes (eg in language courses), these will be marked down accordingly.

Note: These criteria replace the old 'Marking Guidelines for Students with Specific Learning Differences'. Students with SpLDs therefore no longer need to make a request on their essays for marking guidelines to be used. 

What does the term Specific Learning Difference Mean?

The term ‘Specific Learning Difference’ (SpLD) refers to a difference/difficulty people have with particular aspects of learning. The most common SpLDs are dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia and dysgraphia.

All SpLDs exist on a spectrum from mild to moderate through to severe. Common patterns of behaviour and experience do exist but there will be a range of different patterns of effects for each individual. SpLD’s are independent of intellectual ability, socio-economic or language background.

Having an SpLD does not predict academic potential. However, the path to achievement is usually a lot harder and may require far greater (usually unseen) effort and a distinct set of skills. The challenge and opportunity in an educational context – for teacher and student - is to be aware of the specific effects of these differences and to explore a variety of methods and techniques to facilitate optimal learning.

Specific Learning Differences in an academic context


Dyslexia is best described as a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation. Around 4% of the population is severely dyslexic, with a further 6% having mild to moderate problems.

Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short-term working memory and sequencing and organization. Dyslexia has also been associated with holistic, innovative problem-solving abilities. 

Some typical features of dyslexia in an academic context might be:
  • a marked discrepancy between a students’ ability / understanding and the standard of work being produced;
  • a persistent or severe problem with spelling, even with easy or common words;
  • difficulties with comprehension as a result of slow reading speed;
  • poor short term memory, especially for language-based information;
  • difficulties with organisation, classification and categorisation;
  • note-taking may present problems due to poor short term memory and language-processing difficulties;
  • handwriting may be poor, especially when writing under pressure;
  • pronunciation or word finding difficulties, which may be inhibiting when talking or discussing in large groups.
What can I do as lecturer/tutor?

As you will see below, all of these suggestions are features of good practice, so you may well find you implement these in your own teaching situations anyway. All students will benefit from these strategies.

Sugggested strategies – General
  • Avoid assumptions about what students with SpLDs are or are not able to do.
  • Provide confidential opportunities for individual feedback.
  • Avoid drawing attention to or identifying specific individuals.
  • Contact the Disability & Neurodiversity Team on with any queries.
Suggested strategies - Lectures

In a lecture situation, it is the process of reading, writing, listening and summarising simultaneously, and at speed, that can be particularly difficult (and sometimes impossible) for students with SpLDs as a result of struggling to hold ideas in short-term memory, while processing into writing at a relatively slow speed. Understanding and engaging with content is not the specific issue.

What helps:
  • Providing a clear overview of what will be covered, preferably as a handout, highlighting the main arguments, key concepts and new/difficult vocabulary.
  • Being explicit when you are introducing a new theme or concept and clarifying new language, providing as many concrete examples as possible.
  • Using a variety of methods, even with large groups e.g. short discussion opportunities in pairs or groups; diagrams or mindmaps; visual material.
  • Inviting students to record lectures/tutorials or use other technological support, if required.
  • Regularly pausing to summarise key themes/issues covered (including at the end of the lecture).
  • Allowing time for students to read handouts if they are going to be referred to during a lecture/tutorial.
  • Avoiding asking students to read aloud or calling on specific individuals to respond to questions.
  • Using clear slideshows or in-class materials, keeping content limited.
Suggested strategies – Assignments and written work
  • Provide essay/assignment questions as early as possible.
  • Give specific instructions and using unambiguous language in essay questions.
  • Use a clear, concise writing style.
  • Keep layout clear and simple. For example: avoid patterned backgrounds; using a clear font such as Arial.
  • Use printed rather than hand-written notes.
  • Avoid lots of dense text – using paragraphs, headings, sub-headings, bullet points etc.
  • Print on cream paper, rather than white. The glare of black on white can make text harder to decode.
  • Where there is a choice, providing references that have electronic copies available (enables students to use text-to-speech software).

Dyspraxia is an impairment of the organisation of movement as a result of the way in which the brain processes information. Dyspraxia affects the planning of what to do and how to do it and is associated with problems of perception, language and thought. The condition is thought to affect up to eight percent of the population in varying degrees and can run in families. Accompanying difficulties may include poor hand-eye co-ordination; difficulties with manual dexterity; the planning, organisation and sequencing of language and thought and weakness in short-term memory.

Some typical features of dyspraxia in an academic context might be:
  • physical clumsiness;
  • pronunciation of some words and/or stuttering;
  • difficulties with expressing oneself;
  • laborious writing which can be untidy and illegible;
  • difficulties with note-taking from lectures and books;
  • difficulties with general organization and with planning and structuring essays;
  • difficulties organising and managing information and filing;
  • problems maintaining accuracy when copying or producing sounds, writing, movement;
  • difficulties in social interaction, especially in groups;
  • may have difficulty distinguishing sounds and screening background noise;
  • may have difficulty following more than one instruction simultaneously.
What can I do as a lecturer/tutor?
  • Get to know the students particular needs in advance through a 1-1 meeting.
  • Be understanding and supportive.
  • Present information as far as possible in a structured, holistic way.
  • Explain at the beginning of lectures what the structure/main points will be. If possible, provide a written outline.
  • Support and reinforce spoken information with handouts and visual aids, models, concrete examples.
  • Provide glossaries of terms and acronyms.
  • Invite feedback to check understanding.
  • Allow use of tape recorders.
Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder ADD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are conditions that affect those parts of the brain that control attention, impulses and concentration. Most people with AD/HD will have a combination of impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention, while some will either tend towards hyperactivity/impulsivity (ADHD) or towards inattention (ADD). AD/HD develops in childhood and research suggests that 67% of those with AD/HD continue to have symptoms into adulthood. AD/HD has multiple causes, including neurobiological factors, genetic and environmental factors. Accompanying difficulties may include commencing and switching tasks, together with a very short attention span and high levels of distractibility. Those with hyperactivity may act impulsively and erratically and be noticeably restless and fidgety.

Some typical features of ADD/ADHD in an academic context might be:
  • failure to give close attention to details thereby making mistakes;
  • poor listening skills;
  • poor organisation and misjudging how long it will take to complete tasks, such as essays;
  • becoming ‘locked into’/obsessional about a task or activity;
  • having very fixed ideas and sometimes showing little flexibility;
  • hyperactivity – appearing over-stimulated and often fidgeting;
  • may demonstrate impulsive behaviour;
  • inattention in a range of different situations and be easily distracted;
  • may be poorly co-ordinated;
  • may talk excessively, have difficulties waiting for their turn and interrupt others;
  • can find it difficult to remain sitting.
What can I do as a lecturer/tutor?
  • Start the teaching session by reviewing the previous one and providing overviews of the main topics and structure of the previous one.
  • Provide notes at the start of each teaching session.
  • Allow recording of lectures.
  • Present material in a variety of ways diagrams, flow charts, practical demonstrations, tapes.
  • Students with ADHD may need to check the accuracy of information that they have got from lectures. If asked to re-explain perhaps try using different terminology or more straightforward language.
  • Pause and sum up frequently when giving instructions and explanations.
  • During lectures that are longer than one hour provide a short break in the middle.

Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty involving the most basic aspect of arithmetical skills. The term is often used to specifically refer to the inability to perform arithmetic operations. It is important to recognize that arithmetic difficulties do not lead necessarily to mathematical reasoning difficulties- some researchers have argued that an individual might have dyscalculia but have no impairment and even be gifted in abstract mathematical abilities. It is believed to affect 5% of the population.

Some typical features of dyscalculia in an academic context might be:
  • frequent difficulties with arithmetic, confusing signs (+, -, ×, ÷);
  • difficulties with times tables and mental arithmetic;
  • may manage in subjects such as science and geometry, which require logic rather than formulas. Difficulties occur when
  • calculations are required at a higher level;
  • may have difficulties with sequential processing which can even mean difficulties with using a calculator;
  • difficulties relate to basic number concepts such as telling the time, calculating prices, handling change and estimating and measuring;
  • mixing up times of scheduled appointments – miscalculating how long it will take to travel between venues;
  • have problems organising budgets and keeping track of finances ;
  • have poor self-esteem as a learner of mathematics.
What can I do as a lecturer/tutor?
  • Ask students what teaching strategies have proved helpful in past learning situations.For parts of a course which have numerical content students may need additional support.
  • Allow recording of lectures.
  • Don’t ask students with Dyscalculia to solve numeracy problems in front of the whole class

Dysgraphia, or handwriting disability, is the inability to perform the motor movements required for handwriting. The condition is often associated with neurological dysfunction. Some typical features of dysgraphia include: poor, illegible handwriting; hand tiring quickly, making writing painful; difficulty keeping letters and words on a writing line or difficulty moving one’s hand across the page while writing. Dysgraphia may exist in isolation but more commonly occurs with other learning difficulties, like dyslexia, aphasia, dyscalculia, and attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity.

Some typical features of Dysgraphia in an academic environment might be:
  • difficulties with note-taking, both in lectures and from books,
  • difficulties in writing during exams
What can I do as a lecturer/tutor?
  • Allow use of recording devices during lectures.
  • Use a variety of means for presenting information e.g. videos, flow-charts, diagrams etc.

Other adjustments and facilities available at SOAS

Equipment and software available at SOAS

In both D15 and 482 there is a computer which runs Texthelp Read and Write Gold (screen reader with text-to-speech output), Dragon (voice recognition speech-to-text) and Inspiration (a mindmapping software). These rooms also have scanners. The rooms can be booked at the issue desk in the library.

The Disability & Neurodiversity Team has a number of loan laptops that have the same softwares installed. There are also a number of digital recorders available for loan to students who find note taking in lectures difficult.


Students with SpLDs have access to extended loans and a contact person in the library. The contact person can help with photocopying, scanning and finding books.

Funding and Support 

Most students with specific learning difficulties who are UK residents can apply for extra disability funding via the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). This can fund note-takers, digital recorders, software, and specialist one to one to dyslexia support. You can find more information on this link - Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs).

Non-UK residents are eligible to access the loan equipment service and the Disability & Neurodiversity Team will assess potential funding requirements for study support on an individual needs basis. 

Who to contact at SOAS

Available support for students and staff include: screening and referral for diagnosis; one-to-one support; workshops and seminars; assistive technology; links to all aspects of support available in the university as well as externally (e.g. Student Finance England for Disabled Students Allowance, external tutors).

Please contact the Disability & Neurodiversity Team on with any queries.

Useful websites

  • Open University: Resource to support teaching staff in HEIs in understanding the needs of disabled students. 
  • Dyslexia toolkit: a resource for students and their tutors produced by the Open university
  • The DEMOS Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness. 
  • JISCmail list: E-mailing discussion group for HE staff and students with an interest in disability.  
  • TechDis: Enhancing provision through the use of technology. Devised for staff and students in further and higher education.  
  • SOAS Learning and Teaching Development
  • SOAS Disability Office 

Links to Organisations :


  • The British Dyslexia Association
  • ADDiSS (Information on AD/HD)
  • Bournemouth university disability support website
  • Cambridge University website 
  • The DfES Working Party on DSA Assessment, 2004)