Managing support for students with dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities
At the postgraduate level, many students with dyslexia will have developed a wide of techniques which overcome or mask some of the more obvious traits of dyslexia such as poor spelling, grammar and the ability to absorb and process new information. Personally I see dyslexia not as a ‘disability’ but as an extra edge! People with dyslexia often ‘see’ things in a different way to those without it, often having a broader perspective whilst being highly intuitive. However, many students with a labelled disability – especially at the postgraduate level, often try to hide it from others (including their supervisors). While this is by no means ‘wrong’ and I have always strived to be treated as the same as anyone else, there may be certain things that you, as a postgraduate student, can do to get the best support from your supervisors and University as possible. This can make a real difference to your progress and personal development.
As with any student, managing your supervisor/s is a key skill to develop during your PhD. The only way that tailored support will be provided, regardless of if you have a disability or not, is if you understand how you work best and the ways in which supervision would most benefit you. To achieve the latter you need to have a discussion with your supervisors, ideally at the start of your PhD. I really struggled with how support could most benefit me, as not knowing what it is like to not be dyslexic makes it difficult to know how support for someone with dyslexia should differ compared to someone without it. However, I think the focus should be not on the disability per se, but on trying to develop a tailored approach that suits you in conjunction with your supervisors. The first place to start is to try and understand how you learn, how you deal with feedback, and what things could improve these and their efficiency.
Together with my dyslexia support advisor, we developed a short support guide which can be tailored to your specific needs to assist your supervisors in supporting you through your PhD or other studies. I should also mention there are often a number of support options (for example specialist equipment) available to students with disabilities, which are often assessed by your University and will differ depending on country. This guide focuses more on how you can work with your supervisors to ensure your approach to your PhD is the most efficient and rewarding as it can be. I have had a really positive response from my supervisors towards this guide, and it has really helped me.
The support guide consists of four main sections. More content for points 1 and 3 can be found here: http://www.dyslexiapositive.org.uk/discussion/supporting-postgraduate-students-with-dyslexia/
1. Possible characteristics of a student with dyslexia at postgraduate level
This section outlines the sometimes subtle traits that postgraduates with dyslexia may exhibit.
2. A personal profile, how dyslexia affects me, and how I learn best
This provides useful background and context for your supervisors. Here is an extract from mine:
I was ‘diagnosed’ with dyslexia in my final year of my undergrad degree, and therefore had already developed a significant array of compensatory measures to deal with my alternative learning style. All of my tests came back above average, but it was the difference between those that involved short-term memory function and my other scores that allowed dyslexia to be recognised. The main areas which I consider to be difficult are: needing all the information before being able to start, similar to perfectionism, which can result in delayed drafting. Difficulties with structure and ordering of main topics/themes within a document. Finally one of the overarching things which I deal with is self-confidence, which may not come across at times, but from a very young age (my first term of school) I was told and singled out as being stupid or below average in terms of learning development. Though dyslexia was never picked up this has had a lasting impact on my self-belief in my abilities.
3. Some strategies for support by supervisors, focussing on feedback when editing written work
Examples of some ways that supervisors may assist with key aspects involved in completing postgraduate level studies.
4. An action plan
This final section may include some support recommendations for your supervisors which would help you, and can be based on the strategies outlined in the previous section.
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