In this page we introduce members of Helsinki Special Educational Needs research community.
Pirjo Aunio

Pirjo Aunio is a professor in Special Education and head of Active Numeracy –research group. Aunio's research focuses on understanding learning of mathematical skills and learning difficulties in mathematics. Her central aim is to develop ways to identify children with mathematical learning difficulties and methods to support learning of core mathematical skills.

Joseph Calvin Gagnon

Joseph Calvin Gagnon, Ph.D. is a Professor of Special Education in the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki and former Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Gagnon’s research focuses on ensuring youth at the greatest risk for educational, behavioral, and social failure are provided the supports necessary for long-term success in school and society. He addresses the needs of youth with emotional disturbance and learning disabilities in inclusive education, as well as those who are incarcerated or in day treatment/residential education and treatment settings. Topical areas of his research include: (a) school-level policies (e.g., curriculum, assessment, and accountability); (b) mathematics and reading instruction; (c) mental health and behavioral supports; and (d) teacher training. To date, Dr. Gagnon has received over 2.5 million US dollars in funding to support his research.

Dr. Gagnon also provides service to the field and works as an advocate for marginalized youth. He has served as Court Monitor and/or Special Education expert on 23 lawsuits, including seven for the U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights. He has also presented and conducted training sessions across the U.S., Finland, and in 13 countries including Thailand, Egypt, China, Venezuela, South Africa, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

Markku Jahnukainen

Markku Jahnukainen's research and teaching is focused on 1) transitions and life-courses of individuals with diverse educational needs, and 2) comparative educational policy related to inclusive and special education. Jahnukainen currently serves as consortium PI for a Academy of Finland funded project The cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of inclusive vs. special education placement: a quasi-experimental follow-up study (INCLUSIVE_TUETTU; 2020-2024).

Minna Törmänen

Minna Törmänen has been working as Guest Professor at the University of Teacher Education in Special Needs in Zurich, Switzerland since 2019. In addition, Törmänen is an adjunct professor in special education at Åbo Akademi University and visiting researcher at University of Helsinki in Finland.

Törmänen's research interests lie in development and individual learning and educational capabilities within persons having special educational needs or being at-risk. The core for her research interests is in learning processes and especially in cognitive processing, like executive functioning and its development, and importantly, in research-based practices i.e., interventions. She has researched both cognitive and curriculum-based interventions in school settings in several different countries and educational systems. Intervention studies in school settings are also connected to broad interests in teacher education and educational systems.

Besides multidisciplinary research on learning capabilities and its background factors Törmänen has applied her research in the field of different pedagogical methods and quality of learning environments including ideologies of inclusion. Her research on inclusive education is based on multidisciplinary and international approach when developing inclusion and equity. Here are keywords for Törmänen's research interests:

  • Children with learning and neuropsychological disabilities and being at-risk
  • Cognitive development and learning environment
  • Using interventions in school settings 
  • Teacher education (early and primary education, and special needs education)
  • International approach on inclusive education, inclusion and equity

Törmänen's research profile is multidisciplinary and international and has been implemented in different projects. Please find more information under University of Teacher Education in Special Needs in Zurich, Switzerland in her research profile and associated projects.

Kati Sormunen

Dr. Kati Sormunen is a University Lecturer at the University of Helsinki. Her professional interests lie in the broad landscape of 21st century learning, especially with inclusive pedagogies and digitally supported learning and methodological issues of learning future-oriented knowledge and skills. Currently, she researches early childhood education and care leaders' perceptions of leading pedagogical practices that support inclusion (INCLEAD-project), and inclusive and pedagogical approaches that support sustainable development in ECEC (Growing Mind, AI & Kids and KETTU – Sustainable future in ECEC projects).

Raisa Ahtiainen

Raisa Ahtiainen, PhD (Ed.), is a postdoctoral researcher and principal investigator (PI) at the Centre for Educational Assessment (CEA). Her research in the field of special and inclusive education focuses on educational change, school development work, co-teaching, and leadership in school and early childhood education and care (ECEC) communities. Raisa has contributed to the establishment of the Leadership in Educational Contexts research and training group (LeadEd) at the Faculty, and she is the coordinator of the LeadEd research seminar. At CEA, Raisa manages projects falling under the theme of leadership, and one of her responsibilities is to plan, implement and coordinate research in them. Raisa is inspired by new research ideas, and she collaborates with a number of researchers from different universities in both Finland and abroad. In addition to her research efforts, Raisa supervises doctoral students and takes part in the planning, development and implementation of education at the Faculty.

Terhi Vessonen

Terhi Vessonen is a doctoral researcher in the Active Numeracy research group. In Vessonen's dissertation, she is studying mathematical problem-solving skills and the possibilities of 3D learning environments to enhance those skills. Vessonen's background is in special education and thus in the field of research she is especially interested in developing intervention and evaluation methods to assist students with and at risk for mathematical learning difficulties. Quantitative analysis methods are also a one of my keen interests in the field of educational research.

Anssi Vanhala

Anssi Vanhala is a physiotherapist and has a master’s degree in exercise physiology. In particular, Vanhala's interests relate to the effects of physical activity on health, cognition, and learning, as well as the mechanisms behind these relationships.

In the Active Early Numeracy –project, Vanhala works as a doctoral researcher, and he is responsible for the longitudinal part of the study. Vanhala's dissertation focuses on the developmental dynamics of physical activity, motor skills, and early numeracy skills in early childhood.

Pinja Jylänki

Pinja Jylänki has a Master’s degree in Sport Sciences. Jylänki is especially interested in motor skill learning and development in children. In the past years, children have become more sedentary in their daily life so it is important to understand how it affects early skills and later academic achievements.

In the Active Early Numeracy project, Jylänki works as a doctoral researcher and is responsible for planning the content of the intervention programs. Jylänki is writing her dissertation about active early numeracy interventions.