University and dyslexia
Tuesday 8 October 2019
Going to university was an interesting and eventful four years for me. Some people go merely to study, some to socialise, and others a combination of the two. For me it was mainly to study, but I did have a number of great nights out and memorable life experiences along the way. These include seeing live bands, going to premier league rugby matches, falling ‘arse over tit’ in night clubs and eating my body weight in chocolate. In addition to these more eventful and exciting experiences, I was formally diagnosed as dyslexic during my fourth year at university; at the grand old age of twenty one.
Beginning with a more negative approach, being dyslexic made a number of tasks difficult and challenging for me at university. Proofreading was a logistical nightmare. I would routinely and ritualistically read aloud all my essay and reports to myself, in order to recognise spelling mistakes and grammar errors. I have lost count with how many hours I must have sat and talked to myself in my room! Yet, even after these attempts, numerous mistakes would still be highlighted.
When considering lectures, I really would have benefitted from having a note taker. I found it almost impossible to write what was being said by my lecturers and take notes at the same time. But, I persisted as I didn’t want to miss anything vitally important. Interpreting essay titles and understanding my reading also proved to be a continual problem. On numerous occasions I would go and see my lecturers during their office hours in order to ask for help or clarification about an essay I was struggling to understand. Moreover, my poor memory remained a daily hazard. I would be almost continuously worried about forgetting a deadline, meeting or really awesome journal article for an essay.
In order to combat this I would make daily schedules. These would outline what time I would get up and go to bed, my meal times, when I would go to the library to work and when I would be in lectures and seminars. It was like a military operation. All deadlines would be noted and stuck on my wall or pin board in great big bold letters. The library became my second home and I spent a lot of time in solitary confinement with my head buried in piles of books, journals and academic articles. University was like living in a little bubble of reading, researching, working and sleeping: a sort of ‘academic community’ and way of life.
Nonetheless, turning these on their metaphorical heads, these negatives can be interpreted as positive factors. Going to university allowed me, alongside many of those around me, to develop, flourish and learn crucial new life skills. From these experiences I am able to manage my time, successfully research and cope with multiple deadlines and tasks that need completing. I can grapple with complex theoretical ideas and write both academically and concisely.
Steering away from academia, university can help individuals to become more independent and self-reliant. Studying and living away from home made me appreciate what others did for me; such as cooking meals, washing my clothes and receiving messages from loved ones. Once at university I became solely in charge of all my domestic chores of cooking, cleaning and washing.
Lastly, but no less importantly, university taught me a heck of a lot about persistence and motivation. Without having anyone nagging you every step of the way, it is easy to become demotivated with the sheer amount of work students are expected to do. Consequently students have to be organised and exceedingly self-motivated. Completing my master’s dissertation is a standout example of this. Taking over six months from start to finish, I completed and transcribed interviews and developed my own empirical research study within a 15,000 word piece of writing. But as difficult, infuriating and time consuming as it was, it proved that a dyslexic can be successful at university level.
Vitally universities do offer support to those with disabilities and neurodiversities. I managed to secure a diagnostic assessment pretty quickly after I attended an organised screening meeting where I outlined my concerns and difficulties. Fast forward a few weeks and I was granted twenty-five percent additional time in exams, given a coursework cover sheet explaining to markers that I was dyslexic (encouraging them to mark grammar errors sensitively) and received a number of study support sessions.
Although I missed the final deadline as my diagnosis was so late in the academic year, Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is available to all university students who disclose having a disability. Catering to numerous individuals, DSA can provide students with key funding to help purchase specialist equipment, assistive technology and potentially travel expenses.
I would strongly encourage all those who would define themselves as having a disability or neurodiversity to research and apply for DSA. University is a time of transition and, when you have loads of deadlines, stress! Therefore, gaining that bit of extra support and help applicable to your own personal situation can make your university life so much easier. Providing me with a catalyst to grow, develop and become a lot more independent, going to university was one of the best decisions I ever made. Crucially, it emphasises that being dyslexic does not, and ultimately should not, hold you back when one enters the world of academia.
Written by: Hayley Butcher