Hidden Disabilities

Anas Dayeh, Disabilities Officer TT22

On the 30th of April, I was on a podcast by Left Whingers (@Left_Whingers on Twitter) to talk about hidden disabilities and the experiences I’ve had throughout my life as a result of having dyslexia.

I’ve always found academic life difficult. If you were to say to 14-year-old Anas that he would be studying at Oxford in a few years’ time, then he would have said that you’re lying. I had incredibly poor performance in school, getting 50/100 in Chemistry and barely passing other subjects. As I was living in the Middle East at the time, where awareness about Dyslexia and ADHD wasn’t widespread. If you’re performing badly at school, then it’s just your intelligence level to blame.

A few years later I moved to the UK. I spent one year studying BTECs, then switched to A Levels. For the first 2 years of my education managing my dyslexia was certainly still difficult. I knew there was something wrong with my ability to spell correctly, focus on my assignments, and finish my essay within the time limit. One of my teachers constantly mentioned my spelling mistakes and even factored them in the marking of essays. That resulted in grades of D, E and Us, something which seriously brought down my academic confidence. These low grades, my spelling mistakes, and my reduced motivation added to the perception some teachers had of my educational ambition, with one directly telling me a few weeks before the Oxbridge application deadline “Anas, I don’t think you’re the Oxford type”.

The reason dyslexia wasn’t part of the college’s consideration was that an assessment hadn’t yet been carried out. Since Year 12, I asked multiple times for any sort of assessment to find the reason behind the educational problems I was facing. I was told that I’m ‘too old’ to have one, as ‘those sorts of assessments are usually done in primary and secondary school’. My Sixth Form simply did not have the facilities or the administrational capacity to assess any student for Dyslexia.

Later in Year 13, just before my A-level exams, my sixth form finally agreed to do a ‘special circumstances’ assessment. This gave me 25% extra time in exams, and meant I could type my exams instead of handwriting them. With that, my performance improved massively. My slow handwriting and spelling difficulties were finally addressed, and these extra adjustments helped me be on an equal playing field with other students in my class.

So why should it take so long? How many students out there are finding studying difficult simply because of conditions they have no control over? This is not just a matter of passing an upcoming exam, it’ll have consequences on an individual’s long-term future. If students couldn’t get the grades they need, then they might miss out on university places. In turn this can result in lost opportunities, such as not having the qualifications to make it to a career they enjoy and are talented in.

To solve this, and to make sure young people can harness their full potential, the government should provide assessments of all hidden disabilities. Waiting lists should be brought down for ADHD assessments, and the process itself should be made easier.

It is important that the government acts now, as otherwise there will be many students losing out, and blaming themselves for something they have no control over.

Personal experiences give really valuable insight into how we can open up access to people of all abilities. As the disabilities officer, I’ve been committed to applying this to our wonderful club, as I’m sure the next officer will. If you want to share any ideas, concerns or problems you may have faced then please feel free to get in touch.

You can listen to the podcast episode on all the following platforms:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/hidden-disabilities/id1518646155?i=1000559184579

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