Starting college or university is a really exciting time in anyone's life. A new environment, new learning materials and new friends are all things that you can look forward to. However, for some students with dyslexia starting college may cause some additional stress or anxiety. However, there are lots of things that you can do to make adjusting to your environment and this new academic challenge a little bit easier.
Contact your Disability Support Officer
It is really important that you make contact with the disability support officer or disability support services in the third level institution that you are attending. Calling in to see them is a great way to find out what supports are available to you. Disability support comes in many forms and it's not just about help in your exams. Support can vary from college to college, however, some of the types of support that you can expect are extra tuition, advice and access to assistive technology, reasonable accommodations in exams, study skills advice and workshops and facilitating dialogue between you and your lecturers and tutors.
Some disability support services may ask to see your most recent psychological report to try to get a clear picture of your needs. Be advised that some colleges may require an assessment that is no more than five years old so if your report is older than that it is worth chatting to the support officer to see if they will accept it. If you need to be reassessed or need more information regarding your report contact the Dyslexia Association.
Now that you are in third level assistive tech can be your best friend when it comes to lectures and essay writing. Most disability support services are encouraging students with dyslexia to use assistive technology and they can often upload software onto your laptop or tablet as well as give workshops or one to one help on how to use it most effectively. Assistive tech can really relieve some of the stress that people with dyslexia can feel while writing essays or notes for lectures. Some of the issues that it can help with are:
- Text – To – Speech software for help with reading difficulties or slow reading speed.
- Speech – To – Text software can help with slow writing speed, illegible handwriting or slow typing skills.
- Organisational apps can help with timetabling classes and events and study methods such as mind mapping.
- Spelling and grammar software can help with spelling, punctuation and sentence construction.
Accessing course material
Your disability service should be a great help to you in accessing the learning materials for your course. You should ask them if your college has a policy in relation to lecturers giving notes or slides in advance of lectures. This may be an agreement that the college has made with all staff or it could be something that might be negotiated between an individual student and lecturer. Make sure to also ask about your colleges eBook collection and if the books on your reading list are available in eBook/digital format. If so then are these eBooks compatible with any screen reading software that you are using?
It may be helpful for a student with dyslexia to record a lecture as opposed to trying to take written notes. Again colleges may have a pre-existing agreement with lecturers but if they do not then contact your lecturer directly explaining your situation and asking permission to record their classes. You may find apps such Notability, a LiveScribe Pen or an MP3 recorder useful if you are interested in recording your lectures.
There is a possibility of gaining some financial support from the Fund for Students with Disabilities. This fund aims to give students with disabilities like dyslexia financial support to enable them to fully access their chosen college curriculum. In some cases, assistive technology software and equipment can be purchased under the fund. Students cannot directly apply for the fund; this application must be made through your college’s disability support services following an assessment of need that they carry out. To find out more about if you are eligible to apply for the fund check out www.studentfinance.ie.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
College can be a pretty daunting time and it can be easy to feel like you are the only one struggling with the workload. However, there are lots of people that you can turn to for help and support. Your college disability services, lecturers, tutors and the Dyslexia Association of Ireland are all there to give you advice and support and at the very least can point you in the right direction with your query. The college student counselling services are also available, if needed. It is so important that you make the most of this opportunity and access all of the support that is out there. Relish the new challenges that are ahead and remember that college is a time to grow and flourish! Enjoy this experience and know that if you meet an obstacle on your path there is help and support out there for you.
Amy Smyth is an Information Officer with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland.