Going to University with a Learning Disability

Throughout my entire sixteen years in full time education, I have always been aware of having a learning disability. In my case, it’s dyspraxia. As a young child in primary school I was definitely one of the bottom in my class, so much so I was sent down in some classes to ‘catch up’. I think it’s safe to say that nobody who taught me then would think I would now be in my final year at university. Despite the setbacks in my early education, I persevered and gradually my ability increased, and I came out of sixth form with a decent set of A-Level results. However, when it came to university, I did have anxieties about whether I would be able to cope with the trials and tribulations of higher education.

Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder, which basically means you’re clumsy (extremely, in my case). When I first moved away to university, a few of my housemates made light of my lack of coordination when out on Wind Street. I acknowledge that this is a small thing, but for me it was part of the process of having to explain my dyspraxia to people. Of course I didn’t mind the fact people sometimes found my dancing funny – it allowed for a natural flow of banter – but at times I did and still do feel embarrassed about dancing when I’m on a night out. In terms of academia, its the small things that I find difficult. For example, holding a pen and writing neatly is something I must place a great deal of focus on; when giving presentations I must write a full speech, as sometimes my sentences may get jumbled and will therefore not make any sense. Dyspraxia also heightens my anxiety, and I tend to get stressed easily, which can be debilitating when it comes to completing assignments. To deal with this I organise my workload way in advance: I write down all my assignments on whiteboard and set a completion date, which allows me to stay focused whilst also calming my anxiety.

Since being at university I have received help from the disability office. When writing essays, both coursework and exams markers are made aware of my condition so they can take it into consideration when marking. Additionally, I receive extra time in exams. This, for me, is the best decision I have made during my years in education. Prior to Year Thirteen I declined receiving the extra 25% I was entitled to in fear of being different, but on reflection I see how this has hindered me in my earlier years, and by now accepting help it I’m able to fulfill my potential. This fear of being different is something that I feel that goes away with age (well that’s what happened to me, at least). If you do feel your entitled to extra support, my biggest word of advice would be to ask for it. Do not jeopardise yourself in fear that people may ask uncomfortable questions or make fun of you – if they do they are simply not worth your time.

What I have learnt from being at university with a learning disability is that I am capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for. I have learnt that I am an organised and hardworking individual. Obviously, I cannot speak for everyone at university with a learning disability, but have gained a great deal of confidence within myself since I started here. Four years ago I was embarrassed to say I had dyspraxia, but now if people ask why I go to Kier Hardie for exams, or why I struggle with tasks that require a great deal of dexterity, I’m honest and say I have dyspraxia. Most of the time I have to explain to them what dyspraxia is, and the number one response is ‘ah, it all makes sense now’.

by Olivia Rogers


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