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Pros and Cons: Reading, Research and Composition

Planning and Organisational skills

There are many reasons why a student with a disability may face challenges with developing effective organisation skills:

  • Students with mental health difficulties, specific learning disabilities (SpLDs) and autism may face challenges with planning and organisation at various points in their study.
  • Organisation requires time and confidence and can also be adversely affected by concern about making progress.
  • Some students may lack of skills or confidence to ask for help.
  • Where a student is struggling to access study skills support or assistive resources such as equipment and technology, they may lack the confidence or knowledge to access help with accessing them.

Time Management

Finding the time to study and motivating themselves to do it, is a key skill for students. Some disabled students may have difficulty in aspects of time management. Example might include:

  • Students with SpLDs may be easily distracted when studying meaning they need to study for longer and take regular breaks during study periods. As with visually impaired students, they also often require longer to undertake reading, planning, writing and proof-reading tasks, placing additional time pressure on them.  
  • Students with mental health difficulties or physical impairments may need to take regular breaks from study and these may be unpredictable or unplanned. This may result in further anxiety as students feel that they are falling behind and failing to achieve the progress they want.  

Sources of Information for Study

Understanding the importance of different sources of information and how and where to access them, is again a key skill for students. Just getting to and from study areas and libraries and accessing the resources they need can be a challenge for students with autism or those with sensory or mobility impairments. This inevitably costs time. 

Effective Reading

Good reading skills will enable students to maximise their effectiveness and make most efficient use of time. 

  • Some written resources may be inaccessible to some students. For example, poorly designed online resources and PDFs may exclude some students with visual impairments. Some students prefer to work off hard copies of resources and others online. Access to both of these should be simply facilitated.
  • Some students take longer to read than others. This can be for a variety of reasons. Having access to multiple methods of accessing reading materials, including hard copy, online and audio will facilitate greater access for all students.


Learning to take notes effectively is vital to effective recording of reading and research and lecture and group work activities. Over and above the challenges some students face with learning to write succinct and coherent notes, students with disabilities may face addition difficulties:

  • Some students, such as students with dyslexia or hearing impairments face challenges in listening and writing notes at the same time, particularly when under time pressure.
  • An autistic student may misconstrue the purpose of a task or a lecture activity
  • Environmental or anxiety related issues may make it impossible for a student to understand what is being said. This might particularly apply to a student with a mobility or sensory impairment who is unable to equally access the teaching experience and resources as non-disabled peers. Or instrusive thoughts and concerns about how others are perceiving them, may cause a student with metal health difficulties to zone out lecture content, meaning they miss chunks of learning and fail to note key points.   

Writing skills

Developing an effective writing style, whether it be for a thesis, essay or an assessed blog for example, can be one of the biggest challenges for students.

  • Some students may face challenges with expressing themselves descriptively. For example, dyslexic students often recount that they have got feedback suggesting they have been very factual and minimalist in their writing. A student with autism may on the other hand have a very literal and concrete understanding of a writing task again resulting in quite restrictive prose.  
  • A dyspraxic student or student with ADHD may on the other hand struggle with sequencing ideas coherently and may as a result write in a disorganised or unstructured way.
  • Proof reading work can be a challenge for many disabled students, not least because due to difficulties in other areas of their study they are often time poor, meaning less time for this vital part of the study process.
  • Dyslexic and visually impaired students can find proof-reading particularly challenging as they may not see the errors that they have made.    

Reflecting on feedback

Getting beyond the grade and reflecting on feedback given is a key skill in driving future improvements. A number of challenges may happen here:

  • A student with autism may take quite a literal understanding of feedback and if not written clearly, they not necessarily take the learning from this that they otherwise might.
  • Students with mental health difficulties may need support to ensure that they are able to get beyond negative feelings about feedback and see how it might be used constructively.

Revision Skills

Revising for examinations and other assessments is a challenge for many students, not least because of the inherent anxiety that exams and assessments can cause for many students.

  • Time can be a factor here as for some students, revision might be almost like learning things for the first time, particularly if they have had disrupted study or their notes are incomplete or not well-written.
  • Procrastination can occur when students are overwhelmed by the task facing them and this can particularly impact students with disabilities.  
  • Uncertainty and lack of clarity about timed assessments may become a bigger focus for some students, with autism for example, than the revision task itself.   

These are just examples and students may have many other reasons for disabled students facing challenges with developing and mastering independent studstudy skills. More detailed information on the particular challenges some students may find in these academic environments can be found in Case Studies 1-5.

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