Specific Learning Difficulties (SLDs)

What SLDs are

SLDs are neurobiological conditions, among which can be distinguished:

  • Dyslexia – difficulty reading quickly and correctly
  • Dysorthographia – difficulty writing with correct spelling
  • Dysgraphia – not very consistent, slow and tiring handwriting
  • Dyscalculia – difficulty with numbers and calculations

The various difficulties may be associated or, more rarely, isolated, and display different degrees of severity.

They have been defined specific difficulties since they occur in the absence of sensory or neurological deficits and specifically relate to individual skill domains: correctness and speed of reading as regards dyslexia; graphic production as regards dysgraphia; linguistic transcoding processes in the case of dysorthographia, and automatisms of calculation and the processing of numbers in the case of dyscalculia (Article 1 of Law 170).

By definition, they are only diagnosed in subjects who have an intellectual profile within the norm, and who have had adequate educational and social opportunities. In addition, they frequently run in the family.

Many of the difficulties that students with SLD face are due to a fragility in the efficiency of their working memory, which requires suitable accommodations. Without adequate educational support, SLD can negatively impact a student’s learning pathway, despite good cognitive abilities.

What the legislation says

The following is a list of the regulations, which can be referred to, which lay down the law and protect the right to study of individuals with SLD:

  • Law no. 170 of 2010 “New rules on specific learning difficulties in schools” protects the right of students with SLD to study and stipulates that university students shall be granted dispensational measures and compensatory instruments, also to take the admission tests.
  • The Ministerial Decree of 2011
  • CNUDD Guidelines of 2014 (National University Conference of Delegates for Disability)
  • Ministerial Decree no. 463 of 3rd July 2015

Specific means unique – the Vademecum

A guide, in podcast format, allowing students with specific learning disorders to find all the answers they need to cope with university life.


Documentation Required

Admission Test

Presentation of diagnostic certification at the time of enrolment allows access to the admission test with support measures to guarantee the same opportunities for all students. Therefore, students who wish to enroll as SLD must attach a copy of this certificate to their application, issued no more than three years earlier (this does not apply if issued after completion of the 18th year). The certificate must:

  • meet the Consensus Conference criteria (2011);
  • show the nosographic codes and the explicit wording ‘Specific Learning Disorder’ (SLD);
  • contain the information necessary to understand the individual characteristics of each student, indicating their respective areas of strength and weakness.

It should also be noted that only diagnoses issued by National Health structures or bodies, or professionals accredited by the Italian regions shall be valid.

Should the diagnosis not meet these criteria, the University may not accept it.


All services for the duration of the course of study can be requested only after an interview with the DD Service doctors (and after delivery of the clinical disability and/or SLD certification if not already consigned prior to the admission test).

In order for the diagnosis of SLD to be considered valid, it must be prepared according to the legislation in force; must meet the criteria of the Consensus Conference (2011); must state the nosographic codes and the explicit wording of the SLD in question, must contain the information necessary to understand the individual characteristics of each student, with an indication of the areas of strength and weakness. Only diagnoses issued by NHS structures or bodies, or professionals accredited by the Italian regions shall be considered valid. As envisaged by Law no. 170 of 2010 (Art. 3) and the subsequent State/Regions Agreement of 24/7/2012, these diagnoses must be updated after 3 years if carried out on a student who is a minor; it is not mandatory to update them if carried out after the age of 18.

Diagnoses that do not meet these requirements,  may be accepted for the admission test, but will not be accepted for registration with the Disability Service. 

Disability Service

The Service for Disability and Specific Learning Difficulties can be a useful support when dealing with neuropsychology specialists, to know how to renew certification, what National Health System facilities are available, or which professionals are accredited by the Italian regions to obtain a diagnosis.

Humanitas University students have an agreement with the NEXIA Neuropsychology Center at Humanitas Medical Care facilities, authorized by the ATS (regional healthcare facilities) of Lombardy.

The Disability Service is the first point of welcome for students and manages the University’s services: it serves as an intermediary between the University and the students, it acts as an organizational and coordinating reference point for the University services (orientation, mediation with teachers, technological and educational arrangements), it accompanies the student in itinere and assists the Delegate and the Referents.

The Rector’s Delegate is Dr. Stefania Vetrano.

Registering with the Service 

  • After the relevant diagnostic documentation has been consigned, it is necessary to register with the DD Service, as required, to request the compensatory instruments and dispensational measures to take the exams.
  • A first appointment will be arranged with the psychologists of the psycho-didactic consulting service in order to compile a personal datasheet containing the student’s characteristics, indications of his or her personal needs, and the request for specific compensatory instruments and dispensational measures. The first appointment remains mandatory to obtain the personal datasheet and subsequently request the necessary adaptations. The psycho-didactic consulting service remains open for consultation on certain dates for students already enrolled in the service.
  • The personal datasheet will be sent by email, or at least the part relating to the compensatory instruments and the required dispensations, with copies for the student and the reference teachers.

The SLD and SEN One Stop Counseling Shop

The SLD and SEN counseling service is a listening and meeting place to provide assistance in addressing learning process problems. The objectives of this service are to offer support in refining study methods, in defining a study program, in reading individual functional profiles defined by clinical diagnoses, in identifying specific needs as well as relevant compensatory instruments and dispensational measures.

Compensatory instruments and dispensational measures

The accommodations that may be required to take an exam refer solely to the manner and form in which the test is conducted and never to the degree of difficulty. Indeed, students with SLD must prove that they are sufficiently prepared in the subject and any request for the use of aids must be agreed together with the teaching staff member.

Here are some general rules which may be useful to request the necessary accommodations to help with written and oral tests:

  • At the beginning of each exam session, students enrolled in the service will be sent an e-mail instruction sheet in which they will be asked to indicate which exams they intend to take, when, and what accommodations they require. After completion, this form must be mailed back to the competent office.
    In this case, the DD service acts as a mediator between the student and the teaching staff member, forwarding the requests of the student already present in his or her personal datasheet and helping the teacher to prepare the necessary accommodations to take the exam.
    Please note that these accommodations vary according to specific characteristics and needs, so it is necessary to agree on each occasion what the most appropriate needs are for that specific exam procedure.
  • Each student will be contacted by the DD office to find out the outcome of his or her request.

The additional adaptations suggested by the CNUDD Guidelines include:

  • The possibility of splitting the test material into several tests when the test is particularly complex, so that the sum of the different tests will reconstruct the complexity of the single test.
  • Ensuring that the form of the written test chosen (multiple choice, open-ended questions, true or false, cloze) does not constitute an obstacle, and replacing it with other forms of assessment more appropriate to the student with SLD.
  • Use of other compensatory instruments during the exam, technological or otherwise.

Some compensatory instruments and dispensational measures can be allocated to the student both during the lessons, and for the sitting of exams and admission tests to the study programs.
Considering the variability of SLD profiles and the distinctive characteristics of the students, it is necessary to assess in a personalized way which compensatory instruments are most effective for an individual study program.

It is obvious that all such measures remain at the discretion of the teacher according to the organization, logistics and structure of a particular exam, therefore, they may or may not be agreed to according to the individual case.
The importance of the teacher-student dialogue cannot be emphasized enough: a university student with SLD is able to communicate to the teaching staff member which functional learning and verification strategies are best suited to his or her characteristics. This dialog must remain constant in order to agree on the necessary accommodations in good time.


Studying is an activity which intentionally enables effective ways of learning in order to understand, memorize, and recall useful information to create new knowledge.

Different skills come into play in the act of studying; the main difficulties which students with SLD often encounter involve some of the following skills:

  • Difficulty in reading: slow and tiring, it is necessary to reread texts several times to understand them, it is difficult to cope with the sheer quantity of texts
  • Difficulty with management and perception of the time devoted to studying
  • Difficulties in catching up and recalling essential information
  • Difficulties in the planning and autonomous organization of work
  • Difficulty understanding questions during exams
  • Difficulty in concentrating

General tips for doing well in exams

  • One approach of great value is to consult the tests and texts of past papers: this helps in getting to know the types of question and the method of verification, providing hints on how to deal with the study and on the type of compensatory instruments and dispensational measures that may be necessary to take the exam in question
  • Ask yourself questions when reading the texts, and if necessary jot down notes
  • Produce diagrams/mind maps using keywords as a visual aid to thinking
  • Use mnestic strategies (e.g. mental images, anagrams) to facilitate the memorization of information and recall it later
  • Organize and manage your study materials by sorting files into easily accessible folders and documents, and using digital or paper aide-mémoires
  • Organize and manage your study time: monthly/weekly/daily schedules, respecting deadlines and personal needs (e.g. making sure to include breaks, moments for extracurricular activities)
  • Choose your study environment carefully: prefer quiet, non-noisy places without distractions
  • Include study moments in small groups to read, revise, and share notes or other material

Other suggestions

During a lesson: basic information is communicated, and you may be asked to clarify it directly with your teacher. It may be helpful to record lessons to listen to them individually during study time (it is useful to rewrite notes one or two days after a lesson). The most effective notes appear to be of the summary and schematic kind which help to fix key points.

Before the exam:

– Inform yourself in advance of the exam program, textbooks, and supplementary material

– Inform yourself of the dates of Academic Office Hours

– Request the compensatory instruments and dispensational measures necessary to take the exam in good time (approximately a fortnight earlier) via the DD service

– Do exam simulations within the time allocated

If possible, talk with students who have already taken the exam

After the exam: 

Whatever the outcome, it is useful to reflect on your method of study to understand what could be improved, refined, or changed. If necessary, clarify things with your teacher.

Tools and aids 

As required by the applicable law (Art. 5 of Law 170/2010), students enrolled as SLD may use instruments and dispensational measures within the context of an individualized and personalized program which takes into account each individual’s characteristics and strengths.

Taking notes

Sometimes taking notes during lesson hours can be tiring, so it is helpful to use some support software so that you can pay proper attention to the lesson itself.

  • Notability
  • IntoWords
  • Evernote
  • My Nebo Script
  • Penultimate
  • SuperNotes
  • Pages
  • Office Lens

Additional learning apps can be found in the LMS dedicated area


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