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Dyslexia: Spelling it out

While it is not breaking news that every person is different from the next, it seems that this obvious fact is too often overlooked by many educational institutions. And by the time that most of us reach the pearly gates of university, we all know that each and every one of us has had to jump through the same educational hoops as the next to be here. This is a source of frustration for many students; round-hole-square-peg school boards are anxiety-inducing for all, let alone those of us who have dyslexia.  

Indeed, no individual’s experience of dyslexia is a replica of another’s. I feel grateful that I was diagnosed early, as there are too many stories of dyslexia going undiagnosed until university – usually because some people display a lot less commonly recognisable symptoms. Luckily I had vigilant parents, who actually thought to get me tested when they noticed I was shuffling on my bum instead of crawling as a toddler. But, while I do feel lucky on the one hand, on the other I feel that the outdated perceptions of dyslexia have pasted a label over my forehead that reads “less academically competent”.

There are so many ways that dyslexia shows itself: poor spatial awareness, being less organised, bum shuffling, and of course the more obvious symptoms of struggling to read and write as competently as our non-dyslexic peers. Everyone grows and learns in a different way, and this extends to those of us with dyslexia. The simple fact that we all share a condition with the same name does not mean that we all share the same symptoms, problems, and needs when it comes to assistance in school.

This is where we are going wrong, by not offering our dyslexic students enough practical solutions that actually allow them to be independent in their studies, and to realise their own potential in order to avoid negative perceptions of their academic ability. Outdated fixes, like forcing students into handwriting lessons and sending them to bottom set for spelling mistakes are redundant, and about as useful as an umbrella in the desert for students like me.

I’m in my third year studying History at UEA, and I am sure that many of my authoritative figures throughout education would never have recommended me taking such a heavily essay-based university degree. But what university offers students like me, that many primary, junior or secondary schools don’t, is the latest assistive technology to help us realise our passions without barriers.  

 

When I received Dragon, a speech recognition software package at university, thanks to a nifty thing called the DSA (Disabled Student Allowance), the time it took me to write essays was cut in half. 

Aside from speech recognition, it also turns speech from lectures into text, among other features, and these bits of technology are cleverly designed to make essay writing, lecture note-taking, and general daily tasks that involve reading and writing easier. It’s 2018, and in this modern technological landscape, we are not unaware of the kind of impact that the latest tech can offer us. It is why our lives are littered with things like speech recognition which is being utilised in our phones, cars and even home assistants.

Knowing that I, and many other young students, had missed out on this at an earlier age was frustrating – not just as a dyslexic student, but as an aspiring teacher. What is disheartening is the feeling that our schools aren’t doing enough to create a level playing field for dyslexic students.  

It’s time to stop thinking about dyslexia as a challenge that needs to be overcome, and begin to understand it as a learning difference, one that doesn’t only hinder, but gifts those with the condition the ability to see things from a completely different perspective to anyone else. Dyslexia is a tool – one that enables great imagination, unrivalled analytical skill and a myriad of other benefits that our too often outdated perceptions are not letting us tap into.  

I hope that I can spread this key message of individuality being at the heart of academic ability, especially as someone that aspires to one day teach the next generation of kids with that value in mind, whether they are dyslexic not.  And seeing as it is Dyslexia Awareness Week (1-7 October), perhaps this is where we start talking about the nuances of dyslexia, so that more people at the heart of our school systems can form a better understanding of the plethora of effects that dyslexia has on its sufferers, and push through with the kind of help that gives dyslexic students the independence to thrive.

 


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08/10/2018

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