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Dyslexia and science: an inside view

Dyslexia and science: an inside viewAnthony Brewer is in his third year of a physics degree at the University of Leicester but after failing his GCSE exams at school, he started working in a factory that made TV aerials and his future did not look quite so exciting.

Why I failed at school

I enjoyed school but I was never very good at it. I failed all but one of my GCSE exams, and I only took six!

At school I couldn’t read very well, my spelling was dreadful and I thought the work was very hard. I acted like I didn’t do the work because I couldn’t be bothered; I thought it better that people think of me as being lazy rather than stupid. I pretended not to worry and made a joke out of it, but really I did care. Nobody likes to feel unintelligent and when you try at something but can’t do it, it really knocks your confidence.

After school I spent 12 uneventful months working in the TV aerial factory. Eventually I decided to expand my horizons a little and so I went to college to repeat my GCSEs. It was the teachers at the college who suggested that I may be dyslexic and finding this out was a massive relief. With some help I found ways to learn that suited me better and for the first time in my life I was beginning to understand the work in class. I was absolutely amazed that things began to make sense and after some hard work I started to do well. I left college with six GCSEs, three A-levels and more importantly I had confidence in myself.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin (in the brain) and can cause a range of problems in reading, spelling, speech and mathematics, but with some help and learning techniques many of these problems can be overcome.

Can dyslexic students go to university?

The simple answer to this question is yes, absolutely. Dyslexia should not be a barrier to any person going to university, and coping with dyslexia is often much easier at university than it is at school.

At university you study mostly by yourself, at your own pace and in styles that suit you best. The university will do all that they can to help, such as giving you extra time in examinations. Disabled Student Allowance is also available to dyslexic students to pay for photocopying and any special equipment you may need such as a laptop, speech recognition software and mind mapping software.

Personally, I get an extra 15 minutes for every hour of an exam, which in a standard three hour exam gives me 45 minutes more than everyone else. But it is just as well I get this extra time, otherwise I would never be able to finish an exam.

Can dyslexic people do science?

Many famous scientists and thinkers are thought to have been dyslexic, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison to name just a few. Stephen Hawkins considers himself as dyslexic and thinks that dyslexia caused him problems at school.

Dyslexia is by no means a recipe for a successful scientist and the majority of scientists are not dyslexic, however many dyslexic scientist view their dyslexia in a positive light and feel it helps them in science.

How I feel about my dyslexia

Personally I wouldn’t change the fact that I’m dyslexic. Sure, there are things which I find hard to do, such as writing essays and lab reports and it takes me longer to read text books and lecture notes but there are also things that I am good at. I think in pictures and I am very visual and so I particularly enjoy laboratory work and I think my dyslexia helps me in this. I am also very good at problem solving; I don’t get caught up in minor details but see the bigger picture.

No one in my family has ever studied past GCSEs or went to sixth form and initially I had no intentions or even dreams of going to university, so I feel very fortunate to be here and I feel that if I can do it then anyone can. After my degree I intend to do a PhD in experimental physics and after that who knows where I will end up?

If you are dyslexic or think you may be dyslexic then I hope that this article has been of some use. If like me you find school hard, the only advice I can give is to keep trying. If you’re prepared to put the effort in, you can overcome any problems that you may face with dyslexia and achieve what ever it is you want to achieve, and studying physics is unique in that the sky really is the limit.

If you want to find out more about dyslexia and action you can take to help with study take a look at Dyslexia Action.