Navigating a Non-Neurotypical World: The Challenges for People with Dyslexia

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Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that mainly causes problems with certain abilities used for learning, such as reading and writing, but unlike a learning disability, intelligence isn't affected and often people with dyslexia develop really good skills in other areas, such as creative thinking and problem solving.

It's estimated up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia.It’s a lifelong problem that can present challenges on a daily basis, but support is available to improve reading and writing skills and help is available for those who need it to be successful at school and work.

In 2022 Orion announced that we are again providing Entrance and Undergraduate Scholarships through UHI.

Leah Topp was successfully awarded an Orion Scholarship and is now embarking on her 2nd year studying Marine Science, BSc Hons at UHI Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI.Leaving School with strong grades and with a passion for the environment, outdoor life and sea, Leah also discovered in her first year at university that she has dyslexia.

Helping to raise awareness about dyslexia Leah was delighted to share her experiences with us.

It was only recently identified that you have dyslexia, what prompted you to seek a diagnosis?

I struggled at High school with writing and reading aloud, particularly with the flow of words.I always wondered why I had to work harder than my friends to achieve the same goal or grade, but because I found myself within a good group of friends and I was working hard, the fact that I was struggling really went unnoticed by the teachers.Even though I took longer than others, I was musical and could read music very well, probably better than English and I took German to advanced higher level, so I suppose they had no reason to think I was struggling.

It was only when I started studying data science at Uni that I became aware that my code was wrong, but I couldn’t figure it out where it was going wrong and when it came to a long string of code, I really struggled reading it.I assumed with extra work I’d pick it up fine, but it just wasn’t working for me. I was nervous about assessments and exams as I often didn’t finish my exams in high school but I realised I was already asking lots of questions and getting a lot of support from the lecturers, so I wanted to see if I could get some help before the exams in the first semester.

You have obviously invested a lot in your studies achieving fantastic grades, what strategies have helped you cope with dyslexia and succeed in the activities you are involved with?

Mind maps and highlighters! I’ve found them to be the best!I’ve always been a fan of them because I can visualise where the information is on the mind map, and which colour I’ve made it. I struggle with reading long lines of words, so breaking it up into little chunks and colour coding helps a lot with my recollection.

How does dyslexia affect learning and educational experiences?

I’ve always had to work harder than my friends in school.All my friends have been rather clever, so I always wanted to keep up.I had been told by teachers to stop concentrating on my handwriting because it’s slowing me down, but the reality is I couldn’t take notes fast so I thought well I may as well make it look good.

I don’t think my educational experiences have changed very much because of my dyslexia.I just had to work it all out on my own but obviously when it got to Uni and I was learning new, different and more complex content it began to shine through that I needed assistance.

You have told us that the University of Highlands and Islands have been helpful, what resources, tools, or assistive technologies are available assisting you in daily life and educational pursuits?

UHI have been great as soon as I asked for help. I undertook an online test which quickly identified that I had dyslexia in the November and by December I had support in place to assist with undertaking the exams.I have been given amazing resources from UHI.I use Read&Write and Sonocent on my laptop. Read&Write is an assistive software but helps with reading text and writing it, pretty much does what it says on the tin.The assistive reader even has a Scottish accent which is so cool.Sonocent is a note taking software and even though I’ve only been using it a short time now, I’m already finding it so much easier to engage during lectures as I don’t have to concentrate on writing my notes there and then.

Do you still face any barriers as a result of having dyslexia and how could, lecturers, colleagues or friends be more understanding and helpful to someone with dyslexia?

I’m lucky here at Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) everyone has been very supportive. It is much easier now; support is available and there is greater awareness of dyslexia.I’ve met students and lectures here with dyslexia who are happy, openly discussing dyslexia.Support is available and this has been a huge confidence booster for me that even in higher education I can achieve the same results albeit with a little bit of help of others and using assistive technology.

Are there some common misconceptions or myths about dyslexia that you would like to set straight?

Yes. People think all dyslexic people are dumb, or slow or stupid, the list goes’s sooooo not true!

In what ways can society be more inclusive and supportive of individuals with dyslexia?

Patience and tolerance.I know I’m a slow reader and I use an object to highlight the line I’m reading.Unfortunately, I get anxious or panic when I’m going somewhere like a restaurant, and I can’t read the menu online before I arrive.I worry that I’ll be sitting there, feeling pressure while reading the menu slowly.What makes this worse is that it’s harder to read when there’s noises all around you.Accepting that it sometimes takes a bit longer and more tolerance of this would definitely help make things a bit easier.

Is there anything else you would like to add or share to raise awareness about dyslexia?

Probably just that being dyslexic doesn’t mean you’re stupid, great technology is now available, and it’s there to be used.Don’t be afraid of being corrected, it will help you.

Like Leah, many dyslexic people have great coping strategies and technology. The dyslexic difficulties only become unmanageable when their environment changes, such as a new job role/management style or simply that they are faced with a lack of patience.

Employers have a legal responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments to the workplace to enable their dyslexic employees to carry out their roles to a satisfactory standard. If it is dyslexia is suspected to be the cause of difficulties in the workplace, then a Workplace Needs Assessment may be used to indicate whether further investigations should be carried out or to recommend further adjustments.

Many Reasonable Adjustments are simple inexpensive changes that are easy to implement. They can be suggested (or requested) by either the employer or the member of staff.

Further information can be found at British Dyslexia Association,Dyslexia Scotland of the NHS