Recognising dyslexia and related specific learning difficulties

Introduction to dyslexia and related specific learning difficulties

The most common form of disability at the University is dyslexia. This along with related specific learning difficulties such as dyspraxia affects around 5% of the student population.

Specific learning disabilities may cause problems with certain aspects of studying, potentially including reading, note taking and structuring work.

Visual stress (Irlen Syndrome) is often associated with dyslexia see information on recognising visual stress or Irlen Syndrome for further details.

The following headings provide advise relating to dyslexia:

Recognising dyslexia

Whilst many students with dyslexia will have been diagnosed at school or college, some do not realise that they have dyslexia until they reach university. They may have developed strategies for dealing with the difficulties which they face without understanding that these are related to dyslexia. This is particularly true for older students.

It is important to investigate whether you might have dyslexia or a specific learning difficulty. If you do, the University may be able to adjust your study and examination requirements or help you to access specialist tuition.

The information below may help you to think about whether you might have dyslexia, or associated visual stress and suggest what you might do next.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia can be defined in many ways. However there is an increasing body of research evidence which suggests that people with dyslexia process information in a different way to non-dyslexic people. This has a range of effects, including difficulties with:

  • Phonological processing (the way sounds within words are heard by the brain)
  • Working or short term memory (which can affect sequencing and multi-tasking)
  • Visual processing (managing fast incoming visual information)
  • Difficulties with reading, reading at speed or with certain types of words

The neurological difference can also confer strengths, such as skills in:

  • Problem-solving
  • Visualisation
  • Creativity
  • Spatial awareness
  • Innovation and lateral thinking

In addition, dyslexia:

  • Can vary from person to person
  • Involves different combinations of difficulties and strengths
  • Is a continuum: some people are mildly, some more severely dyslexic  
  • Can be identified at any age
  • Is not related to intelligence, motivation, education, income, class, gender or ethnic origin

Dyslexia is usually identified by educational psychologists or suitably qualified specific learning difficulties teachers. Our dyslexia information sheet will be able to give you more information about dyslexia and the common traits associated with this disability.

How can I tell if I might have dyslexia?

People with dyslexia will normally have all or some of the following:

  • A higher oral ability than written ability
  • Difficulty with the structure and sequencing of written work
  • Unexpected and persistent difficulty with spelling
  • Slow reading speed
  • Difficulty in taking notes in lectures
  • Planning and organisational difficulties

What should I do if I think I might have dyslexia?

  1. Contact the Disability Service
    If you suspect you may have dyslexia contact us to discuss funding for a diagnostic test. This will identify if you have a specific learning difficulty.
  2. Consider a Screening Test
    We offer screening through the Specific Learning Difficulties service at UWE this can be arranged by contacting Disability Services. If you are still unsure about being formally tested you may find our screening information leaflet helpful or you could look at simple screening tests such as those from the British Dyslexia Association.
  3. Full dyslexia assessment
    If you do wish to receive some support you will need to have a full dyslexia assessment. Funding for this is available from the University. Please go to Disability Services (1D15) to pick up an application form. The Disability Service can also help identify an appropriate Educational Psychologist for your assessment. More information can be found on our diagnostic assessment for dyslexia/SpLD information leaflet.
  4. Follow up
    After you have had a full dyslexia assessment you will receive a report. You may contact the Disability Service to discuss the implications of this report if you wish. If your report shows that you do have dyslexia you should consider applying for Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) to fund additional support.
Some of the information in this page is reproduced by kind permission of Bristol University Access Unit.

Recognising visual stress or Irlen Syndrome

Visual stress is also known as Irlen Syndrome, Meares-Irlen Syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome.

It is a condition whose causes are not yet fully understood but which makes people see the printed page differently.

  • It can also make it difficult to judge differences and spatial relationships accurately
  • It is not detected by standard visual, educational or medical tests
  • It is a perceptual problem, not a visual one, and is not corrected by prescription glasses

How can I tell if I might have visual stress?

People who have visual stress see the page differently because of distortions of the print or the white background. When reading they may:

  • Prefer a dim light
  • Have difficulty absorbing information
  • Need to take breaks from the page
  • Feel drowsy, tired or strained
  • Skip words or lines
  • Get watery or hot/dry eyes
  • Develop headaches

When viewing print, they may experience a wide variety of distortions, such as:

  • The print appearing to float above the page
  • The word being read is clear but the other words on the page move or swirl
  • Lines of print appear to shift and move up and down
  • The white background becomes dominant and looks like rivers running down the page
  • The letters double or have white, black or coloured images
  • The words and letters on the page appear blurred
  • The white background takes over and parts of letters become faded or disappear

Examples of some of these distortions can be found on the web site of the Irlen Institute (USA). In general, people with visual stress may have:

  • Difficulty looking at a computer screen
  • A sensitivity to light
  • Discomfort with fluorescent lights
  • Difficulty judging heights or distance
  • Motion sickness
  • Difficulty with stairs and/or escalators

What should I do if I think I have visual stress?

People with visual stress can read with much greater ease if they cover print with a specially treated coloured overlay. Screening can help identify which colour is most beneficial to you. Visual stress is closely associated with dyslexia and so screening may be carried out as a result of a diagnosis of dyslexia. The cost of specialist lenses or coloured overlays can often be met through Disabled Students’ Allowances.

If you are concerned you may have visual stress or would like to arrange a screening please contact us or if you would like more information about Irlen Syndrome or visual stress please look at our useful links page.

Some of the information in this page is reproduced by kind permission of Bristol University Access Unit.

Page last updated 14 August 2012

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