Why it’s so important to diagnose and accommodate dyslexic students

dyslexic student dyslexia
Can you read this: ivzwrmt drgs? Probably not. Welcome to the life of a dyslexic student. Source: Shutterstock.

Coping in the academic world when something as simple as reading a chapter of a book, or even the words on a whiteboard, is a visual assault course is tricky enough as it is. But for international students managing the language barrier as well as struggling with dyslexia, things can get incredibly difficult.

If you don’t have dyslexia, have a look at the writing below from Edutopia. Nope, it’s not a riddle, it’s what living with dyslexia can be like.

Use this key to try to read the sentence below:

a=/z/  b=/y/  c=/x/  d=/w/  e=/v/  f=/u/  g=/t/  h=/s/  i=/r/  j=/q/  k=/p/  l=/o/  m=/n/  n=/m/  o=/l/  p=/k/  q=/j/  r=/i/  s=/h/  t=/g/  u=/f/  v=/e/  w=/d/  x=/c/  y=/b/  z=/a/

ivzwrmt drgs wbhocrz rh vcszfhgrmt

Tiring, right? Imagine having to do that for every single word you encountered every day. That is what it’s like for some students who have dyslexia.

And it’s more common than you might think. The founder and CEO of Educator Learning Lab, Jessica Hamman, wrote for Edutopia that dyslexia affects 15 to 20 percent of students. And many more go undetected.

Dyslexia is a spectrum and not a black and white case, so countless students may struggle with mild – or more severe – cases without ever being diagnosed.

Victoria Mann and Sui Ngor (Elsa) Wong wrote in a paper for the Dyslexia Support Service at the University of Sheffield: “International students who have dyslexia can find that they are disadvantaged through both the dyslexia and the experience of studying at a higher level in a second language.

“Equally, international students who have undiagnosed dyslexia will be unable to access the additional support that would enable them to reach their academic potential.”

Countless students can recall stories of being written off academically before they received their dyslexia diagnoses. But, as the majority of academics will tell you, dyslexia is in no way linked to intelligence. This claim is even backed up by research from Yale University, not to mention the number of successful people who achieved great things with dyslexia, including Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Richard Branson.

So, while students’ reading level may be low, their intellectual abilities are often significantly higher.

Missing a diagnosis can have disastrous consequences. Many students retract inwards when they fear they are not good enough, using coping mechanisms such as hiding away at the back of classes.

“I think that my dyslexia and the fact that English is not my first language combined to make learning at university level quite challenging,” international student Wong was quoted as saying in the Sheffield paper.

But everything changed when a lecturer noticed Wong’s written work was not a reflection of her academic abilities. After having dyslexia confirmed via an assessment, she felt “a real sense of relief”.

“The turning point for many students is when they receive a diagnosis and can therefore separate the dyslexia from their overall ability,” Mann wrote.

Before dyslexia is recognised it can feel a little like this. Source: GIPHY.

Wong certainly felt the benefits: “It meant I wasn’t struggling because I was[n’t] capable; it was because of a specific difficulty. […] It made a difference to how I thought about myself and my learning.

“Not only did the diagnosis help me to understand why I was struggling, it meant that I could access lots of support.”

Dyslexic students are often given extra time in exams and extra support from lecturers as well as assistive technology and sometimes even disability advisors to guide them.

“I now feel confident that I can get my degree and achieve a good grade in it,” Wong said.

The importance of diagnosing and providing extra support for international students with dyslexia is undeniable as, without it, an endless number of students could find their studies drastically compromised.

If you think it is possible you may have even a mild form of dyslexia or dyslexic tendencies then reach out to academic support at your school, college or university or a teacher or professor close to you. The earlier it’s spotted, the extra support you’ll be able to access and it could be the difference between a lower grade and the one for which you are striving.

If you find you struggle with reading then try listening to audiobooks instead. You might be surprised at the number of books you can find in audio format online. You could try speaking to teachers and lecturers, student support or library staff at your institution to see if they know of any available audiobooks for your course.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to make life that little bit easier. You could try using notetaking apps which stop you having to copy anything down from the board by using assistive technology.

You could also try recording your lectures if you can, so you can revisit information later at your own pace.

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