A Dyslexic Student's Guide to University
Based on an original article by Anneliese Evans from Exceptional Individuals.
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is said to affect approximately 10% of the population, but it shouldn't stop anyone from going to university.
Like other specific learning disabilities – such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD, dyslexia is the result of a difference in brain wiring. It does not affect intelligence but can result in an uneven pattern of strengths and weaknesses, in particular, when it comes to learning.
Many of us also have a tendency to think in pictures rather than words. This can make the step-by-step, linear thinking style traditionally required for reading, writing and often mathematics, quite challenging.
Dyslexia specifically affects the way the brain processes the sounds in spoken language, it is often accompanied by a weakness in short-term, auditory memory – this can make retaining certain information particularly difficult.
Going to university
Although no two students with dyslexia are the same, it is perhaps understandable that, after years of battling through school, many will feel worried or apprehensive about starting university. However, this does not have to be the case.
There is help available and with the right amount of support, understanding and hard work, a student with dyslexia (and related specific learning disabilities), cannot only survive at university, but also thrive.
By talking to universities throughout the application process and getting in touch with their disability services, students can find out what support is available that will suit them.
- Make sure you have a suitable diagnostic assessment
Dyslexia is officially recognised as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act, therefore students with dyslexia or a related disability are usually entitled to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).
In order to access DSA support, students must have a suitable diagnostic assessment. Since 2012, this must have been carried out by a psychologist on the Health and Care Professions Council register or by someone holding an Assessment Practising Certificate (APC) for Specific Learning Difficulties at the time of the assessment. Before 2012, assessments could be made by psychologists or suitably qualified specialist teachers. The assessment must also meet the relevant guidelines of the SpLD Assessment Standards Committee.
A 'post-16' assessment is no longer required – but if you are a mature student whose diagnosis was many years ago, an updated assessment may be necessary.
A large proportion of dyslexics are actually only identified at university after slipping through the school system. These students can also apply for a DSA after receiving confirmation and a report from their university disability services.
- Apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance as soon as possible
If you already have a diagnosis with dyslexia and an up-to-date report, then you can apply for a DSA through your student funding body (for example, Student Finance for England, Student Awards Agency for Scotland). We recommend that you apply as soon as you have your university place confirmed as it can take up to 10 weeks for it to be sorted and equipment ordered and set up.
The DSA process involves having a needs assessment based on your report and an interview at an access centre discussing how you feel dyslexia affects you. Typical reasonable adjustments include specialist software (such as speech to text or mind mapping), extra time in exams and a photocopying allowance, as well as one-to-one tuition. However, this really does depend on the individual and to what extent dyslexia affects you. Visit the DSA website to find out more.
- Tell your tutors you're dyslexic
It’s a personal choice, but in our experience, telling your tutor you are dyslexic can be really beneficial. It can be useful for the tutor to understand the way you learn so, for example, they know to judge your work on its content, rather than your spelling abilities.
It is your tutors, as well as the university disability services, who can assist you in overcoming your dyslexic challenges.
- Not everyone will understand your thinking and learning style, but that's okay
For any dyslexic that has ever been given extra time in exams or been allowed to use a laptop or spell checker, there is always one person who argues that this isn’t fair and that it shouldn’t be allowed. This can cause stress for dyslexic students who really do need these accommodations.
Dyslexic students require reasonable adjustments to keep them on an equal footing to their non-dyslexic counterparts. It’s important to learn to be your own self advocate and ignore any negativity you encounter.
People learn differently and that’s okay.
- Anything is possible!
In many ways dyslexia is merely a learning difference rather than a disability. It doesn’t take much looking to identify a long list of hugely famous and successful dyslexics who have succeeded in all walks of life, including academia.
Generally, dyslexics have been conditioned to work ten times harder than their non-dyslexic classmates from an early age. As a result, perseverance and determination become second nature.
Combine this with dyslexic creativity and excellent problem-solving abilities, as well as university support to counteract the challenges presented by dyslexia and actually, you may have a dyslexic recipe for success, more powerful that you, or perhaps anyone else, ever thought possible.
Matt Boyd, the founder of Exceptional Individuals, is a brilliant example of not just how dyslexics can use their creative thinking in the working world, but also, given the right support, how they can be high achievers at university level.
Matt, who is also dyslexic, did not want to accept any help during sixth form. This lead to grades which barely got him into university. However, having learned a valuable lesson by the time he started at the University of Kent, he disclosed his dyslexia, allowed himself student support and as a result earned a first-class degree in Business Studies.
After university, he went on to found Exceptional Individuals – the UK’s first employment partnership for dyslexic people, whose mission is to guide dyslexics in the workplace, as well as to educate companies on the benefits of hiring dyslexic employees.
You can read more about Matt Boyd and Exceptional Individuals by visiting the website.
More information and references
- Guide to university for disabled students
- The British Dyslexia Association
- Questions and answers about the DSA
Sources: The British Dyslexia Foundation Website and Dyslexia, A Practitioners Handbook by Gavin Reid.