Case Study – Psychology and Language / Comprehension Difficulties

The following case study was taken from: IPDPS – Improving Provision for Disabled Psychology Students project, HEFCE Strand Two Project, Universities of York, Middlesex and Aston, (information extracted and accessed December 2006).


Jennifer was diagnosed with dyslexia at the end of her first year of studying for a psychology degree. It has an impact on her ability to read journal articles and other text, do statistics, read, and take down numbers from slides. Despite these difficulties she’s just started a PhD in psychology, having obtained an excellent undergraduate degree through extremely hard work and determination: “Little did they know that I worked up until 3-4 in the morning on many occasions, as it would sometimes take me ages to read through some of the journals I was using”. However, additional understanding and support from academic and support staff could have made the process much less stressful.

She found that, while some lecturers wanted to do everything for her when she revealed that she had dyslexia, others thought it meant she was unable to do statistics or needed a great deal of extra support. However, in many cases all that was required was something relatively minor – for example, to have information on a handout so that she wouldn’t be required to take down material from a slide. Unfortunately, with some academic staff this requirement just didn’t seem to sink in, meaning that Jennifer would have to keep repeating her request, which was quite embarrassing in front of the rest of the class.

Although she passed the statistics module, Jennifer had great difficulty with the subject area. “The only way I got through it was by going back to basics in terms of having to work out equations by hand – it was the only way I was going to grasp the concepts, and I had to pay for extra tuition as the amount of time allotted for statistics wasn’t enough,” she explains. Whilst her department made some attempt to assist all students with statistical difficulties, putting on extra statistics classes for students with dyslexia, the person who took these was not very approachable and appeared to just run through the same notes used in lectures, thereby undercutting what potentially could have been a useful support mechanism.

Alternative exam arrangements have been made for Jennifer, such as extra time, and a separate room. However, recently the disability unit has not been so helpful, with one staff member commenting that she couldn’t see why Jennifer would want a top-up assessment, given that she had managed to get a first in her undergraduate degree.

There was also a breakdown of communication between the disability unit and lecturing staff, with one lecturer not knowing that alternative exam arrangements had been made for Jennifer and other disabled students in her class. Rather than waiting for the students to return to the lecture hall after their in-class assessment, he started the second part of the lecture and publicly reprimanded Jennifer for being late, which caused her much embarrassment.

Jennifer states: “It did surprise me that there were a few psychology lecturers who didn’t seem to have any understanding of dyslexia. Thankfully the majority of the department had an understanding, but those few who are not can make things very difficult for someone like myself”.


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