GETTING A DEGREE – UNI & SUPPORT
I have recently finished my undergraduate degree in Psychology and will soon be starting my Master’s in the Psychology of Education. For me, dyspraxia affects various things including my balance, coordination, motor skills, concentration, thought processing and fatigue. Dyspraxia doesn’t mean I am any less intelligent that someone without dyspraxia, but it does mean that I need some extra support when it comes to university.
Firstly, when applying for universities for my undergraduate degree I made the decision to study at a university that was close to home so that I could commute. Every dyspraxic is different, so some dyspraxics may be able to cope well with living away from home. For me personally, due to difficulties with physical tasks such as cooking and finding change in routine difficult, living at home was the best decision for me.
When visiting universities, I would definitely recommend speaking to the disability support departments – it’s so important to know what support is available. Two of the universities I visited had brilliant disability support departments, but another university was the complete opposite. The person spoke to me in the most patronising tone of voice, in addition to the fact that she just assumed I had dyslexia before I’d even said what disability I had (she seemed to automatically rule out the fact that I could have a physical disability just because I didn’t have an ‘obvious’ disability). Believe it or not she was actually the person in charge of the support for dyslexia and dyspraxia, and she could also support me with my ‘other things’ (yes, those were her exact words). But anyway, it’s safe to say I didn’t apply for that university!
I was delighted when I received an unconditional offer from my favourite choice of university! Once I had confirmed my offer, it was time to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). This turned out to be a very complicated process, so my advice for anyone who is applying for DSA is to apply early! However, I wouldn’t let the fact that it can be a complicated process put you off from applying. The support I have received through DSA has been extremely helpful and I would have struggled massively without it. Something that was emphasised during my Needs Assessment was that having extra support is there to put you on a level playing field with everyone else, which is important to remember.
So, what did I receive as part of DSA? I already had my own laptop, but often students are provided with a laptop through DSA (students are asked to contribute the first £200 towards the cost of the laptop). I received various assistive software for my laptop. This included: Audio Notetaker software (which allows me to have the lecture slides, my notes and the audio for the lecture all in one place); Dragon Naturally Speaking (speech-to-text software); Claro Read (text-to-speech software) and MindView (mindmapping software). Personally I have found Audio Notetaker to be the most useful piece of software. I also received a voice recorder, to enable me to record my lectures to put into Audio Notetaker. I was provided with other equipment to support me physically, such as arm rests for my desk and a book stand. In terms of specialist support, I was eligible to receive one to one study skills support. Initially I received the support from my uni, but during my second year switched to support from an external provider via Skype. This worked much better for me, both in terms of the fact that it was on Skype (and therefore easier with commuting) in addition to the quality of the support.
Before I started university, I was really worried about disclosing dyspraxia to my peers. I was worried that using a voice recorder in lectures would lead to people asking questions and I’d be unsure of how to explain dyspraxia to them. I did in fact first mention dyspraxia due to using a voice recorder, as a friend asked me where I’d got mine from and I explained I received it as part of DSA. Following that my friends asked me more about it. Thankfully I had a really understanding group of friends, so looking back I really didn’t have anything to be worried about at all!
In terms of exam arrangements, I was able to have the same arrangements as I had done during school. For me, this was the use of a computer, 25% extra time and rest breaks. The only difference from my school exam arrangements was that the rest breaks were limited to 10 minutes per hour rather than whenever I needed them, but this wasn’t a problem as this worked out to be enough. Due to having exam arrangements, I took my exams in a separate room – sometimes with others who also had rest breaks, other times on my own.
Aside from making notes in a different way to others during lectures (using specialist software) and exam arrangements, the main difference I noticed between me and others when studying was the amount of time things would take me. Having a slower processing speed meant that things such as reading or making revision notes would take me longer anyway, along with difficulties with concentration and fatigue which meant that there were times that I just wasn’t able to focus at all. Having study skills sessions certainly helped me to find ways of doing things that worked for me. For example, when I first started university I used to read the whole chapters of the essential reading they provided (this was probably also due to me being a literal thinker). However, I soon learnt that this wasn’t going to work and would make it impossible to get everything done. Through study skills sessions I was supported in learning strategies to read only the relevant bits of information. Other support provided in these sessions included help with planning and breaking down tasks into smaller chunks.
Different universities work in different ways in terms of allowing extra time for assignments, but one thing that frustrated me was that my university wouldn’t allow someone extra time on an assignment because they had dyspraxia, for example. There had to be an additional reason too such as being ill. They claimed that the support students receive for their disability should alleviate any difficulties they have with studying. Unfortunately it’s not as straightforward as that. Whilst the support I received was fantastic, assignments still took me much longer than they did for other people.
I know some dyspraxics don’t get diagnosed until they are at university. I was diagnosed at a young age, so this meant I was able to get the support in place early. My university were generally really good in terms of disability support. I finished my degree with a First, which I am extremely happy about! I am really excited to start my Master’s now, which will be at a different university (although I’ll still be commuting). Getting the support put into place for my Master’s thankfully seems to be quite a straightforward process, as I have already received equipment through DSA for my undergraduate degree. For anyone who is applying for university, good luck! Dyspraxia can make certain aspects of studying more challenging, but it certainly makes us more determined and hard working!