Last week saw A level Results day(Thursday 13th August, 2015) with thousands of students up and down the country, with and without Dyslexia/Dyspraxia, getting their results. Well done to everyone who sat their A Levels, no matter what your results you did well – just entering the exam room without screaming and running away is an achievement in itself.
Now the next step for a lot of people will be the daunting experience of heading off to University and leaving the comfort of home behind.
At this point i’ll state that going to Uni is NOT the be all and end all and if you didn’t get in, didn’t get your first choice or simply don’t want to go then that’s absolutely fine!
This post however, will be looking at my time as a Dyslexic/Dyspraxic person at university, some of the issues I encountered ,and hopefully giving people some useful tips that I found out the hard way.In this post, I’m not going to focus on the academics as that can change from course to course – here i’m just going to focus in on the practical things i learnt over time that helped me out with some of the difficulties I faced at university
A Background of my University choice & finding out i was Dyslexic/Dyspraxic
I decided that I wanted to study to become a British Sign Language Interpreter so choose to go to the University of Wolverhampton to study Interpreting (BSL/English). I applied, and got in after achieving some rather good grades at A Level (Psychology B, Health & Social Care B, Sociology B and Wolverhampton even accepted my General Studies B grade too). I loved Wolverhampton University, as well as the city in general and i’d recommend the university to others.
I feel this is also the point to state that before heading to University I had not been officially tested for Dyslexia (although I did have a short school statement) and had never been tested for Dyspraxia. The school did enough to allow me to qualify for extra time in exams but this wasn’t a proper statement so could not be used at University for any extra support through the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), if i decided to apply. To qualify for DSA you have to have a full test, the school wouldn’t do this but my mum is very determined so she got me tested privately through the University, which wasn’t cheap and isn’t always an option for people. Thankfully my Mum, with a little help from Nan, managed to fund it so I got an assessment .
After sitting the assessment it confirmed I did indeed have Dyslexia and I officially found out i had Dyspraxia as well from the results of the test – literally 2-3 weeks before setting off for independence. My mum had already had suspicions so it wasn’t a huge shock.
Before: Being nervous and afraid that i’d get lost on the first day.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, i get lost VERY easily – before heading off to university I’d even get lost in my rather small home town just going shopping. As you can imagine this got me nervous. I wouldn’t be able to stop in the street, give my mum a call and describe where I was to get directions anymore.
My Solution: I went to visit Wolverhampton LOTS in the time running up to officially moving; from open days to just going shopping with my Mum there. This helped me to familiarize myself with the area as much as possible. We walked from where i’d be living in Halls of Residents, to the University and from there to the Town center. I even made my mum walk to one of the clubs that I wanted to go to during Freshers.
Success rating 9.5/10 I found going before hand made me less nervous about going as i at least knew one route to get everywhere. I didn’t get lost during my time there either, at least not badly. Over my 4 years in Wolverhampton i got to know the place and find all the short cuts but, at least to begin with, I was able to navigate fairly well.
Issue before: What to take to University? This is the big question, for every student not just those of us with Dyslexia/Dyspraxia. I had (and still have) a LOT of stuff.
My advice (as there really isn’t a definitive solution to this, just hindsight!): Keep it light! My first year i took WAY too much stuff. No matter your size of room with your parents, your halls of residence dorm WILL be smaller (I have a fairly small room at home, trust me on this one!)
Pack essentials like a computer/laptop, backpack (or if your like me a nice bag on wheels to save your back on the long trips to the Library and back – seriously wheelie bags are a god send!), stationary, clothes, towels, make-up ect. Also don’t forget if you’re self catered, like i was, all those kitchen things; at least 4 plates/bowls, knife/forks (always have more than one pair – they WILL get lost, especially tea spoons – take LOTS of teaspoons!), mugs (try and make it distinctive, not just white – they WILL get lost/used by others if not as they may thing they are there’s – i had a mug with my name on it as a Birthday Present whilst at uni from a friend – i never lost that!), saucepans, wooden spoons, baking tray and anything else you want to cook with.
DO NOT take: Kettle, microwave (these will be provided), mini fridge (Often banned in bedrooms for fire hazards although some universities do allow these) or any other big items. ALWAYS check your University banned items list if in halls, if in doubt don’t take it until you know the rules.
After the essentials take things to remind you of home or to brighten up your room. Good ideas include:
- Digital Photo Frame – all your pictures in one place and not cluttering your room
- Posters for your walls – anything you love! I had Dr Who, Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh… make sure you use WHITE TACK as it won’t stain the walls like Blue tack does and stains mean charges at the end of the year.
- A TV – Note, if you take a TV you must buy a TV licence
- Games Console – I took a PS1/PS2 with me along with a DS, it was a great way to bond with your other flatmates; especially in my last year where i lived with a girl on Games Design course, she loved the retro compared to her PS3! A PS3/PS4/XBox also does the trick but see my note on taking TV’s! Board games, or apps of these, work well too – we had regular monopoly nights in my final year using my iPad.
- Pillows/Cusions/Lamps – be careful with a lamp. TOP TIP: Lamps burn scarfs – don’t be the the idiot that burns there’s by leaving it under the lamp at 3am and setting off the fire alarm – your block will hate you! (Note: this was not me but a friend who lived in the same block as me during freshers year)
Dilemma: To apply or not for DSA?
This one really comes down to personal preference, so again no definitive solution, go with your gut and what you feel is right for you. Some people may see this as ‘cheating’ but it isn’t. Its designed to make it a level playing field so that any disability related difficulties linked to study can be overcome.
I, with some guidance from my Mum, decided to apply for DSA allowance. Overall I was able to claim for:
- A Computer with assistive technology software – Because of my eyes, i wasn’t allowed a laptop so i got a desktop computer. It came pre-programmed with Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software, Read-Write Gold and Inspiration Mind Mapping software. I used all three. Dragon is great for short bursts, i couldn’t do a whole essay – i did try but it changing ‘Death’, which is what it thought i said, to ‘Deaf’, which is what i wanted it to say, constantly was annoying. It works great if you have the time to train it, as a busy uni student I didn’t. I loved read-write gold – it reads out loud to you, great for reading long web journals. Inspiration is also great if you like mind maps like i do!
- A Dictaphone & Software – I would have struggled without this! I used my dictaphone in a lot of my lectures (where I could as most were presented in BSL so it didn’t work there for fairly obvious reasons!) as it meant I wasn’t worrying about making notes and taking things in. I’d make some notes in class, take the recording home and then add to them whilst listening to it again.
- Spell checker & Oxford Dictionary PC software i still use this ocassionally as I don’t like dictionaries but nothing to rave about
- I was also entiled to something daft like 8-12hrs with a dyslexia specialist. I used this during my first year as it was a ‘Foundation’ and i wanted to improve my English. My second year I went with an essay but didn’t find it useful as they wanted to change things and it wouldn’t have been near the brief i took with me (I was asked to make a leaflet, they wanted to change it into a proper essay format…) I didn’t bother going back as I was happy on my own. However, others in my class used this and loved it – each to their own but I’ve always preferred to be independent when it comes to study time anyway.
Overal, DSA was for me just ‘OK’. The assistive tech was great, to the point I’m contemplating purchasing Dragon & Read Write on my new laptop but in all honesty, i hardly used it for academics – i just feel it’d be useful for blogging and other admin work i do now.
Whilst At University
So, for most of us going to University will be the first time living away from Parents/Gaurdians. It’ll also be the first time where they won’t be saying ‘do you have XYZ’ and prompting you to remember things, which for a dyslexic (or me at least) was practically every time i went out.
Casing point: one of my first nights out at university i got nearly all the way to the club before remembering i didn’t have my ID to get in. Thankfully I had an amazing friend with me who walked back to my room with me to pick it up, and did’t laugh…much anyway. I also frequently nearly forgot Keys, Books… you name it, at one point i forgot it!
My Solution: I made a mind map of things i should have on me at any given time and taped them to the back of my door at eye level! It worked a treat. I had three separate ones: One for ‘University’ with Keys, Uni ID, Library Books, Pen & Paper, Dictaphone, Memory stick, Assignments & Purse on it; a second for ‘Going out’ with Keys, I.D., Uni I.D (ALWAYS take both, you get in cheaper to places sometimes having a Uni ID badge) & Purse; and one for going home with Keys, House Keys, Clothes, Laptop, Memory Stick, Purse ect on. As this was at eye level it meant i could check things off before leaving the room. I also took photos of the actual thing rather than using a stock clip art photo – it was much more visual that way.
Success rating: 9/10 i didn’t forget things as often, but a couple of things did slip through the net!
Remembering when to take back Library books
This was something I’ve always been a bit bad at – remembering to take things on loan back on time. At university, you get fined per day that the book doesn’t go back in, and you can rack up a fair bit of charge. I wasn’t supposed to get charged with the DSA that i’d claimed for, but still did and I couldn’t be bothered to sort it out so I had to find a way to remember.
Solution: When you take out a university book, at wolverhampton at least, you had an option of using either a libarian to check your book out or a self service machine. The librarian stamped the front of the book BUT you get a receipt if you use the self service machines (think your local supermarket, without the annoying ‘please place your item in the bagging area’ lady!). I always used self service for this reason. I then pinned up the self service receipt to my notice board, which came supplied by the Accomodation as standard, which was normally next to the computer desk. A quick glance at this and hey presto, i remembered the date.
Success rating: 8/10 i forgot the odd book but nothing more than a couple of days.
So I’m a forgetful so-and-so, and also a fairly messy one (although i prefer to call it organised chaos!). Everything to the outside world would look awful, to me i could put my hands on most of the big items. It was the little things that always got away, namely my University ID badge (which without you could not enter the campus!) and my room keys.
Solution – I got out a notice board pin and went ahead and put a pin through the lanyard that came with the university ID badge (seen as you were supposed to wear it at all times, in relatity nobody did, it stayed in a bag somewhere to be pulled out if approached with Security!) and stuck it to the notice board. I’d then hang the keys up on the head of the pin – as it had a ridge they stayed on. This meant i would never forget my Lanyard as my keys were on it, and never loose my keys… in theory
Success rating: 7.5/10 this only works if you remember to always put it back in the same place! When I did though it worked a charm.
Organizing work into priorities
I’ve always been fairly bad when it comes to organizing things (again see past blog post). I won’t go into that here in too much detail except to say that unlike school where maybe you had 1-2 bits of things to do and you had a week to do it, you get tones – and some with months to finish it off, especially when it comes to essays, but some with days (or even overnight!) to do it. Nightmare! Then you also have the non-university academic things like keeping on top of your room or any other little job you want to do to factor in.
Solution: I LOVE post-it notes. It drives people batty but i LOVE them so much! I got some of the XL post-it notes in three colours; Pink, Orange and Green. I then every week pinned up one of each in a trafic light system on my notice board; Pink *subsituting for red* for urgent, must do this within the next two days, Orange for fairly urgent – get round to this soon, and Green for not overly important – it needs doing but if you don’t get time this week don’t worry.
I’d then tick these off as i’d done them. At the end of the week i’d review them with anything that hadn’t been done from the Pink i’d Panic (although this didn’t often happen) and do it there and then, push up anything from Orange to Pink when needed and review the Green to see if it had become any more urgent.
Success Rating: 8/10 I loved how visual this was as i love colour co-ordinating things. I’m serious thinking about reviving this in my day to day life post-university. Most of the time everything got done… just be carful with the green things – jobs like ‘vacuum room’ or ‘dust computer’ never actually got done!
Although I’m sure i had other difficulties at university, none of them really stand out now so this is just those little solutions that friends and family members were both impressed, and shocked, at – most of them people had never thought of before.
Overall, University was the best experience of my life, and my Dyslexia/Dyspraxia did not hold me back one little bit. I graduated in 2013 with a 2:1 (hons) degree.
To all of you going off to university this year – Enjoy it! Feel free to try out any of my little tricks and let me know if they worked for you!