3 Success Stories: Learn Differently: SpLDs and Success

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Author Bio: Victoria Mann is a specialist  tutor in specific learning disabilities (SpLDs) at the University of Sheffield. Her main interests are STEM subjects and dyslexia, dyscalculia, and SpLDs and English for academic purposes. She has presented at conferences including the BDA international conference, and the BALEAP international conference, and is published in a number of journals, including ISEJ, iNform, and RAPAL. Her work is available via https://she.academia.edu/VictoriaMann

Students who have a specific learning disability can feel anxious about how this will impact on their success, especially in an academic setting. This blog entry discusses the stories of three students who have an SpLD and how the disability impacted their study; it goes on to demonstrate that having a specific learning disability need not be a barrier to academic success.

Daniel is a mature student who he has had additional support throughout his academic career; here he discusses dyslexia and his studies:

“When I was in primary school I struggled with English, but was really good at maths. The teacher noticed this and thought that I may have dyslexia. If I hadn’t been so good at maths, I’m not sure that my dyslexia would have been picked up. I was tested and found to have dyslexia, but there wasn’t much help available then. Luckily, the school had launched a volunteer programme and I was given a volunteer to help me. When I was in secondary school I was tested again. This time I was given a note taker, as well as extra tuition; I was also given coloured paper, which made it easier for me to read. In fact, I was tested every year; all that happened was that I got better at the test! When I went to college, I didn’t tell anyone about my dyslexia, which was a mistake because I got really low marks. These soon improved when I told them about my dyslexia and got extra help.

Finally, when I went to university I declared my disability and I have done really well in my course. An early diagnosis of dyslexia enabled me to get support from primary school, helping me to improve my English skills. I would say, therefore, that getting a diagnosis is a good idea for any student who thinks they may be dyslexic.”

His story shows that being diagnosed with dyslexia can ensure that students gain access to the additional resources that they need to achieve success. Equally, Jenny’s story, below, shows that even students who are doing well academically may benefit from the additional support offered subsequently to a diagnosis.

“Looking back, I think my dyslexia was an issue in school. Unfortunately, it wasn’t picked up. I was sometimes told I was stupid, even though I got excellent marks in some of my subjects. Interestingly, many people thought I couldn’t be dyslexic, because I got an A in GCSE English! In the end I was diagnosed in college, almost by accident. My friend thought she was dyslexic and I went with her for a screening test. I had a go at the screener and it showed dyslexic traits, so I took the full assessment. The assessment was revealing, in most of the tests I was either in the top two percentile, or the bottom two! Being diagnosed meant I got access to extra time in exams and one to one tuition with a specialist tutor, which made a real difference. In fact, I don’t think I would have done nearly as well in my degree without the extra support. As it is, I am in my final year and have been accepted onto a PhD in plant science. (Jenny, APS student)”

The final story is from an overseas student. She was first assessed has being dyslexic when she started university.

“My teacher at university suggested that I go for a dyslexia assessment; she noticed that my written work didn’t reflect the quality of my ideas. I was referred by my university and diagnosed as being dyslexic. I felt a real sense of relief from the diagnosis because it meant I wasn’t struggling because I was capable; it was because of a specific difficulty. I now had something to work with. 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. I was given more time in exams and more feedback on assignments, to show where I was going wrong, and help me improve my writing. I also received assistive technology; the Dictaphone was especially helpful.  I was given a disability advisor to give me general guidance about things such has help at the library, and a dyslexia tutor who worked with me to develop learning strategies and improve my writing style. Together, we worked on my writing style and it is now much more academic; I can understand what the tutor is asking for and how I should answer assignment questions. I also feel much more confident in seminars and have successfully given presentations. I now feel confident that I can get my degree and achieve a good grade in it.”  (Elsa, working with communities’ student)

Taken from Mann,V and Wong, S (2013) The impact of a dyslexia diagnosis on a second language student of higher education, International Students’ Journal,  volume one, issue 2.

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