Dyslexia and Me: Should I feel guilty?
Last week I blogged about my experiences with my dissertation and how much of a struggle I had with eye strain and spelling errors. I briefly mentioned the struggles of other students and the feeling of guilt when mentioning to other students about my personal struggles with it. I decided I would like to expand on education, dyslexia and the feeling of guilt.
In high school they picked up that I was a slow reader and had signs of scotopic sensitivity syndrome, so when my exams came up, I was given 15 minutes extra time plus the use of my rose-coloured overlay. And along with this came the feeling of guilt. Why? Because when you are given extra time, people around you who don’t have the same problems start saying things like ‘it’s not fair, I wish I had extra time’ or ‘how come you get extra time?’ Other people who struggled in subjects from my classes would point out how I understood the subject better than they did, so why should I have an extra 15 minutes to work out the questions than what they were getting?
When I went back to college when I was 25, people were a lot more understanding. There were a fair few people in my classes with various learning difficulties or reasons why they were studying at college rather than in high school for their Highers. Two of the girls I became friends with from my classes both had learning difficulties, one had dyslexia and the other had aspergers. I was given a laptop and digital recorder to borrow from the college after they diagnosed me with dyslexia and I continued to have 15 minutes extra time for every hour (rather than every exam) and my questions were on coloured paper. The coloured paper was the only thing people questioned, but that was more out of curiosity than disapproval.
University is like being back at school. Although I had a piece of paper that said ‘dyslexic’ on it to prove that I do have a disability, which I didn’t have in high school, I have encountered very similar attitudes when given support by the universities. A proofreader, extensions on essays, extra time in exams plus use of a computer to type, exam on coloured paper and DSA funding for a laptop, dictaphone, scanner and printer… These are the things that have helped me to get to my final year of undergrad. Also understanding from lecturers and learning support. I am so grateful to the learning support people at my home university! They are very organised and very helpful when I’ve asked for help or advice. My Erasmus university… Well I will need to do a blog comparing the two at a later date.
While the student support people and the lecturers have been very supportive on the whole, it is other students who have made me feel extremely guilty when I’ve asked for extensions or mentioned the support I get for being dyslexic. I don’t know whether it’s because they assume that I’m not ‘stupid enough’ to be dyslexic so shouldn’t need the support, or that I should ‘man up’ and not complain about some of the struggles I’ve had trying to keep up with coursework when it’s been heavy on the reading lists.
I recall disapproving looks and mutters when mentioning getting support a number of times in the last 4 years. When I talk about my struggling with writing essays I have had many a ‘everyone struggles with writing essays!’ As I said in my blog about my dissertation, I do understand university is hard for everyone, but I don’t think many of my peers fully comprehend how much harder that is with a learning difficulty. Of course there are a number of people who have seen how hard I try and how I contribute in class and know I’m not slacking off!
So should I feel guilty for admitting that I find things difficult? Or that I ask for extra time or an extension for my work?
Having learning difficulty is having an invisible disability. To look at me or to discuss subjects I’m passionate about, such as Vikings and Scandinavian history, you’d probably just see me as an average university student that loves her subject choice. Just because you can’t see my dyslexia or scotopic sensitivity syndrome doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
I read a very interesting blogs by Sonnolenta which really resonated with me despite discussing autism as opposed to dyslexia. Things you should never say (or think) when you learn that someone is Autistic… (Introduction to Ableism) has a number of things which could apply also to dyslexia. However, this part really stood out to me:
‘…calling a person with a so-called “invisible” disability a liar, an excuse maker, an attention whore, or any combination of the former. It’s all ableist. It’s all wrong.’
I agree with this statement wholeheartedly! I would love to see a number of my peers in my shoes for a week so they could understand what it’s like to want to throw it all away because it is such a struggle at times. The physical pain in my eyes and facial muscles, the frustration of being unable to express yourself in a coherent way both in a written format and in a verbal way, the things that are sent to try and test us bit with a little bit more resentment, anger, guilt, frustration. I don’t ask for help unless I REALLY need it because I constantly feel guilty. Guilty for having a learning difficulty that I cannot help but that I feel I am judged for!
Here’s something to ponder.
Imagine a group of four people at the bottom of a hill that need to get to the top, I’ll call them Bob, Bill, Chris and Charlie. Bob is super fit, Bill is average fitness, Chris is unfit and Charlie has something wrong with his leg. Bob rises to the challenge without questioning it and gets to the top, the Bill and Chris have a grumble about it but know they have to get to the top, Charlie person asks for assistance to get to the top. When assistance is given to Charlie, the Bill and Chris throw glaring looks and complain it’s unfair to Charlie or under their breaths the he is getting help to get to the top with some crutches despite knowing he has something wrong with his leg. Bill and Chris make it to the top of the hill in time, but Charlie has been given more time because it’s hard to get to the top even with the crutches which is greeted with mutters and looks.
Are Bill and Chris wrong for complaining and making Charlie feel uncomfortable asking for assistance? And if so, why? What makes Charlie’s struggle to the top any different to the struggle of a person with a learning disability to get through the uphill challenge of the education system when they have a difficulty with aspects of studies? It is an uphill struggle for everyone, but for some of us it is more so without the right support.
So should I feel guilty for getting extra help? Probably not, but it doesn’t stop me feeling uncomfortable when I hear comments from my peers which could be deemed as ableism! Would these prejudices exist if dyslexia presented itself in a physical form? Probably, but perhaps not to the same extent. I think it’s time that attitudes towards specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and autism need to change! It’s not an excuse, it’s a disability that we should be given help with and not have people question why we’re getting the help or made to feel guilty.