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Dyslexia and university education

(36 Posts)
Copper Sun 21-Jul-13 20:19:30

I know we have a lot of really helpful academics on Mumsnet, and I wondered if perhaps this might be a good place to think about dyslexics studying at unversity.

My DS has just graduated, with a low 2.2 in a science subject. Over his 3 years his results varied enormously, from 81% in coursework to 38% in all too many exams. He was very disappointed as he had worked and revised hard (I saw him revise, and this is not an exaggeration) and was thinking of doing a masters. I oscillate between feeling sorry that he didn't do himself justice, and delight that he has a degree at all, given that it certainly wasn't a level playing field for him.

He is one of those dyslexics where the level of his dyslexia is masked by high ability, so he just comes across as someone who is flukey and possibly lazy and not as engaged as he might be. [Never had any help in secondary school. I remember his A level chemistry teacher saying he was brilliant in class but so lazy in his homework, so badly presented, typical lazy boy, and was quite surprised that dyslexia might have something to do with this.]

Looking back I can see all kinds of things that would perhaps have made a difference (although maybe not since he has low self esteem after being battered about by failure since late infants, and in general would not dream that he is worth helping: putting himself forward and asking for help is almost completely impossible). So in case anyone else is in this situation, here is what I think would have helped, ranging from individual, to institutional, to national.

1. A mentor set up in advance of arrival, with an initial meeting date fixed and not presented as optional (DS has never discussed the effect of his dyslexia with any educator, but has attended every scheduled lecture, lab etc except about 5 over 3 years when sick)

2. Some system in the department that looks at the range of people's results and picks up those which fluctuate so dramatically - typical of dyslexia - so that some kind of intervention is triggered. Again, many dyslexics will not go for help, just assume that they are stupid. So the intervention need not generate much more work for the academic, but would pick up those students whose lack of self-belief means they would never go and see a tutor. Any help in working out what went wrong with 2nd year exams (2 resits) might have helped avoid really bad 3rd year exams.

3. Some kind of a study to see if dyslexics actually achieve their potential at university. Student Finance England etc know who they are, as they provide IT help in the form of laptops etc. Universities know who they are, as they have extra time in exams. It shouldn't be too hard to get the data. [If one exists, I haven't been able to find it.]

4. All you ever get on the web and dyslexia books are wonder stories of dyslexics getting fantastic degrees at Harvard etc. Not everyone will. I have a nasty feelig most will not do as well as they could.

I'd love to hear any views on this whole subject.

LRDYaDumayuIThink Sun 21-Jul-13 21:46:21

Congratulations to your DS on his degree. With 81% in some areas he definitely does have high ability. Just wanted to say that ...

I don't disagree with you and I have seen similar (most of my family are dyslexics, some of us are academics, and I've recently started teaching undergradutes). I'm not a grown-up academic but am a dyslexic student.

My thoughts:

1) Has he not spoken to an educator out of reluctance, or because no-one wanted to talk? He must have a disability centre, though I agree it's not a patch on a mentor and some disability centres can be quite poor on dyslexia IMO.

2) This would be brilliant. I think people try to do this, but it's really not easy and I think it's a real problem. Especially when some tutors only see averaged results unless they go looking - eg., they know he got a 2.2 in his first year but don't immediately get to see that on one paper, he got two firsts and a fail on the three questions, that sort of thing.

3) I don't know if there are studies or not, I'd also like to see (I suspect there is som data/research). But what worries me is, student finance only know about people who claim DSA. Obviously this is better than nothing but it's still a problem for people who've got to university without being diagnosed, or who assumed that DSA wouldn't help them so never applied. I do think it's tricky because you need a recent assessment, and it's so expensive.

4) I think there's also an issue that a lot of the stories you hear are playing to a stereotype - 'my child couldn't write but was a genius' - rather than the day-to-day realities of lots of minor things that cumulatively overwhelm people.

I totally agree about the self esteem. I think this is a huge issue because he should have felt able to seek help. I do wonder about modes of assessment too. There's a limit to how dyslexia-friendly you can make exams. I know that it's hugely difficult to rejig assessment systems but I think gradually it has to happen.

mumeeee Sun 21-Jul-13 22:25:19

Congratulations to your DS on hid degree, DD3 is Dyspraxic and has some learning difficulties. She is starting at Bolton university in September. She applied for and got DSA. She has got a package RO suit her needs which includes 4 hours a month. with an individual study tutor. Bolton has been in touch with her and someone from their d
disability team will meet and discuss things with her in September. They would have seen her before that but as we live in Cardiff they said it was better to wait until September. Sorry OP. this doesn't really answer your points but some unis do set up things with the student at the beginning of their course.

NewFairy Sun 21-Jul-13 22:33:38

Yes, congratulations to your DS, sounds as though he has worked really hard for his grade.
Friends DS is at reading university, he is dyslexic and the university has a great support for dyslexic students.

JosiePosiePuddingAndPie Sun 21-Jul-13 22:46:51

I'm dyslexic and have studied at a number if uk unis, I always found them to have good support networks in place for us to help access equipment and extra exam time etc. I also found that my dyslexia mattered less as I've got older, I'm not sure why that is. I studied at Cardiff and struggled before dropping out due to personal situation, then went back to Exeter where I got my undergrad degree (2:1 engineering) which was better than I was doing at Cardiff. I was 23 when I graduated. I went back to uni at 27 (imperial/UCL) to study for a masters part time and got a distinction after 3 years of study and work. It has just always seemed to come easier as I've got older. So don't let your DS give up on that masters. He might just need to come to it a bit older thats all.

rightsaidfrederick Mon 22-Jul-13 00:26:42

Did your son contact the university's disability support office (or other similarly named dept)?

I've never heard of them being anything other than very good with dyslexia - new laptops, a printer, coloured paper, extra help etc. There's a surprisingly large pot of money available for these things.

creamteas Mon 22-Jul-13 16:08:37

Congratulations to your son.

At my university, like all the others I have worked in, there is a lot of good support for students with dyslexia. But they rely on the student being pro-active.

It is actually much harder than it sounds for staff to look out for dyslexic students now. All our assessed work is marked anonymously. So we can't tell if there is a mismatch between classroom performance and exams when we are marking. If a student is not getting the results they think they should achieve, I would have expected them to approach the disability unit and/or their personal tutor to discuss the issues.

Mentor's are paid for DSA. Did your son's assessment include this?

LRDYaDumayuIThink Mon 22-Jul-13 16:41:18

cream - I have to say, I'm not sure it is true of 'all' the others.

I was proactive as all get-out with one of mine, and unfortunately, while they very earnestly wanted to be helpful, their idea of 'dyslexia' was confined to 'might struggle with spelling'. They had absolutely no strategies in place to cope with anything more complex than that.

They did mean very well, but I do think it's important to acknowledge that dyslexia support varies.

I agree students need to be proactive, but if this lad is looking to do a master's, it would probably be a good idea to scope out prospective universities that do well with dyslexia.

MagratGarlik Tue 23-Jul-13 14:34:39

At my old university, although all coursework and scripts were anonymous, those from students with dyslexia were labelled as such and marks are not allowed to be deducted for English (grammar or spelling). The same happened for those students who had English as an additional language. Tutors were sent detailed breakdowns of marks (including for each question) and it was the job of the personal tutors to go through these with individual students and flag up problems if necessary.

All students did a dyslexia assessment at the start of the course too. Obviously some still slipped through the net, but no system will be foolproof.

Congratulations to your son for his achievement though. A 2:2 is still a respectable degree and will not stop your son doing a masters. One of my ex-PhD students was dyslexic, got a 2:2, did a master's, came to me for his PhD and is now one of my most successful ex-students.

UptheChimney Wed 24-Jul-13 15:49:00

I think your son will find there is a lot of assistance at graduate student level, but that he has to ask for it. He may find that he can seek advice on exam technique.

Did he seek an educational psych assessment? We can't do much officially without that. Its usual to give dyslexic students extra time, ir an amanuensis, or otherwise modified exam conditions.

But I do know that all students, up to Doctoral level, can seek and receive assistance with writing. But they need to ask. And we want them to ask! I want my students to have confidence and develop their own voices through their writing.

As others have said, anonymous marking can sometimes militate against us tutors recognising and working with students with specific learning difficulties. At my place, however, the work of students with registered learning difficulties such as dyslexia is noted, so tutors can ref to appropriate marking guidelines.

Your son has done really well, so clearly he's developed coping strategies. I think this is great, as dyslexics have to develop such strategies eventually, to survive in the working world. In my experience, students who cope in this way can develop clever workarounds, which can offer quite inventive and ingenious approaches. And this is all to their benefit and credit for their future lives.

pippop1 Fri 26-Jul-13 00:52:44

I agree with the educational psych assessment. The hidden and confidence building advantage of having one of these is that he can (more than likely) see that he has a very high IQ.

This is what happened to my DS1 when he was 17 and had one for Uni and for extra time in school exams. We were shocked/thrilled at his IQ and also at the relatively low scores for some things such as reading speed. When he was feeling down I'd remind him of the IQ (Yes, I know IQ is old fashioned and has been questioned yada, yada, but you've got to take what you can get! )

Copthallresident Fri 26-Jul-13 14:52:05

Copper As a Dyslexic myself, now back at uni, and with two Dyslexic DDs, one at uni studying Science, I must admit I find your post surprising. We have all had excellent support. I don't actually have an Ed Psych assessment, seems like closing the gate after the horse has bolted, but my two DDs do. They know exactly where their problems lie and have developed coping strategies, and the one who is at uni is exceptionally able and so didn't get extra time in exams at school because there wasn't sufficient evidence of need. She has felt she needed it at uni though and so the support has kicked in She also now has equipment to help with lectures because one of her main issues is auditory memory and she realised the quality of note taking had gone down with the need to absorb so much technical and advanced information. We have struggled a bit with getting understanding and support at school but all the unis we are involved with have excellent support available and the academics who teach us seem far more switched on than teachers in schools. Indeed my literature Professor actually commented that after reading one of my essays he laid off with the red pen because he realised I must have a SpLD and clearly at my age red pen wasn't going to get either of us anywhere!!

pippop1 Fri 26-Jul-13 23:06:12

I think going to Uni is the point in time when many dyslexic people decide that rather than trying to keep over learning spellings, rules for grammar as they did at school, it is time for them to concentrate on the content and therefore be allowed to have a little help to get through the work, not with the content, but with the way it appears to the the persn who will be marking their work.

It's a bit like the difference for someone with illegible hand writing being allowed to type out their work. The person still needs to know what to write. The Ed Psych who assessed my DS called it "levelling the playing field".

Copthallresident Sat 27-Jul-13 09:27:08

It is also true that at university the strengths of dyslexics, being able to see issues holistically, lateral thinking, generating creative ideas etc come into their own. Dyslexics are for instance over represented amongst Historians.

I wonder if OPs issues stem from her DS not seeking help and not understanding his own strengths /weaknesses.

LRDYaDumayuIThink Sat 27-Jul-13 16:01:35

I'm dyslexic, so are most of my family.

I've been at three universities - one was excellent with dyslexia support, one was absolutely appalling, and the third was good but mixed, with some great points and a couple of stunning idiocies too.

I'm disgustingly proactive about getting support for dyslexia, so I'm fairly sure it wasn't that, and I do think it's worth acknowledging that, even if others have had very positive experiences, and even though I do agree it's really important for the OP's DS to seek help, especially if he decides to do a Masters but also with whatever work/training he does next.

cakeandcustard Sat 27-Jul-13 16:13:11

Hi, I think the key is that he didn't discuss his dyslexia with any educator. I've worked with dyslexic undergraduates in the North East and have found there is a lot of support available, mentoring, exam provision, scribes and proof readers for coursework. It is down to the student to make themselves known to the disability union or similar at whichever institution they attend.

By the time they get to uni they are adults, you can't decide for them that they need support & then force them to attend meetings etc. It's up to the student to decide they want help but once they do, in my experience it is there.

LRDYaDumayuIThink Sat 27-Jul-13 16:16:22

(Sorry, realizing I am repeating myself, I just think it's important to be aware that things might not be perfect everywhere. If he didn't discuss dyslexia that is his fault, yes, but we don't know if it was encouraged or not and we don't know if there was a friendly attitude or not. It can make a big difference.)

creamteas Sat 27-Jul-13 18:59:45

I don't think anyone is claiming it is perfect (for example, I always make it clear that I am only talking about the institutions I have worked in). But there is an issue with some students not talking up support.

For example, at my current uni, students with SpLD who are registered with out disability unit can get stickers to put on their exam scripts or essays which indicate that they need to have this taken into account during marking. We mark anonymously, so this is the only way to identify if we need to take SpLD into account.

Yet in every batch of exams or essays, the number of 'stickered' assessments is less that the number of students who are registered with SpLD.

Obviously I don't know if the stickers would have made a difference, but some students are disappointed with their marks. When I have asked why they didn't bother, this is mainly because the forgot or had run out and not requested more.

LRDYaDumayuIThink Sat 27-Jul-13 19:22:16

Sorry, I'm probably over-emphasizing.

I do get that he almost certainly needs to be more proactive about seeking out help and some of the suggestions in the OP aren't practical (you can't require dyslexic students to see mentors, it wouldn't be fair).

I guess I'm just thinking ahead to what he needs to do next - he does need to get better at asking for help, but if the first response isn't helpful, he needs to know that's not necessarily his fault, some places are less good than others and sometimes you need to push like mad.

Copper Sun 28-Jul-13 20:06:35

Thanks so much for all these replies. I think in his case it boils down to low self esteem meaning that it is very very difficult for him to seek help. sad. He has never had help from any educator, only from DSA supplying laptop etc.

I don't suppose he is the only one, but it's an additional problem on top of all the dyslexia ones.

Copper Sun 28-Jul-13 20:09:57

He does have a very high IQ (discovered when he was about 10) but because he was able to 'cope' he never had any intervention. So many 'friends' tell him dyslexia is an excuse for stupid and I think in the end it is all too much

LRDYaDumayuIThink Sun 28-Jul-13 20:36:39

His friends are wankers. angry

Tell him there are loads of bright dyslexics, he's one, and this isn't 'help', it's the support he deserves.

If he were working and eligible for tax back from the IR, would he refuse it because it seemed like 'help'? Or would he accept it's his due?

pippop1 Sun 28-Jul-13 23:44:29

DS1 wasn't very keen to have help at Uni but did get extra time in exams and DSA helped with laptop.

He sent me everything he wrote over the 4 years there by email to proof read for him. I would highlight any bits that I thought needed attention and then he would call me and we discussed it. I learnt quite a lot about his subject but discovered that you can proof read without actually understanding the subject too well. He did well at Uni and now has a good job.

MagratGarlik Mon 29-Jul-13 00:09:27

Isn't Richard Branson dyslexic? (or is that an urban myth?) - he can hardly be called stupid.

LRDYaDumayuIThink Mon 29-Jul-13 00:38:16

He is, yes. He's talked about it.

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