Dyslexia and Me: The Dissertation Experience

My dissertation is complete! Phew!

My dissertation is complete! Phew!

Hello again! Thanks for rejoining me in my journey with dyslexia and scotopic sensitivity syndrome. I’ve finally finished my dissertation and have time once again to blog. Hoorah! But boy was it tough!  

I had some real issues getting through the dissertation. Obviously there’s the usual things that all students will have a grumble about i.e. the amount you have to read, research and write. Being dyslexic, these things do take me a lot longer to do than it does for other students. I did start early trying to read as much as I could from around this time last year. It took me a while to narrow down my topic though. I actually really enjoy doing the research. I LOVE learning! I loved reading about my chosen topic, though I did struggle to then put my thoughts and arguments down onto the laptop.

My biggest problem I encountered was eyestrain! I’ve never had eyestrain that has been that painful before. I have the right prescription of glasses, but being sat in front of a screen of words, words and more words started to cause me real problems. Despite my usual 45 minutes of work followed by a 15 minute break plus breaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I ended up wearing sunglasses a lot, including into my class at uni on the greyist and most miserable day of that week. I even made sure I was getting the full 8 hours sleep I needed and was still finding I had to stop to take a nap to rest my eyes. Proofreading was an absolute nightmare. I had my screen set to blue, my sunglasses on and ClaroRead reading out what I had written, but it didn’t seem to help. When I went to bed to nap or sleep, it took at least half an hour for my eye muscles to calm down. It was like my eyes had run a marathon! I even had twitches down the right side of my face like I had pulled a muscle. It reminded me of pulling muscles when I used to take part in sports and dancing as a kid, but around my eyes and face rather than my legs or arms. It was HORRIBLE! It has made me worry about future jobs especially if I’m using a computer a lot of the time.

The planning process.

The planning process.

Another thing I noticed when writing between 10,000 and 12,000 words was my spelling became worse. In fact, it turned into the spelling I have when I write by hand! I tend to find my spelling is a lot better when I type because I don’t get my letters muddled up and I don’t add in random letters to words. For example, when I write ‘with’ by hand it comes out as ‘withe’, ‘u’ and ‘n’, ‘m’ and ‘w’. I ended up giggling at how often I started doing it. I had assumed it was just that my handwriting was bad rather than it being something my dyslexic mind does when on autopilot. I touch type so I know where all the keys are without having to look and since I began using the internet to chat to friends around the world through Yahoo! Chat or MSN Messenger, my spelling improved a lot! If I can see a word I’ve typed, I can usually tell if I’ve spelt it wrong as opposed to when I write it by hand. Not just because of the red squiggly line underneath! So to find my spelling becoming more like my handwritten spelling was slightly concerning for me.

I realise dissertations are something that all students struggle with. I just don’t think all students realise how much harder it is for dyslexics to do the same task. It really was an uphill slog! It took a week to proofread to a standard that made sense (well it made sense to me, but my proofreader said otherwise). When talking to other students about dissertation, a few actually made me feel pretty bad that I was voicing my struggles with it. Almost guilty for admitting that having a disability was making something that was already difficult even harder. As much as I can appreciate that dissertations are hard for everyone, when people grumble to me about how tough it is, I will grumble back with an extra added grumble. I can’t just turn out papers I’ve written the night before. For me, it’s not just a long essay, it was far more than that. It was a chance to prove my capabilities and to hopefully produce a paper that keeps me on track for a good degree. Should I feel guilty for admitting that I’m finding it harder?

Now that it’s done, I have to wait for my results. I’m not sure when that will be. I am due to graduate in July, so it will be within the next month and a half when I find out how I’ve done. I’ve one last exam left of my undergraduate degree and then I’m taking a year out to save money in hope to return to university to study a postgraduate degree. I have realised in these last few months that my dream of being a university lecturer is perhaps an aim too high for my abilities and so I’m now wondering what the heck to do with my life. As I jump the final big hurdle of one of my toughest challenges, the next one appears and I have no idea which direction I’m going in this time.

Posted on May 11, 2014, in Education, Personal Experience and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Hope you do well. I’m waiting on results as well…


  2. Congratulations on completing your dissertation!


  3. Mazal tov! I have also completed a dissertation and while I am not dyslexic, I am dysgraphic. I still hand wrote parts of it! We just learn differently! We are still capable of doing anything academically. I look forward to hearing about your successful defense!


    • Thank you very much and congratulations on finishing your dissertation! It’s a great feeling knowing it’s out of the way huh? Of course we can! We’re not stupid, just have a different way of doing things 🙂


  4. Hi there. My name is Oliver and I am also dyslexic and suffer from severe scotopic sensitivity currently studying for a PhD in International Relations. I have played around with fonts to help me, as when you are proof reading 10,000 + words it can make your eyes tired. Garamond is quite dyslexic friendly I have found. Also investing in a matte screen laptop is something worth considering if you have not already done so. I do suffer with my eyes a lot, and I am extremely sensitive to bright lights, and I also have a lazy eye. With dyslexia, and dyspraxia, I generally find that reading is difficult and tiresome. So I read what I need to do using the concept of ‘targeted reading’. I have a proof reader and use the services of the Dean of Students at my local university to look at my work which saves me time and also helps me to be more productive as I am not tied down with looking at words. I like typing and that helps. It does get easier as you learn strategies to cope with the difficulties you encounter on a day to day basis. It’s learning what works best for you. If you are interested and would like to know more send me a message on oliver.steward@outlook.com. I am looking forward to hearing from you.


    • I tend to use fonts that I find easy to read and stay away from Times which makes my eyes do silly stuff. I have my computer read to me and I have my work proofread but I still found it a real struggle to do the bits I needed to do myself. I like typing too, it’s far easier than writing by hand for me. I was only diagnosed 5 years ago when I was at college so I’m still developing my own strategies to deal with it all.


  5. good luck with the all work you have put in. May I ask, how you managed the Planning process? The green cards in the picture above. Organisation is an issue for me. Thanks


    • Thank you very much. I find planning very difficult too! The post it notes were an idea I tried out for ‘How, What, Where, Why, When’ and I wrote a little bit on each post it that went into the categories. I only managed that for one of the chapters because it didn’t really work for me at all! I keep trying things out but it always ends up being the same way I cram essays together in the end.


  6. Just stumbled on your blog! well done on your dissertation, I had similar struggles myself this year with mine. I have a tendency to spell something so wrong even the computer can’t work out what I am trying to say… put it this way I spent a long time proof reading! I also struggled with my eyes and found it impossible to work with contacts in – it just seemed to worsen it which I’ve never noticed before although I guess I’ve never spent that length of time at a computer! x


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