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Mark Cooper

Tell us about your dyslexia diagnosis - when were you diagnosed and when did you / family members / friends / teachers realise that you were having challenges?

I was diagnosed with during a post-graduate thesis write up. There was pulled on many aspects of the write up and had to rewrite large sections of it. The subsequent impacts on my mental health caused me to walk away from completing it. This has left me feeling a sense of shame after since.

How has dyslexia impacted you in both positive ways and challenges?

There are plenty of positives - I see things from different perspectives. The main challenge for me has being able to articulate myself during interviews. Since I have completed my teacher training I always struggle in interviews despite having strong skills and experience.

What support have you received for your dyslexia throughout your life?

I had zero support throughout my academic life until I completed my teaching training. I have given a laptop with readout loud and dictation software which helped me to write up assignments.

Do you have a particular story or achievement you would like to share?

As an undergraduate ecology student at University, the form of assessment that I was mostly exposed to was summative assessment in the form of addressing essay questions either as coursework or undertaken in exam conditions. However, modular assessments were more heavily weighted toward timed essays in exam conditions particularly in the final year of study.

Summative assessments using the format of timed essays embrace advantages such as allowing students to express ideas with relatively few restraints and it involves recall which removes guessing as the student must supply, rather than select a good response. On the other hand, timed essay questions are time-consuming and students, essay responses are prone to subject bluffing and often reliant of the enumeration of memorised facts with very limited originality. Although assessments at degree level are logistically demanding by time, I feel that hours of study would not necessarily in the outcome of a 1 to 2-hours assessment.

Furthermore, my performance in exams was impeded by undiagnosed specific learning difficulties in the form of dyslexia and dyspraxia. However, I was completely oblivious that my assessment performance was being impeded by these specific learning difficulties. The exam script from the first two years of the course revealed that there was no uniform pattern in modular assessment performance. Although this still may be a factor I believed that was the product of the lecturer’s teaching practices and personal empathy towards the module topic. Therefore, I was able to select subjects that I had the greatest interest in and modules that were led by lecturers of which I had developed a rapport during the course of the study.

Despite the timetable of preferred lecture options the array of modular assessments continued to follow a non-uniform trend. I would also share the exact timetable with another student who was notorious for leaving assignments and revision to the very last minute whilst I would spend more time on both assignments and revision. In spite of, this student would persistently score higher in both essay assignments and timed essays exams. I found it infuriating that the contrast in the rt would not be reflected in results.

In a module on British flora, which was my favourite topic and the lecturer that I had the greatest affinity for, provides the best example. I had spent a number of days working on an essay that I had felt were well researched and structured essay while this other student had not even looked at it until the evening before the deadline. When the results from the essay were released, this student had scored several grades higher than my assessment score. This outcome had a detrimental impact on my self-esteem subsequently questioning myself as to whether I was unintelligent or incapable.

Although it wasn’t apparent at the time, it is now obvious that the contrast in work ethic that yielded disproportion assessment grades was likely driven by specific learning difficulties. In addition, this disproportion between work ethic and grade outcomes translated into timed essays in an exam environment. In the exam, I would follow a protocol of spending 5 or 10 minutes in planning on how I would address the question in the essay. Firstly, I would break down the question and identify what exactly is being asked then brainstorm key information in order to address the essay question. However, due to difficulties encountered from my specific learning difficulties I often would miss out vital points at this stage then recite them when the bulk of the essay had been written. This meant the essay structure was severely damaged when I tried to include this information at a later point.

Dyslexia hampers the speed of written work due to lack of fluency. The assessment report indicates that my free writing speed was 33% below the expected average and under pressure, writing clarity decreased with increasing word omission. In addition, another product of dyspraxia is limitations in working memory and the ability to sustain attention. Although, it is clear that both undiagnosed dyslexia and dyspraxia provided a barrier to my ability as a learner. Additionally, these specific learning difficulties also had a severely destructive influence on my self-esteem. Despite high levels of punctuality, assertiveness in lectures and hours of independent revision I felt that the level of effort did not proportionately reflect the assessment outcome. Furthermore, I approached assignments with a high level of perfectionism.

Most dyslexic students set perfectionistic and unattainable goals exhibiting the associated negative attributes i.e. being overly critical of owns work. In my own experience, the perfectionist view to assignments did not yield the desired results but substantially eroded my self-esteem reducing motivation and empathy towards learning. Which in turn, developed to increased levels of procrastination then subsequently contributing to increased levels of stress and anxiety. These manifested again during my post-graduate subsequently led dyspraxia screening. It was only when I submitted a lengthy assignment during my postgraduate upon noticing consistent grammatical errors that my tutor recommended me to undertake screening for dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Until this stage of my academic journey, I was still oblivious to having specific learning difficulties. However, when the screening revealed that I showed traits of both dyslexia and dyspraxia it came as a relief. It was likely that these specific learning difficulties provided a major factor to the occasions when I under-performed in timed essays.

The diagnosis completely changed my view to academic learning as I now was able to accept that reading and writing does indeed require greater work ethic as literacy-based tasks require more energy, therefore, taking longer to complete. My overall self-esteem was no longer eroded to the same extent as I learned not to be so over-critical of myself.

What advice would you have for someone who has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia?

Embrace your diagnosis and don't be over critical of yourself.

What one thing would you like the world to know about dyslexia?

Dyslexia is more than a difficulty with decoding words, language and writing. It is important to take into account the impact on low self esteem and mental health.