Special Edition – Studying with Dyslexia
During the UK academic breaks, Rory Lees-Oakes and Ken Kelly produce occasional special editions of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, in which they provide a ‘deep dive’ into a specific topic important to counselling and psychotherapy. In this episode, Rory talks with Yvonne Lomas about her experiences with dyslexia as both a student and a teacher. They also give tips for studying with dyslexia.
Yvonne (who is Rory’s daughter) found primary and secondary school challenging, especially in reading tasks. She was later diagnosed at college as borderline dyslexic.
The fact that people with undiagnosed dyslexia often learn coping strategies can serve to conceal their dyslexia from teachers and others – or to make it seem milder than it actually is.
Yvonne found that there was good learning support available when studying for her undergraduate degree in information and library management.
She now also holds a master’s degree in education and a level 6 teaching qualification. Yvonne works with children with specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia.
Dyslexia and the challenges of studying are topics that arise frequently in our Facebook group (which includes over 20,000 people – students, tutors and qualified counsellors – interested in the world of counselling and psychotherapy).
Many of the learning techniques for dyslexia that are covered in this special-edition podcast will be useful to all learners, whether or not they have dyslexia.
The Q & A show-notes below summarise the points covered in the discussion and are not a full transcript; please listen to the podcast itself to hear the detailed version and gain more tips and insights on studying with dyslexia.
However, a full transcript is also available. Just click on the box.
Studying with Dyslexia: Q & A Summary
Q: What exactly is dyslexia?
A: The British Dyslexia Association (which has a website that includes lots of useful resources) defines dyslexia as ‘a combination of abilities and difficulties which affect the learning process in one or more areas’ (e.g. reading, writing and numeracy).
10% of people in the UK are dyslexic, including 4% who are severely affected.
Q: How does dyslexia affect people?
A: Common difficulties experienced by people with dyslexia are being slow at reading (perhaps due to jumbling letters or words, or forgetting what they have read at the top of a page by the time they reach the bottom), having a short concentration span, and finding it difficult to take notes.
Q: What tips would you give someone who was struggling with reading?
A: I used to find it helpful to use a review sheet.
After you’ve read one paragraph, jot down the key words, a summary or perhaps a quote.
When you get to the end of the page, you can then review this sheet to remind yourself of what’s been covered.
Audiobooks can also be really useful: ask the librarian at your college/university if they have or might be able to get audio versions of any books you need to read.
There are also many useful podcasts these days – including the Counselling Tutor Podcast.
YouTube has many useful resources too where you can listen and watch instead of read.
Finally, you could experiment with text-to-speech software. Some versions of Microsoft Word and Apple Keynote now have this feature. There is also bespoke software such as Dragon by Nuance.
Q: How about writing: how can students with dyslexia best start and work out what to write in assignments?
A: Mindmapping software can be really useful for this – especially versions where you can save your mindmaps online.
Microsoft PowerPoint is also a useful piece of software to use – you can put in bullet points and key words, and even add your own notes at the bottom of each slide. This can be used both for presentations and for written assignments.
Q: What can people who are dyslexic do to help make sure their work uses correct grammar and spelling?
A: It’s really hard to look at your own work and spot errors, so ask someone else to read it through for you.
Another possible difficulty is not noticing that you have omitted important information. You could make yourself a checklist of key points/terms that you need to include, and then tick these off as you read through, so you can easily see if there are any omissions. You can use a checklist when creating an assignment plan too.
On spelling, it can be helpful to have a word list or glossary that brings together all the terminology relevant to your course, so you can easily check spellings in one place. Word’s autocorrect feature is really useful too.
Q: How can students who are dyslexic make it easier to take notes in class?
A: If you find that holding a pen is uncomfortable and makes your fingers sore, try getting yourself a pen grip. You can pick one of these up for a couple of pounds on eBay.
A lot of stationery shops also sell pens with a built-in gel grip these days too. It’s worth trying different makes until you find one that suits you.
If you can type faster than you can handwrite, ask at your student services whether you could borrow a laptop to use when writing notes in a lecture.
Another option is to use a recording device, such as a dictaphone, but do always check first with the lecturer that this is OK with them.
Q: Do you have any tips on organising and storing your notes?
A: Dyslexic people often struggle with this too, and so it’s really important to organise yourself well.
Make sure that you’re well prepared by buying ring binders and dividers – or setting up a good system of folders on your computer (divided into topic areas). Try to keep your notes together in the same place (e.g. a dedicated shelf or cupboard).
Q: What about speaking skills – say if you have to do an assessed presentation?
A: This too can be daunting for students who have dyslexia.
It’s important to familiarise yourself as far as possible with the content – it can be really useful to practise the presentation at home to your family/friends as the audience.
Again, PowerPoint can be a very helpful tool.
If you are finding certain parts of what you need to say hard to remember, you could make cue cards as a memory prompt.
Ken and Rory are both dyslexic and so understand the challenges of studying when you have dyslexia. They have created a whole section in the CSR (under ‘Study Help’) on dyslexia. There, you can see the video version of this interview with Yvonne, and many other useful resources.
The CSR also contains lots of ‘cheat lists’ (like the checklists recommended by Yvonne) to help you in your counselling studies.
Thank you to Yvonne for sharing her experiences with us. She wishes all listeners the best of luck with their studies, and above all reminds us: don’t let dyslexia stand in the way of your dreams!