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Dyslexia: an 'underestimated' disorder

25 March 2024
picture Liset Rouweler
Liset Rouweler (Photo: Stephan Keereweer)

According to Liset Rouweler, around 1,000 to 1,500 students at the University of Groningen are affected by dyslexia. Despite its high prevalence, information about dyslexia nevertheless remains under the radar. As a result, students are often unaware that they might be suffering from dyslexia and do not know where they can turn for help. The Dyslexia Centre Groningen aims to give this group a helping hand, among others by using a new diagnostic tool: the Flamingo test.

Text: Froukje Duursema, Corporate Communication

Rouweler is the coordinator of the Groningen Expertise Centre for Language and Communication Disorders [Groninger Expertisecentrum Taal- en Communicatiestoornissen] (GETC) and a researcher at the UG’s Dyslexia Centre Groningen. The Dyslexia Centre is a new branch of the Expertise Centre and has been operational since 2021. ‘Students who suspect that they may have dyslexia, or students who have a statement that is not accepted by the UG, can come to us to be tested or re-tested for dyslexia. In the first place, the Dyslexia Centre is really a centre that focuses on both domestic and international students. Its priority is to help them and ensure that they get the support to which they are entitled.’

Genetic component

Rouweler herself comes from a family where dyslexia is prevalent. She saw closely how her family members struggled with reading and writing and began to wonder how dyslexia works. Based on this interest, Rouweler pursued a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in linguistics and now studies the learning disability at the Dyslexia Centre. ‘There is a significant genetic component to dyslexia. If one of your parents has dyslexia, you have up to a 30 to 60   percent chance of also getting it. Even if you do not develop dyslexia, there are often skills that will remain more difficult, such as phonological awareness or slower than average reading in such cases.’

Dyslexia is also a spectrum

Although Rouweler does not have dyslexia herself, she makes a case for better information and recognition of the learning disability. 'Dyslexia often goes together with other disorders such as ADD or ADHD and these people can also experience problems with their executive function. Even motor disorders can be part of dyslexia, but this varies from person to person. Just as we’ve stopped talking about classical autism and now talk about autism spectrum disorder, we should also see dyslexia as a spectrum.' According to Rouweler, dyslexia is too often still seen as a disorder that is similar for everyone, or a disorder that mainly affects children. ‘People often think it mainly involves problems with reading and spelling, but it can also present itself, for example, as difficulty in putting ideas on paper because sentence structure is difficult for you.’ What Rouweler wants to emphasize above all is that someone with dyslexia has to deal with the disorder throughout their life, which means that certain aspects will always remain more difficult than for others.

Where do things go wrong?

‘Students often only find out that they have dyslexia when they are in higher education. At primary and secondary school, they can still compensate well because of their higher average intelligence, but at university, suddenly much more is expected of them in terms of the amount of reading and writing required. Something we often encounter is that students say they have to read a text as many as three times, whereas their fellow students only have to read the text once to understand the content.’ It is a bad thing when students do not find out that they have dyslexia until they are in higher education, as they are not entitled to compensation, such as extra time for exams, until after they have been diagnosed. Being diagnosed early can save study delays, but it can also have a positive effect on their mental wellbeing, as help can be called in early.


Even though being diagnosed with dyslexia can be helpful, Rouweler points out that students often still feel they are less intelligent than others because of their dyslexia. This is especially true in countries where performance pressure is a more common phenomenon. The opposite is true: ‘We often see that this group of students is either advanced in terms of creativity, or, on the contrary, have the ability to think in a very different, solution-oriented way, which allows new angles to be exploited.’

The Flamingo test

Recently, during the course of her PhD, Rouweler and her supervisors developed a test that diagnoses dyslexia in higher education students: the Flamingo test. ‘There aren’t enough diagnostic tools available for students with dyslexia, whereas there are adequate diagnostic tools available for primary and secondary school children. Since higher education requires different skills than primary and secondary education, it is important to have a diagnostic tool that takes into account the assignments students encounter. In children, the problem primarily lies in being able to read accurately, whereas in adults it has much more to do with the reading speed, which is precisely the kind of skill you really need in higher education.’

picture of student hidden behind books
'In adults, the problems has much more to do with the reading speed, which is precisely the kind of skill you really need in higher education'

The art of decoding

As a student, unless you are studying a language, you don’t often read words in a row. It is therefore important to adapt the context of a diagnostic tool to that of a higher education student. An important part in this respect is the ability to decode, i.e. technical reading. Technical reading is essentially about making the connection between sounds and letters. Rouweler indicates that when reading a text, people often fill in the content of the text for themselves. This is because the text is structured in a certain way, which in turn triggers expectations in the reader. ‘In order to be able to test the decoding skill and the reading speed, you have to make sure you eliminate the context. That’s what we tried to do through the Flamingo test. This includes participants reading a text, but they need to stay focused to avoid filling in the content beforehand’.

The message Rouweler wants to pass on to students that might have dyslexia is the following: ‘If you suspect something, have it investigated anyway. See your student advisor or student counsellor because testing is not expensive. Find out what works for you and, above all, keep calm.'

More information

  • Are you a student possibly suffering from dyslexia or another disability? Read all about the available options at the UG here.
  • If you have any questions, please contact Liset Rouweler.
Last modified:25 March 2024 3.05 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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