Education for dyslexic individuals will always present challenges not experienced by most members of the population. There are a number of reasons for this which I will elaborate on. I am dyslexic myself and therefore have an understanding of the condition that could never be developed purely academically, having gained my knowledge from experience. While educational professionals may now have a better understanding of dyslexia, they can never really know the frustration it can often cause.
I left school with no GCSE's and thought I was stupid with no indications to the contrary except the opinion of some of my friends and family. Being written off as stupid or lazy is a common stigma that many dyslexic individuals many still have to face. At home I was told I was not working hard enough and I annoyed my teachers with my poor memory, I also got dropped down the sets from the average level to the bottom set. I can see why this happened, after all if you have given schooling your best shot and still come up short you must be stupid, right. Consider this dilemma if you were functionally illiterate how could you prove that you are intelligent in a society that places so much importance on literacy?
I was 27 years old when I found out I was dyslexic and am now 39 and I re-entered full-time adult education in my early 30,s (which was a struggle as I was not sure I wanted to re-enter education having failed once). At college in the first couple of months everyone was discussing who had dropped off the course a topic I didn’t dare join in on in case one day it would be me. I asked a lot of questions in class, but then felt people where laughing at me behind my back because they thought I was so stupid, a friend took me a side in the college bar and told me they weren’t laughing at me because they thought I was thick but because they thought I was clever (you could of knocked me over with a feather) it was the first time in my life I’d ever heard that said to me.
However the world has changed in recent years and at least dyslexia and more readily recognised and taken seriously, although not as seriously as many dyslexic students would like both in terms of funding and in the understanding of the general population. At University people often commented on the fact that dyslexic students were given study aids to help us, with the lack of understanding that we actually needed the study aids to compete on anything near a level playing field(it took the first year of university for them to recognise my dyslexia which made that year very hard going, I had a dyslexic statement but it was one they would not except as official and so they had to do their own ).I remember going to visit the dyslexia specialist to get that first statement at first I was relieved to find out I wasn’t just stupid ,but I was also left with a nagging doubt of why was this never picked up at school. My parents quoted to me that teachers would often say “Rob understands but just can, nt get it down on paper”.
Useful study Aids
A useful study aid is the use of mind maps which were developed by educational specialist Tony Buzan. You can create mind maps with nothing more than a pen and a piece of paper, linking thought bubbles from a main subject to any number of linked ideas. A lot of dyslexics think non-sequentially this is a very useful tool for the creation of essays. There is also software available to do this on the PC one version is called Inspiration. I used Inspiration at university and would highly recommend it (it also helps put your ideas in order). Another very useful piece of kit is a software package called read and writes which highlights the text and reads it back to you. As dyslexics often miss words out entirely especially small words so this can be very useful.
I am writing this with my chief study aid called Dragon naturally speaking (version number 11). Which I'm currently training it and with a strong north-west English accent this is not always an easy task! However it is considerably easier than touch typing which I manage to do with one finger. I never learned to type at school, most boys didn't, we did wood and metal work instead in the 80s this seems an incredible oversight in this multimedia day and age. Although I'd like to be able to type, realistically I never had the time to do this at University whilst still covering my study load. Dragon NaturallySpeaking saved me a great deal of time and effort and I never would have completed my dissertation without it. Dragon NaturallySpeaking was not supplied to me by the University but was rather my own purchase (a purchase well worth making).
Dragon NaturallySpeaking is advertised on television as a dictation device, you wear headphones and talk into a microphone you try to talk as naturally as possible and most of the time it gets the words right( I'd say about 75% of the time in my case but with training and continued usage this does improve). However it does get a little frustrating when it continually gets a word wrong at which point I switch off the microphone and type the word in (this only happens with certain words). This version most recent version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking cost me £50 from Amazon which I consider to be money very well spent.
When spending a long time dictating I would recommend the occasional short break as it can be quite mentally tiring if you are unused to it. Dragon has both improved in accuracy and dropped in price since the first version I used six years ago. If you are dyslexic or have dyslexic child who is struggling school this is one of the main products I would recommend. Having said that dyslexia is a syndrome and not a medical condition and it may not prove useful for all dyslexic individuals.
Dyslexia as I understand it
Let me explain what syndrome means (as far as I understand it),each dyslexic individual has a unique form of the syndrome for instance I have no problems reading and have in fact always loved to read in fact I speed read( I once read Nick Hornby's High Fidelity in an afternoon). Some dyslexics (but by no means all) struggle with reading and the words can jump around the page this is something I've never experienced (colour tinted glasses can help these individuals in some cases). Despite this there have been several famous dyslexic authors including JK Rowling Benjamin Zephaniah and William Butler Yeats (for some dyslexics it does not affect their written ability that greatly, for me and many others it does affect them). It is a marvel to me how they manage to write such long novels given the fact they are dyslexic, is however an example that dyslexia does not limit talent. In fact Dr Thomas West the author of several books on dyslexia suggests that some dyslexic individual’s talent stems from the functioning of the dyslexic brain which is wired differently.
Dyslexia also affects your memory and your sense of organisation which can be a bit like the classic nutty professor someone who is very absent-minded. Indeed everyone’s favourite scientist Albert Einstein is thought to have been dyslexic. Famously Einstein once rang the telephone exchange in Princeton to find out where he lived, he was famously absent-minded as is by his own admission Richard Branson. There are also a number of famous actors who are dyslexic including Tom Cruise, Steve McQueen, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Will Smith, Oliver Reed and Whoopi Goldberg. Given the amount of lines they have to learn for roles I also find this quite staggering and is a testament to their ability and commitment to their craft.
In Summary is best to have an assessment of your needs as a dyslexic, weather at school or at college or university (or even just to give you peace of mind). After the assessment it is just a matter of trying different tools and methods and seeing what working best for you. Feel free to contact me by e-mail if you like at email@example.com