Navigating Higher Education with Dyslexia in the UK

As universities strive for inclusivity and diversity, it becomes essential to address the needs of students with dyslexia to ensure they have equitable opportunities to succeed academically. It affects students of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and abilities, and it makes the already demanding academic journey an even more intricate maze to navigate. Yet, within the pages of these challenges lies a story of resilience, adaptation, and remarkable potential. It is often seen as a disadvantage, but if we choose to support and celebrate those with the condition, the stigma can make way for success.


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Dyslexia - a Learning Disability in the UK

Dyslexia is generally considered a specific learning disability in the United Kingdom. It is recognised as a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to read, write, spell, and sometimes, to a lesser extent, their ability to perform mathematical calculations. It is legally recognised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK. This means that these individuals are entitled to certain accommodations and support in educational and workplace settings to ensure equal access and opportunities.

Moreover, educational institutions and employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of dyslexic individuals. This includes providing assistive technology, additional time for exams, or alternative formats for written materials. The UK has made efforts to raise awareness about dyslexia and promote a more inclusive approach to education and employment for individuals with this condition.

The Positives of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is often associated with challenges in reading, writing, and spelling. But, it’s important to recognise that it also comes with certain positive attributes and strengths. Here are some of the positive aspects of dyslexia:

Creativity: Many individuals have strong creative abilities as they often think outside the box, approach problems from different angles, and have a unique perspective on the world.

Visual Thinking: Dyslexic individuals often excel in visual thinking and spatial reasoning. Hence, they can see the bigger picture and understand complex systems and concepts.

Problem-Solving Skills: They may have strong problem-solving skills, as they’ve developed strategies to navigate their challenges with reading and writing. This adaptability can be a valuable asset in various situations.

Entrepreneurial Spirit: Dyslexic individuals are often entrepreneurial and have a knack for innovation. Many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders have dyslexia.

Empathy: Some people with dyslexia develop strong interpersonal skills and empathy because they’ve had to work harder to communicate and understand others.

Resilience: Overcoming the challenges associated with dyslexia can build resilience and determination, so many individuals with dyslexia develop a strong work ethic and perseverance.

Holistic Thinking: They tend to think in a holistic manner, which can be beneficial in fields like science, where connecting disparate pieces of information is crucial.

Innovation: Dyslexics are known for their innovative thinking as they can come up with unconventional solutions to problems that others might not consider.

Unique Perspectives: Their unique way of processing information can contribute fresh and valuable perspectives to teams and projects.

Dyslexia Statistics and Facts

Here are some key statistics and facts about dyslexia:

  • It is estimated that 1 out of 10 people have dyslexia.
  • 1 out of every 5 students, representing 15% to 20% of the total, have a learning disability centered on language, with dyslexia being the most common disability.
  • About 38% of 4th-grade students read at a level that’s below average, or below 40% of their peers based on recent studies.
  • About 25% of adults read at an elementary school level.
  • Albert Einstein, one of the most famous scientists, was dyslexic. Furthermore, there is no correlation between dyslexia and IQ.
  • Children with dyslexia can successfully learn over 90% of the time when the correct teaching methods are appropriate.
  • People with dyslexia have a 60% greater chance of being able to connect ideas well and use alternative methods to solve problems.
  • Dyslexic people represent 20% or more of workers employed in professions like computer science, art, drama, economics, mechanics, math, and sports.

Dyslexic Success Stories

Dyslexia can present challenges, but many individuals have achieved remarkable success in various fields. Here are some inspiring dyslexia success stories:

Richard Branson

Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, is dyslexic. Despite struggling with traditional classroom learning, he built a global business empire and became a successful entrepreneur. “I remember sitting at the back of the class and not knowing what was going on. Once, I had an IQ test where I sat looking at the paper and got nowhere. I was in my twenties when I suddenly heard about dyslexia. It was a bit of a relief. I had been taught that if you’re not good in IQ tests, you are hopeless. It was good to know that there was an issue and that other people had similar problems—and that actually, dyslexics can be much brighter than other kids in certain areas. So it was a lightbulb moment, and I grabbed it. If you are dyslexic, it is important to accept that you are different”.

Charlie Boorman

Charlie Boorman, TV Motorcycle Adventurer and President of Dyslexia Action, was definitely given the impression that he would not amount to much. “While the messages I was getting from school were very damaging, my parents never made me feel anything other than a confident little boy. My father [film director John Boorman] had spotted the signs of dyslexia too and he encouraged me to be in the films he made as a way to express myself because I couldn’t read or write properly. If you get a diagnosis as well, you have the chance to get the tools to help you on your way. You need these tools because you can’t get fixed. If you’re confident about being dyslexic, people are quite happy to accommodate you when you tell them. I always think it’s important to know your weaknesses and delegate when you can’t do something”.

Jo Malone

Jo Malone, the renowned British perfumer and entrepreneur, has spoken openly about her experiences with dyslexia. Her talents and creativity led her to a successful career in the fragrance industry despite having dyslexia. “Learning disabilities were never disabling, but a gift that allowed me to think creatively and face failure with an open mind”. Malone’s advice for other dyslexics: “I want people to look at me and think: If she can do that, what can I do? I’m a woman who’s dyslexic; I can’t tell my left from my right; I can’t fill out a form on my own; and when I go into a bank, I have to ask someone to help me. I have zero qualifications, so I really shouldn’t be where I am in life. But I am. Business isn’t rocket science. It’s courage, creativity, and having the faith to believe you can take that one step”.

Dyslexia Support at Universities in the UK

Universities are committed to providing support and accommodations for dyslexic students and other specific learning difficulties in the UK. Here’s an overview of the dyslexia support available at UK universities:

Dyslexia Assessment: Many universities offer dyslexia assessments, either during the application process or once a student is enrolled. These assessments help identify specific learning needs and tailor support accordingly.

Access to Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs): Although dyslexia is more of a learning difference than a disability, dyslexia is covered under the Equality Act 2010. This means that a person with dyslexia is legally entitled to disabled students’ allowance during their education. Your allowance might cover things like specialist equipment like computer software, one-to-one support like a note-taker or reader, as well as extra travel costs you might have.

Specialist Study Skills Support: Students can receive individualised study skills support from specialists who are experienced in working with dyslexic learners. This support may include assistance with time management, organisation, and effective study strategies.

Individual Learning Plans (ILPs): Universities may create Individual Learning Plans for dyslexic students, outlining the specific accommodations and support they require in the UK.

Counselling and Wellbeing Services: Many universities have counselling and wellbeing services to support the emotional and psychological well-being of students with dyslexia, as they may experience stress or anxiety related to their condition.

Dyslexia support at universities in the UK

Resources for Dyslexic Students

Dyslexic students at universities in the UK have access to various resources and organisations that can provide support and information. Here are some key resources and organisations for dyslexia support at UK universities:

  • British Dyslexia Association website has some useful information for young people in higher education.
  • Dyslexia UK offers advice on assessment and diagnosis and adapting to university life.
  • Diversity and Ability have created a guide to free resources that might help support a variety of needs including dyslexia. There’s also a handy guide on accessing Disabled Student Allowance support. 
  • Exceptional Individuals offers recruitment and employment support to people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism.
  • The Student Room has a number of forums exploring topical issues and is a good place to find out what life is really like for dyslexic students at uni.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects reading, writing, and spelling abilities. It’s characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition.

Dyslexia is relatively common, with estimates suggesting that around 10% of the population may be affected to some degree.

Support may include extra time for exams, assistive technology, accessible course materials, study skills workshops, note-taking assistance, and counseling services, among others.

Dyslexia does not define your potential for success. With the right support and strategies, many dyslexic students excel in their studies and careers.

Yes, universities can often provide support based on self-disclosure and your description of your difficulties. However, a formal assessment can provide more tailored support.

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