Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disorders, affecting around one in every ten people.
When managed properly, the condition should not hold students back academically; in fact, it can increase creativity and those with dyslexia often thrive in certain academic areas. When, however, the condition goes undiagnosed and unmanaged – as it does for many – education can be a struggle.
We spoke to educational consultants and learning-difficulty experts Julia Rowlandson and Rachel Ingham from Understanding and Supporting Learning, for advice on how dyslexic students in higher education can first identify and then manage their condition.
What are they key indicators that a student may have dyslexia?
Key areas that students may experience difficulties include; reading, collating and managing information and academic writing. The areas of writing more likely to cause problems are understanding what to include and how to structure the text to develop a cohesive, logical argument. Grammar, punctuation and certainly spelling are challenging.
Some students may find it hard to organise themselves, find their way around and be in the right place at the right time.
What should a student do if they think they have dyslexia?
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the workload; planning study time and creating a balance with social activities is important. Also, knowing how to relax and what helps reduce anxiety levels is essential.
Play to your strengths: students with dyslexia can find certain areas of academia easier than other students; including being able to think laterally and creatively. They can also bring a high level of determination and persistence to their work.
You will also need to get professionally assessed. The processes for this differ from country to country. If you are a UK student, you will need a full diagnostic report written after you were 16 from a qualified assessor – the Disability Advisor at your university or college may organise this for you. You will then be given a Needs Assessment to establish the type of support most appropriate for you.
Are there any day-to-day tips you can give that would help dyslexic students?
- Put study first. It’s often better to tackle tasks immediately when they are still fresh. This is a really good habit to establish and makes you feel great.
- Establish good routines.
- Stay organised so you don’t waste time looking and checking. This is particularly important for filing paper and IT. Clearly label and date files and material.
- Use a diary or note taking system and cross out the things you complete.
- Find someone you trust to help you with things you find difficult and make it a two way relationship.
- Investigate how you learn best and develop a bank of strategies you can draw on.
- Activate your thinking about a topic before a lecture – talk about it to a fellow student, read something or see if there are any Research abstracts online, YouTube clips or Ted talks [www.ted.com] connected with it.
- Revisit learning to help embed new information (80% of new learning is lost in 24 hours if it is not revisited). You can buy a 31day concertina file in which you can place dated index cards with key points so that you can place them into the section for the day you want to revisit and revise them.
- Be clear about what you are being asked to write from the outset. Make a plan, either a mind map or a linear plan of your key points and number them in the order you are going to write them. Tick them off as you write. This will help you only include relevant information that answers the question.
- Ensure you read the crucial material first, use post-its to mark key information or to mark information you don’t understand and want to ask someone to clarify. Condense it to a format you can use for assignments or revision e.g. Mind Maps.
- Remember everyone is different so this advice will work better for some than others so remain flexible and develop your own strategies.