Many students studying at the University and recorded as having special needs have what is called dyslexia.
While this means "difficulty with words", some people have difficulty with numbers. The extent and nature of such difficulties vary from person to person.
A diagnostic assessment carried out by a chartered Psychologist would document the difficulties. Many dyslexic students have already been assessed at school or college. Others seek assessment once they have become a student.
Such an assessment can be very helpful to the student. It can confirm the nature of the learning problems. And it can offer strategies for improving learning. These might include recommendations about equipment, such as computers with supportive software. Assessments would also often make recommendations about special examination arrangements.
The term ‘dyslexia’ commonly refers to a set of learning difficulties relating to verbal processing. Yet now it's coming to be understood as a processing difference that has associated strengths and weaknesses. This view is reflected in the following definition, from the Miles Dyslexia Centre:
Dyslexia is best described as a combination of abilities and difficulties, which affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling, writing and sometimes numeracy/language. Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short-term memory, sequencing, auditory perception, visual perception, spoken language and fine or gross motor skills. Some dyslexic people have outstanding creative skills, others have strong oral skills. Whilst others have no outstanding talents, they can still have dyslexia. Dyslexia occurs despite normal intellectual ability and conventional teaching.It is independent of socio-economic or language background.
(Miles Dyslexia Centre, n.d. para 1)
As this definition makes clear, manifestations of dyslexia are varied. Importantly, the definition also stresses the potential of people with dyslexia.
Effects on the student
There's no one set of characteristics that defines dyslexia. And there is great variation among students in the difficulties they have.
Some students have difficulty accessing written text. They work by employing readers to put text onto cassette. Some students are unable to produce written work without the aid of equipment. Such equipment can include a computer with speech synthesis. Other students may have relatively minor difficulties. What follows are possible and common areas of difficulty. Not all students assessed as dyslexic will have difficulties in all these areas. Others will have considerable difficulty in some of these areas.
The 'Dyslexic Skill Set'
In a very broad sense, people with dyslexia can often be more adept than their non-dyslexic peers in tasks that involve holistic thinking, rather than thinking that is about finer details. Four areas of cognition in which dyslexic people have been found to hold particular strengths are: spatial reasoning, interconnected reasoning, narrative reasoning, and reasoning in dynamic settings (Eide, B.L. and Eide, F.F. (2012) The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain London: Hay House).
Although dyslexia has generally been regarded as an impairment for students in higher education, with respect to certain areas of study it can also be regarded as an advantage. It's important that all students are provided opportunities to display their strengths and that they face in some areas of study do not unduly influence the overall assessment of their learning and abilities. The following sections will provide guidance on how this can best be achieved.