How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties at College and University: A Review

Dr Rob Hillier, Senior Lecturer and Year One Co-ordinator of BA Graphics at the Norwich University of the Arts, and creator of dyslexia-friendly font Sylexiad, has recently reviewed Amanda Kirby’s new book How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties  at College and University, published next month as part of our Human Horizons series. He has kindly allowed us to reproduce his review in full here on our blog.

Read his review in full below, or click here to read Amanda Kirby’s top tips for starting at university:

With a week to go before the arrival of the undergraduate Year One cohort at Norwich University of the Arts, this book serves as a timely reminder of the challenges facing those students, particularly those with specific learning conditions. Amanda Kirby offers such students (and their parents), some clear and comprehensive advice about coping with what can often be a mystifying, intimidating and daunting experience.

She writes in an uncomplicated and succinct manner offering practical advice across a wide range of potential issues including organisational skills, independent living, study skills, socialising and preparing for the workplace.  Kirby understands her audience well and the breadth of sound advice she offers is impressive. Her writing style is always matter-of-fact and never condescending. This unambiguous delivery is supported by clear texts that often take the form of bullet-pointed lists and a simple page layout design that uses an appropriately large and well-leaded typeface.

The non-linear nature of the lists, the purposefully un-academic tone of the text and the visually friendly and warm typographic style makes the information Kirby has to impart easy to access not only for readers with specific learning conditions, but, I would argue, for all undergraduate starters. I will therefore be recommending the book to my colleagues involved in the NUA peer assisted learning scheme, student support and those academics involved in the delivery of the Year One undergraduate programme.

Many thanks to Dr Hillier for allowing us to reproduce his review here in full.

How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties at College and University is published next month in paperback and as an e-book. Specially designed in a dyslexia-friendly typeface, it contains links to useful resources for students with specific learning difficulties.

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Author Corner: Amanda Kirby’s top tips for starting at university

Read more posts in our Author Corner

Professor Amanda Kirby’s new book, How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties at College and University is published next month as part of the Souvenir Press Human Horizons series, and is the ultimate resource for new students with learning difficulties. It offers advice on tailoring your study methods to suit you, links to loads of helpful online resources and apps, and contains tips for living independently, covering everything from cooking to meeting new people.

In short: your one-stop guide to starting at college and university.

But for now you can have a read of her guest blog, new in our Author Corner, giving you ten (OK, eleven) top tips for starting college and university.

Read on for Amanda Kirby’s guest blog, or click here to read a sample of her new book How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties at College and University.

Amanda Kirby’s 10 top tips for starting at college or university with Specific Learning Difficulties

  1. Be prepared.
    This can seem too easy to say and quite hard to do. The more you know about your college or university before you start there then the easier it will be to settle down, make friends and get the most from your course, and the experience of studying where you have chosen. This means finding out what support is available if you recognise you have had some difficulties with learning, or with communicating.
  2. Contact student services- ask what help is available.
    You usually need some documentation to say what your learning difficulties are. If you don’t have this then they should be able to organise an assessment for you, but you may have to pay something for this. They can offer help with assignments, study skills , exam provision etc.
  3. Be as organised as you can be.
    Find out what you need to do in the first few days of your arrival. Read any information sent to you. It has been usually designed to be as helpful as possible. If you are not sure contact the college and ask what is expected of you and what do you need to bring with you.
  4. Sort out your finances.
    You will probably need a bank account in university. Make an initial plan of your spending for the term. If you are not sure how to do this then ask your parents or someone who can help you with budgeting. Planning ahead can minimise large overdrafts and years of debts.
  5. Get your kit together.
    If you are moving to university, then you will need some basic kit to take with you such as stuff for work e.g. laptop, paper for printer, notebook and stuff for your room and kitchen. However different halls of residences will have different rules e.g. bedding (not all universities require this), pots and pans, kettle etc. Use colour coding to help you find things easily e.g. different folders for different topics.
  6. Be prepared to talk (and listen) to new people- the first few days is a crucial time to make friends.
    Everyone is new and nearly everyone will be nervous. Try to smile. Ask people about themselves at the same time giving something away about yourself e.g. “ Hi, I am John from Cardiff, and am studying medicine, where do you come from?”
  7. Don’t stay in your room if you are in a hall of residence.
    Have your door open, have some tea, coffee, biscuits and some beer/wine (if you drink alcohol) that you can offer others.
  8. Get to know the area.
    Find out where and when the buses run; where the local ATM is; the pub and sports facilities.
  9. Go to any sessions on using the library and study skills that are offered
    These can be of enormous help and often will give you a big advantage when having to write a first assignment.
  10. Ask for help- don’t wait till things go wrong.
    If you are struggling emotionally or with work, discuss this with parents, or go to see student services.

And one extra tip for you:

Most of all have fun! But remember: while college and university is a great opportunity to learn all sorts of things about yourself it is also about getting a qualification.

On the rise: Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Autism

Last week the results of a new study by academics at UCL and Goldsmiths revealed that up to 10% of children are affected by specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and autism. In real terms, this translates to two or three pupils per class.

With the numbers of children affected higher than previously thought, bringing the right information to parents and teachers should clearly be a priority. For teachers, SEN training is not yet compulsory, meaning that children with specific learning difficulties may not receive all the support they require. For a parent, realising that your child thinks differently to you – not just what they think, but the way their brain works – adds a whole new challenge to the early years, the school years, the teenage years and beyond.

Souvenir Press is one of the leading publishers on specific learning disabilities. But with more and more parents going online to get advice and information, take a look below at some of the fantastic resources we’ve found online:

  • Read the full report on the learning disabilities study, from Science Daily
  • Check out Netbuddy – an online community with a wealth of practical tips from people with first-hand experience of learning disability, autism and special needs
  • A Boy With Aspergers is a very interesting parent blog, and is one of the Tots100 top parent bloggers for April
  • Looking for Blue Sky is another popular parent blog, described as “special needs and other stuff”
  • In fact, take a look at this list of the top 20 UK Special Needs Parenting Blogs

If you’re a parent of a child with specific learning disabilities, we’d love to hear from you. What online resources do you recommend? Does your child receive all the support they need in school? Leave us a comment at the bottom of this post.

And if that’s not enough, here are three fantastic books from us at Souvenir Press:

The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis is one of the few books on dyslexia written by someone with dyslexia. One of the best-selling education books in the world, the Davis Method outlined in the book is taught in over 40 countries worldwide.

Dyspraxia by Amanda Kirby, the UK’s leading authority on Dyspraxia, and the mother of a dyspraxic child. It is a practical guide for parents, giving a comprehensive outline of what dyspraxia is and how it can affect a child, as well as giving advice as to how best to overcome the difficulties caused by dyspraxia.

Autism with Severe Learning Difficulties by Rita Jordan is a classic in its field, a practical and straightforward guide that will be invaluable to parents and carers alike.

Dyslexia Awareness Week

This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week 2012, and in the run up to this there have been a few interesting news articles about dyslexia doing the rounds. Most interesting, in my opinion, is this one from the BBC about the OpenDyslexic font – a free-to-use font designed to help people with dyslexia read online content.

At Souvenir Press we may not design fonts, but we do have a wonderful book called THE GIFT OF DYSLEXIA, which is one of the best-selling education books in the world, providing the practical skills that allow students of all ages to express their innate gifts and succeed in their lives. It has been praised by places including ‘Disability Now’ and ‘Times Educational Supplement’, and is held in high regard by those who have read it, as you will see from customer reviews on the Amazon product page.

“Presented in a dyslexia friendly style… I would recommend this book, both for people with dyslexia and parents and teachers. It describes the problems so well, but even more importantly it radiates optimism and encouragement and offers a programme for success.” – ‘Disability Now’

Related reading:

Dyspraxia: Developmental Co-ordination Disorder: The Hidden Handicap by Amanda Kirby

The Fear of Maths: How to Overcome It by Steve Chinn

The Elephant in the Classroom: Helping Children Learn and Love Maths by Jo Boaler