Unlocking Potential: Dyslexia and Confidence - A Student Workshop at Dublin Business School
Dublin Business School (DBS) is a private third level college which provides courses to Master’s level in a wide range of subject areas, including Law, Business, Accounting, Psychology, Sociology, Film and Media. With some 9,000 students, DBS is keen to ensure that all students experience equality of opportunity in reaching their educational potential. DBS holds institutional membership of AHEAD and DAWN and its Learner Supports Service has been informed and developed through dialogue with these bodies and with other stakeholders in the area. The role of the Learner Supports Service is to support students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties by putting in place the reasonable accommodations that they require, by training them in the use of assistive technologies and by advocating on their behalf.
At the beginning of every academic year, a college-wide advertising campaign is rolled out to encourage all students who require our services to register with the Learner Supports Service. Despite our best efforts, some students still fall through the net. It is especially unfortunate when students register in their final year when they have reached the very end of their tether.
One such student came to see me in late November last year. She was on the cusp of dropping out altogether. Although she had received her assessment while at school, she was too embarrassed to register as having dyslexia in college. She said that she felt that she would be asking for unfair advantage. I quickly disabused her of this and told her to accept all the help that she could get. I put the reasonable accommodations in place and put her in touch with the library and faculty staff who are there to provide assistance.
The student followed up with the key staff and also reached out to external agencies. In this way, she made contact with Nicola James, CEO and founding director of Lexxic.
Lexxic is a for-profit, private, UK-based, company which provides specialist support to staff in the workplace who are affected by a range of specific learning difficulties and other neurological differences. Lexxic staff are employed by companies to provide support and advice on specific learning difficulties to employees and management.
The DBS student contacted Nicola James to ask for advice on how to overcome the difficulties that she was having in college because of her dyslexia. Nicola offered to facilitate a free workshop on building confidence in students with dyslexia. This event was advertised to the general public and was held in Dublin Business School on Wednesday 5th April, 2017. Nicola and the final year student facilitated the session with some twenty-five students in attendance. They used an informal interview structure to get to the heart of how it feels to be a dyslexic student in an academic world which focuses largely on the written word.
The student and Nicola described their experiences of coping in school before and after they were assessed as having dyslexia. The student said that she was an exceptionally diligent student but she never attained the grades that her classmates reached with less effort. She was immensely relieved initially when she was assessed in secondary school but little changed for her because she was not armed with methods and strategies to overcome the difficulties. Nicola was assessed in her third year at university after years of applying herself relentlessly to her studies with less success than others. She went on to qualify as a Neuropsychologist and was recently offered a PhD place in Trinity College Dublin.
The ways in which dyslexia can impact on confidence were outlined:
- Focusing on your difficulties
- Comparing yourself to peers
- Negative thoughts about being able to succeed
- Not feeling capable
- Performance and your experience from school
Nicola explained that having low confidence can hold back your career and prevent you from reaching your potential. She assured us that confidence can be learned and practiced through:
- Setting and achieving goals – building confidence
- Positive thinking
Students should be encouraged to celebrate all of their successes. Getting into college builds on many past successes! A good exercise is to make a list of six things you have done well each week for six weeks. This helps to build a positive mindset; physiologically, high performance releases endorphins.
The student gave her top tips for achievement:
- Eat a good diet, she found food with plenty of good fats (nuts, avocados, fish) helpful
- Watch out for negative thoughts – recognise and banish them!
- Exercise – changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.
- She chose to take fish oil supplements – as they could be really good for the brain
- She found that being careful of who she mixed with helped – good friends encourage, praise and motivate
- Maintain a clean, ordered environment
- Get to know the way you learn best – audio, podcasts, etc. There are lots of tips on the internet on giving presentations, etc.
- Sleep - you can come up with creative ideas and solutions after a good night’s sleep.
- Work on stress reduction – practice mindfulness and meditation can be helpful
The student and Nicola shared some of the methods they used for studying and writing:
- Mind mapping software helps you to record all of your thoughts on a subject. These can then be used to produce a clear linear order for your assignment
- Write each of your key ideas onto a post-it and stick them to a wall. You can then organise them into a logical order for your assignment.
- Print out everything you need and then go through it with coloured highlighters: orange for the introduction, red for the body of the assignment, green for the conclusion.
- The Pomodoro Technique alternates 25 minutes of study with a short period of activity. The activity (kinetic energy) helps engage the brain. When you break off the study after 25 minutes, leave a short plan behind so that you can get back into that thought straight away. If you study longer than the 25 minutes, you can leave tired, headachy and disheartened and then return to the work with that same feeling of disillusion.
- Break your calendar into chunks and vary the activities – this helps break the cycle of doing and re-doing.
- Audible has a massive range of audio books, podcasts, etc.
- Grammarly is a great free tool for correcting your writing.
- The Codpast is an excellent blog which advises on useful apps and ideas to assist adults with dyslexia
- Mnemomics – use mnemonics as an aid to memory. There are many helpful sites out there. Joshua Fore has a great Ted Talk on memory pilates
Nicola and the student reminded everyone to keep focussing on their strengths. At the end of the workshop, students were invited to share their experiences, strategies and tips over refreshments. Feedback by attendees was uniformly positive and it was decided to repeat the event in Dublin Business School, Aungier Street on the 29th of November from 7 - 9 pm in DBS. See DBS website or contact Jane Buggle for further information: Jane.Buggle@Dbs.ie