I wasn’t ‘officially’ (whatever that means) diagnosed with the specific learning difficulty of dyslexia until my first year of undergraduate study. The institution screened everyone on admission and to be honest, it wasn’t a big surprise to me when I found out I was. I’d always struggled to spell; my reading speed was bleak, and I couldn’t for the life of me ever remember what I had just been told to remember. Although my dyslexia presents itself pretty much in line with many formal definitions, such as, “a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling”, it is important to remember that dyslexia can and does affect people in many different ways (Rose, 2009).
For someone who struggles to read quickly, spell consistently and remember things easily, signing up for a postgraduate degree (which involves lots of reading, writing, and remembering) might sound like a questionable choice to begin with. I was always annoyed in school that students with dyslexia were pushed towards more ‘creative’ subjects, even when this wasn’t what they enjoyed the most or even particularly felt they were ‘best’ at. I still have the same feeling of annoyance throughout all stages of education. Education research is what I’m most interested in; it’s what I love and what (in my modest opinion) I’m not too bad at. I won’t let dyslexia stop that for me. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not easy (dyslexic or not). It takes me ages to read the set readings, following ideas in lectures can be exhausting, and organising my words in essays is also a massive challenge. Nonetheless, I’m determined to do what I love, even if it might offer me a few more or higher hurdles to jump. If anything, my dyslexia has given me more of a personal determination to carry on with postgraduate research and study.
Below I’ve outlined five of my personal and most valuable tips for anyone pursuing postgraduate studies with dyslexia. Most importantly, the best thing I’ve learned about dealing with dyslexia is that the strategies that help people with dyslexia also help EVERYONE. Good practice for students with dyslexia is good practice for all students, so these tips shouldn’t be for an exclusive audience.
1. Find your proofreading queen/king
Having someone to read through my work/important emails/blog posts (thanks Grandad) is a lifesaver. The best thing is that they don’t even need to have any knowledge of my subject. I’m not asking for my ideas or theory to be checked (important to remember dyslexia doesn’t change my intellectual thought—only the ways in which that ability can sometimes come out). I’ve actually found it even better when proofreaders don’t know what I’m writing about; it keeps them focused on the bits I need checking! We are also lucky to be at an institution where people are nosy and want to read anything they can get their hands on. Take advantage of that and make the most of your peers’ inquisitive nature.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
I’ve had to learn pretty quickly not to sweat the small stuff. So, what if an email has a few mistakes in it? Ok, if it’s an important one then maybe get someone to read over it. If your notes are only decipherable to you, who cares! You don’t fully understand a lecture? Don’t worry, you’ll probably get the next one. If someone in the faculty of education can’t excuse a mistake here or there, then who can?
3. Accept and own
For me, it’s not a matter of ‘overcoming’ dyslexia. If my reading speed was going to improve after four years of academia and attending all the dyslexic tutoring in the world, I’m sure it would have by now. Although dyslexia isn’t something I feel I can ‘get rid of’, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can do to make things easier. As for owning dyslexia, I’ve now made it an important part of my research and writing style. For me, not that it’s my only option, but to write simply in short sentences and use jargon only when it is truly needed is something that I feel more researchers should aim to do. I think it’s about time the idea that all academics are writing experts who produce long, complicated, fiendishly hard texts to digest is shaken off. Talk about making research more accessible, right?
4. Make the most of support
Just think, if it took you an extra 30 minutes to read each text this term, then a few days extra on that deadline doesn’t seem so unreasonable after all, does it? My advice would be to take full advantage of any support you are entitled to. Things should be (and usually are in my experience) accessible; if you don’t feel like they are, ask, seek help, make changes. The students behind you will be thankful. At first thought, a ‘study skills tutor’ sounded a bit naff, but it has turned out to be a huge help, and I now really look forward to the sessions. Moreover, if the Faculty of Education can’t be and aren’t there to offer support to dyslexic learners, then who is?
5. Study smart
I’m not saying cut corners, but don’t make unnecessary extra work for yourself. This sounds a bit rich coming from someone who has voluntarily offered to write a blog post, twice! But if you really want to do something, do it when it suits you (I wrote this over the holidays). Be in control of what you say yes and no to, especially at busy times. I always try and seek ways of ‘killing two birds with one stone’. My biggest ‘two birds one stone’ activity is using my laptop as a reading aid. If you’re a slow reader, why read when you can get your laptop to read for you? That way, I can listen, read, and make notes all at the same time.
I hope these thoughts and tips, which have helped me, can help not only fellow dyslexic students but everyone attempting postgraduate studies alike.
Rose, J. 2009. Identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties. DCSF. http://www.thedyslexia-spldtrust.org.uk/media/downloads/inline/the-rose-report.1294933674.pdf.
Alys is a first-year PhD researcher at the Faculty of Education. Her academic interests lay in identities, belonging, citizenship, and nationality in Education. Her PhD thesis intends to investigate current pupil perception of national identities in Wales using creative research methods. Previously, her MPhil thesis looked at identity and belonging and the discursive construction of these ideas through the building of the New Curriculum. She is also an ESRC DTP 1+3 scholar who studied at the faculty for her MPhil in Knowledge, Power and Politics. Find her on Twitter: @AlysRoberts