Dyslexia In The Classroom: Stigma, Challenges & What We Can Do About It

December 3rd marks the International Day of People With Disability, designed to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability.

This year, we’re participating in IDPWD by sharing one of our community members’ stories about her experience with dyslexia in higher education: the stigma, the challenges and what we can do about it.

“The way we’re being taught at university can be hard, because I had to change aspects of content to allow myself to understand it.”

This is her story.

Where It All Started

It all started in the first year of university for this community member. It was 2015 and she was starting a Bachelor of Science, struggling terribly with exams despite her thorough understanding of the content in the classrooms.

In her words, “I had no idea what was going on with me and why, all of a sudden, learning had become so hard. It was super hard and, I guess, upsetting for me at times.”

It took two of her lecturers to notice these continual patterns and suggest that she may have dyslexia.

Following these discussions, she got diagnosed early the following year, going on 20 years old. With a newfound understanding of her challenges in the classroom, she has navigated a Bachelor’s Degree and completed her Honours this year, but the context of higher education hasn’t always made it an easy journey.

The Biggest Challenges

It wasn’t always a smooth ride for this community member, with the key challenges including dealing with stigma, misunderstanding and trying to get the right kind of support.

 “I have found a lot of people, especially academics, have thought of me as being dumb because of having dyslexia, but haven’t really understood me or the support I need.

The other challenge is trying to get the correct support needed at university (a reader, extra time for assignments, etc). The challenge was getting a disability support person who would understand your condition and knew where to provide the correct support.

All universities are different and not all support is the same.”

These challenges were present throughout her time in the higher education space, with her final year in Honours being the most challenging.

“I had a lack of support from university and found myself with a supervisor who I found really didn’t understand me. I questioned the whole reason why I was studying this degree. I experienced shame, guilt and the burden of dyslexia. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and found myself with limited support.”

Despite having strong networks of family, friends and the Dear Dyslexic community support her through her hardest year of study, she believes there’s a long way to go in making higher education more accessible for students with dyslexia.

What’s Next?

This community member was once told that she needed to understand her limitations and reconsider future career paths because of her dyslexia. This speaks to a broader pattern of misunderstanding in higher education, where it’s clear that academics, support workers and fellow students could be better educated on what dyslexia is and how to provide adequate support.

We asked this community member what advice she would give other students with dyslexia about to embark on a journey into higher education, and she said:

“Have a go! You have nothing to lose! You have a lot of potential the world needs to see. We’ll have our challenges, but the dyslexia shouldn’t stop us from achieving what we want to set out and achieve.

Have a good support team and plans in place. Do things that interest you and don’t be scared to change degrees until you find the right one for you. I live by the motto, ‘Don’t give me the answer no’.”

How You Can Help

International Day of People With Disability is important for our DDF community.

As our community member wrote, “The underlying issue with dyslexia is that it’s a hidden disability and this makes it hard for it to be recognised as a disability. I think International Day of People With Disability is important for us fellow dyslexics as it allows us to show the world what we are and what we can achieve.”


If this story has resonated with you, there are a range of ways you can get involved with International Day of People With Disability. Find out how on their website here and help us shift the needle toward a more inclusive society.