What is dyslexia?
The word 'dyslexic' is used to identify a person who has a recognisable kind of brain. This is not simply about spelling difficulties, or not being able to read and write fluently. It is a preference for certain ways of processing information, and has nothing to do with intelligence.
'Dyslexia' is a label for a group of different but related factors which affect an individual throughout life. Some of them can be frustrating, such as poor short-term memory, but others are often strengths (such as lateral thinking). It is legally recognised as a disability, which can help you to find learning support. However there are large numbers of dyslexic people, and the way the brain of a dyslexic person works is part of the normal range of human brain development.
Positive aspects of dyslexia
Most books and web sites on dyslexia focus on difficulties with reading, writing and memory tasks. Dyslexic people often have strengths as well, such as:
- 3 dimensional thinking
- Seeing the 'whole picture'
- Pictorial thinking
- Divergent thinking
- Problem solving
- Making unexpected connections
Some problem areas
The way academic courses are currently organised may mean dyslexic students do have some problems, because of issues to do with:
- Short-term memory
- Linear thought
- Speed of information processing
- Emphasis on the printed word
If you have trouble with any of these things, some of the reading, writing and time management issues listed on the next page might apply to you. This does not mean that you have 'got something'. It means that you have to work out your own best ways to study. Your University is probably working towards being 'dyslexia-friendly,' but you may need to remind people of what will help you.
As a dyslexic student you may:
- Read slowly, and need to read things many times.
- Quickly forget what you've read.
- Add words or miss them out.
- Lose your place and have to start again.
- Find that it is very hard to focus on the page.
You might find it hard to organise your life, such as knowing how long something will take, or turning up at the right time.
You may feel depressed and frustrated at times. Let your personal tutor know! Counselling and learning support are there to help as well. But:
Don't let people make you feel that dyslexia equals something wrong with you. There is a 'problem' to do with dyslexia, but it's a problem for the university. Dyslexic students need adjustments to the standard ways of organising courses. It's not simply a matter of going to learning support, although that is helpful. You may need to politely repeat what your needs are!
Here are some suggestions for alternative ways of talking about dyslexia which are not medical:
Not "I have been diagnosed as dyslexic" but "I have been identified as dyslexic".
Not "I have the symptoms" but "the indicators apply to me".
Not "I've got dyslexia" but "I am dyslexic".
Not "specific learning difficulty" but "specific learning difference".
What all these alternative statements have in common is that they counteract a medical model of dyslexia.
Also, you don't need to apologise:
Not "I'm afraid I need to use a recording machine" but "I work best with this machine" or "the team will do better if I use this".
[back to Types of neurodiversity]