Transitions are times of change that cause high stress and anxiety for all involved. Starting university is such a transition point. It is therefore understandable that for students with dyslexia, many will feel particularly worried or apprehensive about starting university.
Although dyslexia is more of a learning difference than a disability, dyslexia is covered by legislation within the Equality Act 2010. This means that a person with dyslexia is legally entitled to additional assistance during their education.
This blog post is written to help students with dyslexia become aware of the support that is available, and how to access it. It is also written to offers advice to students who, during their time at university, suspect that they might have dyslexia (as detailed towards the end of the article). Please also see an earlier blog post entitled: Dyslexia considerations before starting university and next weeks blog posts on tips, hacks and apps to help students with dyslexia in their university studies.
Challenges of university study for students with dyslexia
Students with dyslexia are not normally any different to their peers in understanding the complex ideas in their chosen academic area of study. Students with dyslexia frequently have learning strengths, such as strong visualisation skills and an ability to see the bigger picture that aids them in their studies. However, they also tend to have a number of difficulties that can make aspects of study, such as reading course textbooks, writing notes in lectures, writing assignments and organising time and deadlines, more difficult. In particular, academic writing demands a particular style whilst discussion in lectures and tutorials requires a familiarity and confidence in using key terms. Students with dyslexia frequently have specific cognitive difficulties with processing particular kinds of information. These include word retrieval or working memory difficulties, making it is harder for them to engage and achieve in these activities.
Part of the challenge for students with dyslexia is that the universities structural approach to delivering lessons does not always meet their preferred learning style. The learning environment at university is through formalised, non-interactive lectures that are not particularly engaging. For students with dyslexia, they may need to find a different approach in order for the learning to make sense, or to remember what they have learnt. This different approach may involve assistive technologies (see earlier blog posts) or additional support from tutorials with a specialist teacher to work on their academic literacy skills.
There are a number of things that students with dyslexia can do to help themselves succeed at university.
- Apply for the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)
If you have a diagnosis for dyslexia you can apply for funding from the DSA. This funding comes in the form of a grant, rather than a loan, which means that it does not need to be repaid at a later date. If you are a fulltime undergraduate you do not have to wait for a university offer or acceptance letter before you apply for this funding. Applications for a DSA need to be made via your student funding body (e.g. Student Finance for England). As applications can take up to ten weeks to process, it is advisable to apply as soon as you can. For more information on the DSA process visit the DSA website.
The DSA is tailored to your needs so only covers costs that are directly linked to aspects of your disability that affect your ability to study. The DSA can be used to fund part or all the costs of: Specialist equipment (e.g. computer, specific software, reading and recording devices); Study support (e.g. one to one tuition with a study skills tutor); General allowance (e.g. for a needs assessment (see below), paper, photocopying, printing etc).
- Meet a Needs Assessor
A Needs Assessment meeting is where a Needs Assessor reviews your dyslexia report and discuss your areas of difficulty with you. Together you consider your needs and potential support that will help you. The meeting is a chance for you to discuss to your specific difficulties and to explain what equipment and support will help you during your time at university. The cost of this assessment will be covered as part of that DSA.
Typical recommendations may include specialist software (such as speech-to-text programmes), extra time in exams, one-to-one specialist study skills tuition and money for photocopying. The university’s Learning Support Officer will be able to tell you if any other support is available.
- Tell your course lecturers
By letting your course lecturers and tutors know you are dyslexia, it is possible that they can provide support to help you access the lectures. For example, they could print or email the lecture notes to you in advance, thereby reducing the amount of text you need to copy in the lessons. Likewise, they might grant you permission to record the lectures so that you can listen to them again at a later time. Tutor’s aware of your difficulties are more likely to be willing to proof read your work or provide you with extra guidance on how to structure your assignments. In addition, they will be more willing to spend time explaining things to you if you tell them that you don’t understand a particular topic.
- Speak to the university student support, wellbeing or disability service
These services are in place to make your time at the university a positive experience. They help to ensure that students have access to learning and provide a wide range of support. For students with a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) such as Dyslexia they will be able to discuss academic adjustments and be able to suggest support for you. They might also be able to direct you to other support that you might not be aware of, such as how to apply for extra time in exams, mentoring, support groups or help in applying for employment when you get towards the end of your course.
- Use the specialist dyslexia tutor service
A highly useful application for DSA funding is for one-to-one specialist tuition support. Regular sessions with a support tutor will not only help you to develop your academic skills and confidence, but also help you to critically reflect upon your learning. One-to-one tuition can include:
- Help you to understand how your SPLD affects your learning and studies
- Introduction you to techniques and strategies that will improve your ability to study effectively and independently.
- Give guidance on how to develop and build upon your learning strengths to help you study more efficiently.
- Investigate Assistive Technology options
Assistive technology can not only assist you to overcome difficulties with different elements of dyslexia, but also be useful in your life after university. There is a wide range of assistive technologies that can help and the different bodies discussed above will be able to suggest the best solutions for you. These may include:
- A phonic spellchecker to support spellchecking by providing word selection based on sound and not letter composition
- A text reader to check the meaning of words quickly without using paper-based dictionaries. This could also scan text and read out loud from a page.
- Reading pens such as the CPen https://amzn.to/3fm4oWz, include spelling, grammar and dictionary options and enable paper textbooks to be read aloud.
- Using a laptop instead of handwriting notes.
See earlier blog posts on Assistive Technology and also supportive apps for dyslexic learners.
- Apply for Exam Access Arrangements
You may have received Access Arrangements whilst you were at school. These usually take the form of extra time, a reader, scribe or a laptop. But other arrangements can also be put in place. Universities can also put such arrangements in place, but it is down to their discretion. If you find that you are really struggling with examinations, it is advised to discuss additional exam concessions with your university’s student support, wellbeing or disability team. Your dyslexia diagnostic report, along with the Needs Assessment meeting will provide you with useful evidence to support your application for such arrangements.
8. Consider onward transition
Just as the transition from school to university was stressful, the transition into employment can also be daunting. If you are a student with dyslexia, there are a number of issues that might concern you. Please see earlier blog posts on dyslexia and careers, job applications and interviews for further help and guidance.
- Maintain positivity
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You are not to blame for some of the difficulties you may experience at university, so be kind to yourself. These difficulties are nothing to do with how clever, intelligent or worthy you are. There are just additional barriers that you need to overcome, or to find an alternative route around.
People with dyslexia are generally conditioned to work harder than their non-dyslexic peers from an early age, which means the character traits of perseverance and determination are embedded in your nature. In addition, the often-heightened creativity and problem-solving abilities of people with dyslexia might mean that you can use your dyslexia to your advantage.
What to do if you suspect that you might have dyslexia
Many bright students start university without knowing they have dyslexia. However as the intensity and rigour of academic study becomes great, they might find that strategies that were successful in supporting them at GCSE and A Level, no longer work.
If you are a current university student and suspect that you may have dyslexia, don’t worry. Firstly contact your student support or disability services for advice. They may direct you to have a dyslexia screener or a full diagnostic assessment.
Alternatively to discuss your concerns with a dyslexia assessor, please contact us at: https://www.dyslexiauk.co.uk/#request-form