This week marks European Dyslexia Awareness week. Dyslexia is the label given to a learning difference that one in ten people have been diagnosed with. It affects the fluency and accuracy of reading and spelling. Beyond this though, the less visible difficulties lie with information processing, working memory and the speed of retrieval of information.
While dyslexia can bring its difficulties and challenges for students in our education system, it also brings with it great opportunity and a possibility to learn differently. People with dyslexia are creative, out of the box thinkers. What we as educators can do to help is to create an environment where they are allowed to learn, and use the skills and strategies they have developed in order to succeed.
The majority of lectures at third-level are presented using a verbal approach which does not always accommodate students with dyslexia. Using a visual and kinaesthetic style, demonstrating rather than telling will help all students in the class. Giving the option to students to demonstrate their knowledge in a non-literacy based task will also help. Concept mapping, course outlines, advanced provision of notes and the use of technology, models or virtual learning environments have all been proven to provide students with dyslexia access to their learning. And very importantly, believing in their abilities will also help them to believe in their own potential.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia at a late stage in my learning when I started university and started failing exams. I could no longer depend on the strategy I had used to get through education to that point – rote learning - and my difficulties became blatantly obvious. The diagnosis for me was empowering. I now had a self-awareness of what I needed to do to get on. I needed to make changes in my learning techniques and these changes were driven by great support and a self-motivation I had to not let it get in my way.
For the last 14 years I have been working with students with dyslexia, and I am constantly blown away by their self-motivated drive. They are some of the most dedicated students you will find. Despite how long it takes them to get through material, despite the different supports they must pull together to produce the work, despite low self-esteem and anxiety, despite having to prove their knowledge in a system that doesn’t allow them to call on their strengths but rather tests them on their weaknesses, they are here. And they are out to succeed. To join the long list of successful people around the world with dyslexia who haven’t let it stand in their way: Albert Einstein, Stephen Spielberg, WB Yates, Mohammad Ali, Richard Branson, Leonardo di Vinci, Bill Gates to name but a few. So on this week of dyslexia awareness I ask you to do one thing. We are all aware of the challenges it brings but let’s focus on the abilities. For our students and our colleagues with dyslexia how can we allow them to use their strengths in our educational world? Let them show what they can do...
If you would like any more information/support around dyslexia as a staff member or student please contact Catherine Elliott (pictured above), Learning Support Tutor on Catherine.firstname.lastname@example.org, (01)6599208 or drop into her in the Learning & Teaching Centre.