View Full Version : Dyslexia and College

10-10-2015, 08:51 AM
Anyone here struggle with Dyslexia?

I'm looking for info on Dyslexia and how it translates into schooling for the medical field, particularly emergency medicine (Paramedic, E.R. nurse, etc).

Will the dyslexia make it hard to manage written reports? Will it cause self esteem issues during college classes?

I have a character who is a well adjusted adult, but self conscious about his dyslexia. He struggled through school, but wants to become an Paramedic. He's great at hands-on learning, but concerned about the book learning involved.

If you are, or know someone who is, dyslexic, tell me what it feels like to take demanding college courses with this limitation (or is it even a limitation?)

10-10-2015, 09:54 AM
Hi there! While I don't have dyslexia, I am a speech pathologist with a background in written language disorders and know a ton about it/have had many clients with it. If no one chimes in with personal experience (which would obviously be more valuable!), I'd be happy to give you my perspective :)

10-10-2015, 11:03 AM
I'm dyslexic. To answer your questions:

Dyslexic people can learn to read and write well with good quality instruction, but will always be slower to actually read. If someone's got undiagnosed dyslexia (or it's diagnosed but no-one really knows how to teach them to read), they may on the surface appear to have fairly good literary skills (albeit with constant accusations of carelessness due to inadvertent spelling errors or word confusion, especially if they're expected to hand in written reports) but they will be putting far more effort into making those reports than anyone realises.

There's way too much to say than I can get across in a forum message so you can private message me. Biggest frustration for me before anyone recognised I had dyslexia was constantly being told I was lazy and not trying hard enough etc etc etc when I was actually working my arse off just trying to keep up with everyone else, doing multiple drafts of the same project because I can't write a whole page of handwritten text without my brain getting letters mixed up and it all coming out wrong (still can't, but a wordprocessor allows me to go back and correct errors without having to redraft the whole thing). Another thing is that my secondary (high) school teachers were so restrictive and lacking in the ability to think outside the box that when I asked for help, all I got was "you're not trying hard enough" or the same advice that didn't work the first time. One pertinent example: I can't write essays by starting at the beginning and ending at the end. I have to start with the main points, then write the conclusion, then go back and write the introduction afterwards. On a wordprocessor this is easy to do, and when I went to uni I got 1-1 dyslexia tuition for the whole of my first year and as well as teaching me to read correctly (schools don't do this, or at least they don't in the USA and didn't in the UK until about 5 years ago) they also taught me how to work with my brain, rather than against it. Her analogy is that if you're dyslexic and in a normal classroom, it's like trying to run PC software on a Mac. Nothing wrong with the software or the hardware, it's just not compatible. So I had to learn how I learn and how to adapt what I'm learning to how my brain actually works.

Another thing that's made a big difference is learning to touch type. I have difficulty remembering sequences of unrelated data. That goes for numbers or letters. Passwords are the bane of my life for this reason. I struggle even to remember PIN numbers. Even that 3 digit number on the back of my card... have to check it every time. I know what the 3 digits are, I can't remember the order of them. So you can imagine what spelling is like. However, with typing, I can learn spelling with kinaesthetic memory and I have a good memory for patterns. I don't remember my PIN as four numbers but as a pattern on the keypad. Typing is like this but much more complex. Cursive handwriting is much better for dyslexic kids because then you learn the word through kinaesthetic memory and not as a sequence of letters. So I can spell when I'm handwriting too, but I'm better on a keyboard, plus my computer has a spellchecker.

Btw by "read correctly" above, most dyslexic kids should learn to read with phonics and sounding out every unfamiliar word, with emphasis on teaching the eyes to scan from left to right. This doesn't come naturally if you're dyslexic and "sight words" teaching methods make it worse because it leads to the eyes skipping around the words like you'd look at a picture, rather than scanning from left to right. Additionally, dyslexic people tend to have poor visual memories. For me, I have a terrible visual memory for words, but an excellent visual memory for the "big picture" so I'm good at visual arts and I can remember things like maps etc. Even pages of text, I can remember the overall layout of the page, but I can't remember the letters in individual words. the neurobiology lecturer at my uni (I studied human sciences) said that I fall short of having a photographic memory by a small margin. In any case, I can't remember the shapes of words so any strategy for reading or spelling that involves remembering what words look like will fail catastrophically for me. For a very good example of this, I've learned some Arabic, including how to read Arabic. I'm extremely (probably painfully) slow at reading Arabic, but I can read it because it's phonetically regular. However, it took me years before I began to be able to recognise any Arabic words by their overall shape, and even now, I can't do that reliably. I have to sound it out. But, that means I can read it and understand what I'm reading as long as it's a word in my (very limited) vocabulary. Yet for years I couldn't even recognise my own name written in Arabic from the shape alone.

Note: there are different types of dyslexia, but issues with visual memory and learning to move your eyes to scan the page correctly are the most common ones.

Also, many people with dyslexia don't get the benefit of teachers who actually know how to teach dyslexic people to read. Many are just bombareded with more and more sight words to learn and end up getting nowhere, losing all their self confidence and abandoning themselves to a life of poor literacy skills. This kind of thing makes me angry, so I won't rant. Suffice it to say teachers are not taught how to teach dyslexic kids to read, even though they could be or should be. Since the British national curriculum switched to predominantly phonics based teaching methods things have improved but there are still some issues with how even that's taught that could cause difficulty for dyslexic kids. But it's a lot better than bombarding kids with sight words.

So anyway, back to struggling with university - I did fine at university because a) 1-1 dyslexia tuition as mentioned above and b) the entire life sciences department was very dyslexia friendly. This was small things like the lecturers understanding the kind of difficulties dyslexic students face, writing new words on the board, lecturers handing out their notes at the start of lectures so students could annotate them during the lecture rather than having to scribble it all down (impossible if you're dyslexic because you can't listen and write at the same time) and allowing students to use a dictaphone (nowadays a smartphone would be used I guess) on request if that helps. I also got 10% extra time in exams.

However, my secondary school experience is probably more like what you're getting at for your research. I left school believing I was uneducatable. I only went back to university after I signed up for a part time course and the teacher there took one look at my class notes and referred me to learning support, where I was diagnosed with dyslexia (by an educational psychologist, got a statement n everything). I can elaborate on my experiences if you want.

So the answer to what it's like to take a demanding course when you're dyslexic - it totally depends on how supportive the teachers are. It could be a total nightmare or it could be totally fine.

10-10-2015, 05:35 PM
Thanks so much!

This is totally consistent with the research I've already done. The character struggled through elementary and high school, and was treated like he was lazy and stupid, so he turned to pulling pranks and creating all sorts of mischief because he thought it was expected of him.

This current WIP is actually a sequel to one of my e-books. He has a good ability to remember things. If someone were to read information to him, he would retain it, but reading it himself is very difficult. His wife is planning to assist him with textbook reading as he goes through school. This is a second career for him because his wife knows this is the type of work he wants to do, and has encouraged him to pursue his dreams even though he doesn't think he's capable.

10-10-2015, 10:22 PM
Such an amazing perspective from neandermagnon. I will add that in the US, children from kinder through high school are entitled to individualized instruction with a speech pathologist/reading specialist via an IEP if testing reveals they do have deficits in phonological and orthographic processing (i.e. dyslexia). This therapy will give them reading strategies that many continue using throughout their lives (although not all SLPs/reading specialists are as well trained as others...). So if it was a diagnosed problem and he grew up in the US public school system, chances are your main character has had a lot of reading therapy unless he opted out.

Unfortunately, that stereotype of people who don't know what they're talking about thinking dyslexic kids are "lazy" and "stupid" can be very true. But fun fact: last year I had a dyslexic client who was getting his doctorate from Harvard and just needed some brushing up on his reading strategies. One of the smartest guys I've ever known! Sounds like you're giving this complex topic a lot of good thought and research; good luck!

10-13-2015, 07:08 PM
Thank you so much.

He had a rather troubled childhood, and moved around a lot until middle school, so he didn't necessarily spend enough time in one school to get diagnosed. By the time it was discovered, he was old enough to decide to just muddle through the final few years of school, rather than get singled out as someone needing assistance (he's very type A, I'll do it on my own type personality).

I'm planning to have his wife start researching options to assist him with reading, and for him to end up getting some help from the college by someone who knows what they're doing. He and his wife are also discovering that their young son has speech issues that are looking like they might point towards dyslexia too. Obviously this is hard on a dad who doesn't want his son to go through what he went through in terms of learning.

10-14-2015, 08:06 PM
I have an undiagnosed dyslexia, and it's mild enough that it hasn't made my life too difficult, but here are some things that have affected me and have made me struggle, and also things I do to "appear" normal. :)

- I don't know which one is left and which one is right. I always have to think about the hand I write with.
- I mix names all the time: if names start with same letters (for example John Smith and Jack Schmid), my mind can make them look the same. This especially happens when the names are long. I can even check them twice (I do a lot of checking because my mind works in mysterious ways), and I still don't see the difference
- I mix vowels a lot (especially words with double vowels). And words that look the same to me are really easy to mix. The worst are the ones that sound the same but are written differently: heal/heel, deer/dear, his/he's etc.
- I have certain words I need to check every time because I can't see them: chance/change, reach/research etc.
- I can't see numbers in written form. I work with numbers so this is very hard for me, and so is the name thing. I have to spell everything out for myself so I can see what numbers are in the text. I still make mistakes, but I've learned to check-check-check everything a million times.

And here are some of my coping mechanisms:

- I re-read everything I write. I always fix my mistakes, and try to remember what kind of mistakes I make so I could see them the next time. Since I know I mix chance and change every time, I often use dictionary to figure out which one I need for this particular sentence.
- I murmur long words while I write them so I'll notice all the syllables. Once a word becomes too long I can't see any longer how many syllables it has or if it already has all the Ls I need etc. I need to go through it step by step to see what I have on paper. I do this with every e-mail, every forum post, every chapter I write etc. I even check my text messages. And I still make mistakes because I just can't see the wrong parts.
- I ask my husband to check business e-mails, university essays etc.
- My beta knows my weaknesses so she'll know what to look for.
- I try not to feel bad about the fact that I can't read as much as "normal" people can. My mind can't handle too many words and I can't concentrate for long, but I read as much as I can, and I try to accept that this is the way I am.
- My mind guesses a lot of the things that are in written form because it's so hard for me to read. Sometimes it's wrong, but quite often it's right. It saves a lot of time because reading patiently makes my brain melt. Of course it's also bad because it leaves holes into my knowledge, but I'll take whatever my brain can do as long as it gets me forward.

Dyslexia hasn't stopped me, but for a very long time, I thought I was just stupid. Then a friend suggested that I might have dyslexia and I started reading about it. I made tests, too, and realized that many of the things actually applied to me.

I can't tell you for sure I have dyslexia because I haven't been diagnosed, but I'm blind to words in many ways so... At least it's close to dyslexia. I hope this was helpful. :)

Edit: Demanding college courses... I'm in university at the moment, and in many ways it's hard for someone like me. Because of the way my brain works I can easily mess up details or connect wrong things together. The only way I learn anything is by connecting it to my already existing knowledge. I can remember things that are connected to something bigger, and that's also the only way I can understand properly the things I read. If I have a concrete idea of why something has been done and why it's important to me I can learn it, and I can understand the text I'm reading. This requires work, though. :)

10-15-2015, 10:32 PM
When I was at university studying nursing, before we even started writing any essays, there was a mandatory dyslexia test. Anyone who was found to have dyslexia was provided speech recognition laptops that they could speak aloud to and it would write for them as well as a tutor who could read through their essays. I imagine that they were allowed extra time in exams.

I think the date of when your character is at uni would affect how much support he receives. If he started in 2015, he would likely have the support that I mentioned above and it would fit with him not being understood in primary school. Only in the past five years or so has dyslexia started to be recognised in younger children with them being given the support that they need rather than it being put down to bad behaviour or not paying attention. This is my experience in the British school system but I imagine that it would be similar across the Atlantic, especially in cities.

10-16-2015, 12:08 AM
Thanks again for so many great replies. It really helps to flesh out a character and situation with real person data, not just stuff one reads from google searches.

10-16-2015, 02:11 AM
At the university where I taught, if a student was diagnosed with dyslexia and made that known to the college, teachers had to provide that student with whatever accommodation was needed. More time on a test, for instance. A lot would hinge on whether your character had an official diagnosis and registered it at whatever office the university had, probably student affairs. Most students are not in that situation.