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I know that as a student with dyslexia you get all kinds of benefits such as extra time for work, exams, access or licenses to spell checkers, etc. (Never used or been offered any, not that I needed it.) However, I cam imagine that by the time you graduate you would be expected to have a competence level of at least a certain degree. I myself am currently graduating for a bachelor's degree in Business IT. While the focus here mainly lies in IT, I have been told that my use of language is seriously sub-par for the degree despite knowing of my dyslexia.

Now, I have been told that my work is well above average (average of 8/10) but that due to my use of language, the grade doesn't reflect the work. Having teachers fail me fully based on language has become quite common for me. In particular my use of the Dutch language; I should note English is my second language.

Just to clarify, the spelling is not the problem, the way I build up my sentences is (think of starwars-yoda). While the text can be understood, it's not something you can breeze through with a martini like some other papers.

So as the final question here: How should students with dyslexia be handled? How would one get them to improve on their language? Should we even need to help them improve their language? Other than just redirecting them to some dyslexia institute. And, how should their work be looked at?

Edit: To clarify, I'm interested into how both students and teachers alike could approach this. Not just myself personally.

  • Is your English syntax much better than your Dutch? I am asking because I don't find anything wrong with your English (based on the text of this question). Naively, I would expect syntax problems to be only worse in a non-native language. – amoeba says Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '16 at 12:42
  • @amoeba Yeah, my English seems to be a lot better. However this might also be the result of speaking a lot of English with international friends on a daily basis. Also I feel that English is much easier since there's not nearly as much grammar than Dutch and seems to have way more leeway. Still, after living with dyslexia for so long, you will slowly pick up on small habits and learn to avoid them. For example, I sometimes repeat words. If I write something incorrectly, I can read it incorrectly over and over and it will always found correct to me. – Migz Mar 4 '16 at 12:52
  • "not nearly as much grammar than Dutch" (a) That should be as, not than. (b) That's almost certainly wrong. It's very very difficult to measure the complexity of a language's grammar, but certainly English isn't massively simpler than Dutch. – TRiG Apr 1 '16 at 17:00
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The disabilities office at my Univ (large state univ in the U.S.) strongly advises that instructors not attempt to improvise accommodations for students with disabilities, whether self-declared or documented through the disabilities office. Their point is that we (outside the disabilities office) are not at all experts in such things, in the first place. Rather, the disabilities office will discuss with faculty the possible sensible accommodations, and in effect negotiate something. Faculty should not "get creative" and take initiative.

A significant point is that, although the circumstances or environment or timing or... for exams can accommodate, there is apparently never any notion that the grading rubrics should accommodate. That is, it's absolutely not that lower standards are applied to the output, but that the situation in which the output is produced can be modified. Indeed, it is not that we expect less in such cases, after all!

  • 1
    For what it's worth, at my institution the disabilities office currently proselytizes for "Universal Design for Learning" (UDL) which proposes that instructors give multiple methods of representation, expression, and engagement, including different types of assignments and assessments tailored to each type of student. Not that I agree with it, but in some circles that's pushed pretty hard. – Daniel R. Collins Mar 4 '16 at 0:15
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    @DanielR.Collins, yes, there is something of that here, too, but has been quiet for a while. In fact, 20+ years ago, the disabilities office was willing to certify "unable to do math" as a disability, even for math majors and so on, with various ... surprising... notions of how to accommodate... but we talked them out of it. – paul garrett Mar 4 '16 at 0:26
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    Now that's an article I'd like to read. :-) – Daniel R. Collins Mar 4 '16 at 0:36
  • I do strongly agree that the standards that the school carries should not be modified. Otherwise it would be troublesome to stamp quality onto a student with pride. I do however wish that the disabilities office were to somehow help instruct teachers on how to handle dyslexic students better. As 10 to 15% or maybe more people have dyslexia I could see it being worth taking into account. As you "might" improve the quality of 10% or more of your students this way. Which in my opinion is quite a lot. – Migz Mar 4 '16 at 6:42
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For the student perspective, I would put forward that a learning disability will not stop you from becoming an expert in something you are currently bad at. The notion that if you cannot spell or write at 17, you will never publish a best-selling book is just not true. Speaking from experience as someone who's parents were told "he will never go to university", but is now about to submit his PhD thesis, you can literally learn anything if you spend enough time on it.

And let's be honest, you can sugar-coat it as much as you like at school, but out of academia you will be penalised for being deficient in some area. The best thing you can do is work on it to bring whatever it is that you are not so good at up to par. For example, I was terrible at spelling, my handwriting was not legible even to myself, and my sentences were confusing. I suffered a lot in exams as a result, particularly the handwriting since no one ever asks you for clarification on a word.

However, after typing into a computer for every day of my life since then, and learning from the autocorrects by manually re-typing them, my spelling is near-perfect, and my sentence structure - well, i'm not going to be writing any novels any time soon, but it is ok. My handwriting still sucks though. In short, the best tools to improve your written communication is website comments, a pen pal you can e-mail, and IRC. If you cannot write in those three scenarios, you will be abused, embarrassed, and ignored, respectively. (and you will learn!)

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Universities typically invest a lot of time developing policies for disabilities, but they aren't always communicated well to staff and students. You should check that your marks and feedback are in accordance with your university's own policy, as your teachers may not be aware of it.

  • contesting marks is not a sustainable solution – Anonymous Physicist Mar 3 '16 at 9:32
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    @anonymousphysicist The question asked how should students with dyslexia be handled, and my answer is in accordance the the university's policy, which should have been developed by the disability support office. At least in the university where I work, once a disability is registered the office works with teachers to ensure they comply with the policy. Not sure why you're so unhappy with my answer. – beldaz Mar 3 '16 at 9:55
  • It's certainly a good approach, unfortunately my school itself cares very little about such things. As I replied to someone else, they place the problem on the student simply by pointing a finger into the direction of freelancing tutors. "Technically" they have complied with the minimum requirements and can say they give full support, While it comes with attached strings. Teachers themselves are aware of my situation as they themselves are the ones who redirected me. I'm just curious if there are ways for teachers to help these students on their own accord. – Migz Mar 3 '16 at 10:25
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    @migz That is sad and frustrating. Teachers have to be very careful to be consistent and appropriate if they adjust marks in response to a disability, but in principle they could, fire instance, reduce the weighting on writing quality in the marking rubric. – beldaz Mar 3 '16 at 10:33
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Most universities have a disability support office. They have staff who are trained to help students with dyslexia, which is not rare. You should go and seek their help. In the United States, the university would be obligated to help by law.

  • Sadly this is only partially true. In my case they have sent me towards special "tutors" who are free-lancing teachers. you'd need to pay for extra help that may or may not even help. Furthermore, when you are above the age of 18, they no longer give any sorts of financial aid. While many universities and colleges are obligated to help, here they try to do the bare minimum or simply outsource it. forcing the student to pay for it. I appreciate the answer though. But in my personal case it wouldn't be applicable. – Migz Mar 3 '16 at 10:10
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I would like to add to the existing answers, that besides the disabilities office it good to have some fellow students willing to help.

The student affected by dyslexia could benefit from a second pair of eyes checking their text and improving before submitting. Perhaps it would also help for future writing if you get to know how other people word or structure sentences. It would certainly make sure that everything that is submitted fits the quality standards.

I would not expect too much of teachers, professors or TAs. Often they will not be aware of the situation the student is facing. So it would help to communicate the problem not just through the disabilities office but in person.

IMHO if the information and arguments that you provide in your work are accurate and scientifically sound and it is only for course work, then the dyslexia should not be affecting your grade.

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