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Common Struggles & Strategies for Students with Dyslexia in College

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Did you know approximately one in five students has dyslexia? If you support a student with dyslexia who is college-bound, they can thrive in higher education with:

  • Self-awareness of their learning style

  • Appropriate accommodations

  • Skill building

  • Persistence

I have coached students with dyslexia through all four years of college and share below my advice, tips and resources for you to support the student in your life with an amazing dyslexic brain!

Common Struggles

Based on my experience as an executive functioning coach and faculty, here are some common barriers to success of college students with dyslexia:

  • Organization, planning and prioritization of college homework assignments. Example: Making a plan to complete short-term and long-term assignments simultaneously across multiple classes

  • Advocating for themselves with professors to ask for clarification or for help on an assignment. Example: Writing an email to schedule a meeting during a professor’s office hours to ask for clarification on an upcoming assignment.

  • Advocating for themselves in the disability support process (asking for accommodations they might need to be successful). Example: Approaching a professor after the first class of the semester to share their Accommodation Letter.

  • Capturing auditory information correctly and remembering it later on. Example: Meeting with a professor and remembering what was discussed hours or days later.

  • Reading physical textbooks with small print. Example: Students often struggle with the reading amount and also the reading format. Many students don’t know that they can purchase or research if a hardcover textbook has an audio or electronic version.

  • Producing written work that is organized and polished (error free). Example: Students often rush to complete assignments by the deadline (which is a great skill!) however they may not take the time needed to revise, proofread and edit.

Strategies That Work

Visual Calendar

Encourage your student to practice using a visual calendar now to keep track of their responsibilities during the week (chores, events with friends, homework assignments/long-term projects, etc.).

This is a universal design tool that helps ALL students improve their executive functioning skills (organization, planning & prioritization).

Role Playing

To assist with communication with professors, I recommend role playing potentially uncomfortable conversations. I have found role playing with real-world scenarios to be a very effective strategy.

For example, pretend you are a professor sitting at a desk in their office and have your student practice “walking into the office.” Try two or three different greetings from the professor and have your student respond.

As the “professor,” interact in different ways and practice how your student can advocate for themselves in different scenarios and conversations.

Assistive Technology Tools

Writing and editing skills can be supported by introducing students to assistive technology tools before they get to college. Click here for a mini poster with links to specific AT tools for students with dyslexia created by NEAT (New England Assistive Technology).

An example of an AT tool that can assist with writing is a speech-to-text tool found in Google Docs called Google Voice (in Google Docs click on Tools, then scroll down to Voice Typing — it’s free!). Some of my students don’t realize they can speak their essays with their voice instead of typing with their fingers. I use voice dictation with my phone all the time — this is another universal AT tool that ALL OF US can use!

The Right Textbooks

Remind students that in college they will have options about the type of textbook they buy. Students can buy a hardcover “hold in your hands” textbook, electronic textbook to read on the screen or listen to an audio book. In my experience, students don’t realize they have options! If your student avoids reading a physical textbook but likes to listen to stories, remind them that this is an option in college.

Did you know Bookshare is an online library of audiobooks for students with reading disabilities and barriers such as dyslexia? Check it out!

Another Great Resource

The International Dyslexia Association provides many informative resources on their website for families and professionals. In particular, I like their infographics and fact sheets which represent statistics and questions in an easy to understand and visually appealing format.


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