Attending University With a Learning Difficulty
Individuals who have learning difficulties or disabilities may find the university academic experience daunting, whether they have dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, anxiety, dyscalculia, dysgraphia or a physical disability.
However, having a certain disability or learning difficulty doesn’t mean that you can’t go to university, obtain a degree and expand your mind. This is what students should expect when attending uni with a learning difficulty, this can also help if you are thinking of studying a Certificate of Higher Education (HNC).
Advice from a student attending university with a learning difficulty
Attending university with dyslexia and dyspraxia may seem tough, scary and daunting, but once students get over that initial fear, it will all become clear.
I have both dyslexia and dyspraxia, and although this affects how I read text, my spelling, and vocabulary and makes the process of trying to write what I am thinking a lot longer, it isn’t as bad as it seems! I received really helpful software for my computer from the DSA, including a text-to-speech option, a mind-map programme, a scanner and a dictaphone. These items help me create lots of plans and notes to aid my studying, as I need to constantly read over my notes repetitively, in different formats for my mind to take the information in.
I have used these items, and the software for the entirety of my course and it hasn’t affected my grades either! I never saw my dyslexia or dyspraxia as an issue when it came to studying, as I believed that as the situation was normal to me, I could get through it in a similar way I had during my GCSE’s and A-Levels.
However, studying at degree level requires heavier reading, independent study and a higher academic ability, in both reading, writing and thinking, and my learning difficulties do, and will continue to affect my capabilities to do these at a university level.
DSA – Disability Students Allowance
A DSA is a non-means-tested grant, which means household or personal income will not affect the help you receive. The government will need evidence, which is explained in further detail below, to determine what help you will need during your studies.
DSA will not affect any other grants, bursaries, scholarships or loans a student may have, it will be supplied alongside any of your current financial support. It is available to the majority of UK undergraduates, postgraduates, and part-time students who are studying at least 50% of a full-time course of study.
DSA is typically awarded and applied for through Student Finance England and intends to pay for study costs that may arise due to a disability or medical condition. These expenses may cover assistive software, equipment, one-to-one support, study skills, mobility support and interpreters.
Students who want to apply for help regarding difficulties, such as dyslexia, will need to supply a diagnostic assessment, which was completed after the age of 16, by a Chartered, or Educational Psychologist or specialist teacher with a practising certificate.
Regarding other disabilities, candidates will need to supply medical evidence stating the impairment, and the impact it has on their studying, this is usually in the form of a recent letter from a specialist or a GP. These disabilities can also be proven by way of general testing, though most universities do not operate on this basis and a GP or doctor's note is usually more than enough to get you to satisfy the university.
How do I apply for DSA?
Students who wish to apply for DSA should start the process at the time that they apply for tuition, or maintenance funding prior to starting their course. Individuals are able to apply for DSA after this date; however, it could delay the assistance received.
Furthermore, if students need help funding psychological assessments – in order to provide evidence of their disability or learning difficulty – then this funding will need to be completed through their university directly and could also delay the process of receiving DSA.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
This is also referred to as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) and is a condition that affects how sounds travel through the ear and how they are interpreted by the brain.
Individuals with APD may not be able to recognise the differences between sounds in words, and can find it difficult to tell where the sounds are coming from. Universities may be able to help by providing students with support staff to accompany them to lectures. Also, DSA may be able to offer students specialist software that has speech-to-text capabilities.
Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability (LD) that affects an individual’s ability to understand numbers.
Those with this type of difficulty may also find they have poor comprehension of math symbols, have trouble telling the time and counting and may struggle with memorising and organising numbers. Students may be able to attend study support lessons where they can learn how to deal with their learning difficulty and to not allow it to affect their studying.
Dysgraphia is a learning difficulty that affects an individual’s handwriting ability and their fine motor skills.
Some problems that may occur include, inconsistent spacing, poor spelling, illegible handwriting, and difficulty composing text, as well as difficulty with writing and thinking at the same time. DSA may provide students with dysgraphia with computer equipment that they can take to class to help take notes alongside their studying.
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that affects reading and language-based processing skills. The level of severity that a person has will vary in each person, but can also affect decoding, reading comprehension, reading fluency, writing, spelling, recall and sometimes speech.
Dyslexia may also be referred to as a Language-Based Learning Disability. As dyslexia can affect an array of issues related to studying, DSA could supply specialist equipment, assistive software and financial allowance to aid studying.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
ADD, which is a form of ADHD, is a disorder that includes issues with paying attention and staying focused, and difficulty with controlling hyperactivity and behaviour.
Although ADD/ADHD is not considered a specific learning disability, research indicates that 20-50% of children with ADHD also have a learning disability, and the two conditions together can make learning challenging.
Dyspraxia is a disorder that refers to the difficulty in muscle control, movement and coordination, speech and language and can affect learning. Although it is not a learning disability, it often exists along with dyscalculia, ADHD or dyslexia.