Dyslexia and Me: E is for Extra Time

One thing that I have been very grateful for when at school, college and university is extra time in exams and/or handing in essays. This is a topic that I have seen deemed as ‘unfair’ by some people, but I would like to discuss how extra time in exams and essays should be something given to all dyslexic students and should be considered by employers within the workplace. 

I am not a stupid person. I may sometimes say and do stupid things, but that’s because I am human and we ALL make mistakes. I have seven credit level Standard Grades, four A’s at Higher level, an NC and a 2:1 MA undergraduate degree. If I was ‘stupid’ I would not have achieved these academic results. I even picked up a first for my undergraduate dissertation, which took a lot of sweat, tears and pain! Pain in my eyes from all the researching and proofreading. Pain trying to work out exactly how to put onto paper what I wanted to get across in my research despite knowing the topic inside out and being able to verbally discuss the topic.

My eye pain was unbearable!

My eye pain was unbearable!

My dissertation was certainly an extreme case of pain for me, writing between 10,000-12,000 words including footnotes. Writing for me can be a real trial when I can’t put what’s in my head into cohesive sentences. I would read it back and it seems to make sense, but when I LISTENED back using my ClaroRead software I would find glaring errors! My proof reader kept pointing out sections that made no sense! I know that dissertations are hard for EVERYONE! It’s the thing most students seem to dread but I was actually looking forward to being able to research and write about a topic of my own choice rather than based on a class or a question given by one of my lectures. I just didn’t realise how painful it was going to be!

I was fortunately given an extension, something that I had been allowed in all my essays at university if I asked my lecturers far enough in advance. There was times where I was made to feel guilty about it by my peers, which I have discussed in a previous blog. If those peers could feel the pain I suffered with my eyes, where I had to take regular naps to try to calm the muscles in my eyes and where I lost an entire day of editing because I was suffering so badly! With Scotopic Sensitivity I already see words, colours etc in pixelvision, which makes it difficult for my brain to decode. With dyslexia it takes longer for my eyes to adjust and they work in overtime to keep up. This combination means that the muscles in my eyes become very sore very quickly when I’m reading and I suffer from headaches and migraines. I used ClaroView to change my screen colour to a pale blue, which is far kinder than my laptops glaring white screen, and ClaroRead to read out my MS Word document to me to try to reduce my struggle (as I did with ALL my essays in third and fourth year university). Even with this fantastic software, I still had to lose a day of editing!

Is it a case of needing glasses to stop the eyestrain? Perhaps specialised glasses would help some people, but my normal glasses I use for my short-sighted vision didn’t help at all. I even wore sunglasses to try to help out. In fact, I tried EVERYTHING I could think of to try to reduce the pain in my eyes I was taking painkillers, having regular breaks, bathing my eyes… I honestly couldn’t think of anything else I could have done that I wasn’t already trying out! Luckily I was given an extension of a week (of which I only used 5 days of, one day of that was taken by rest and one for the final touches and printing). I remember being in near tears from the ordeal! Talk about an uphill struggle!

Plenty of breaks were taken

Plenty of breaks were taken

And that was just the struggle I had with my vision! Writing and organising the piece was a trail too. I actually thought that it would be the thing that I would find the hardest! Alas, the eye pain was a clear winner (I really cannot emphasise more how much pain I was in!). I have all these wonderful ideas and know what I would like to discuss in my written work! It’s hard for most people to sift through the ideas for the best points and knowing what the lecturer is looking for. It takes a lot of time perfecting and understanding what is required. It’s even harder when you can’t get the ideas from your head onto paper.

At school I found it very hard. Writing by hand with pen and paper is a much more complex process for me. I get letters the wrong way around (u/n, m/w), add in extra letters (with becomes withe) and my spelling in general goes out the window because I can’t look at it in the same way I can with a typed word. Under the pressure of an exam, my writing legibility becomes worse (though I have seen non-dyslexic people with worse handwriting than my own!). My brain works faster than my hand can scribble and I lose track of what it was I was trying to say. I used mind map to try to remember the points I wanted to raise, but it was still a nightmare trying to write down my thoughts fast enough to answer the questions. I had to try to slow down to keep in line with what my pen was scribbling. It almost felt like a blockage between my brain and hand!

At college and university I was fortunately given the use of a computer in exams. That is, the use of MS Word with a spell check and the ability to type rather than write by hand. It didn’t mean I had access to the internet or any other resources that could have given me an advantage over my classmates. Typing reduces my spelling errors drastically. It’s only when I am sleepy (like exhausted sleepy!) that with turns into withe. I almost never get n/u or m/w confused with each other unless I am sleepy (exhausted sleepy!) and I can type a lot faster than I can write by hand, which means that I get more of my thoughts from my head onto the page by typing than I do when I have a pen in my hand. That isn’t to say that I am not still frustrated by my brain working faster than my typing abilities or that I don’t end up losing track of what I’m trying to say. Again, I always draw mind maps of my ideas to try to remember as much as possible before I start writing essays.

The extra 15 minutes per hour that I received in exams were never used for writing more. They were used to enable myself to remember what it was that I wanted to say through mind maps and for a quick scan edit to make sure I had no glaring mistakes. I think if I was to really get the full help I needed in exams, it would have been great to have software to read my essay back to me or at least sections that I was unsure of. Sometimes when you read back your own work, you don’t see the obvious mistakes that you would if you heard it back as I discovered with essays for class or in my dissertation.

Why wouldn't you give a dyslexic person the chance to achieve the best of their abilities?

Why wouldn’t you give a dyslexic person the chance to achieve the best of their abilities?

Extra time in exams or to submit work for class should not be seen as a way of cheating or favouritism. If the task was to climb a mountain, would someone with muscular problems in their legs be cheating the system by having a wheelchair? The goal is the same! It is still as daunting a task whether you have a disability or not! Being given the extra time and the support I needed with my invisible disability allowed me to achieve my full potential as a scholar. There were time where I kicked myself for not studying hard enough or for not putting enough effort into my work, but all students go through the same whether at school, college or university. We are all human!

With a slower processing speed in my eyes and also between my brain and hand, does that mean that I am stupid or incapable of achieving the same as a non dyslexic person? Absolutely not! I contributed in more classroom discussions and debates than the majority of my peers! I wasn’t afraid of getting things wrong. I was prepared to be corrected by both my lecturers and peers. I contributed my fair share and more to seminars, knowing that my verbal discussion skills were my strength and that talking through topics helped me to remember and to process the information we were learning.

We all learn and work in different ways. While some schools, colleges and universities give allowances to dyslexic students the same or similar support doesn’t carry forward into the workplace on the whole. I think it’s about time that places of work recognise invisible disabilities and give them the same allowances as they would be expected to do for a visible disability! I am just as capable of working as my non dyslexic counterparts. Slower at times, perhaps, but if I am given the chance to learn skills properly, I don’t forget them! There are areas where I have great strengths too! I have found I am great at tasks that people find boring. For example, sifting through data for hours on end finding the right information on a person when studying my family tree! I actually enjoy it!!! I do it as a hobby. I keep going with a project for as long I need to.

This is my message to employers:

Yes, dyslexia is a disability. It can make us work at a slower rate than our colleagues BUT(!) as a dyslexic person, I have become accustomed to checking and re-checking work for mistakes. Yes, the odd error gets through (this goes back to being human), but attention to detail is key for me. I work twice as hard to keep up with co-workers, who chatter away being less productive than they could be, while I give all that I can. Should quantity really be more important than quality?

And would you hold the same prejudices against someone who required a ramp to get into work as you would against someone who needs assistive technology on a computer? I may have an invisible disability, but I am not prepared to be an invisible person.

Extra time in exams should be a start to the support given to people with dyslexia and other SEN related issues. I think it’s about time we were given the same recognition and rights as those with visible disabilities when it comes to education, and more importantly, within the workplace!

This post is part of a series trying to help me to raise money for Dyslexia Action. You can donate as little as £1! To find out more, head over to: https://www.justgiving.com/DyslexiaAndMe

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Posted on September 3, 2014, in Awareness, Education, Personal Experience and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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