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University experiences

Fri May 09, 2008 7:13 pm

As I come to the end of my time at Cambridge (for now - there is a possibility that I may be gracing the place with my ungraceful presence for a postgraduate degree at some unknown point in the future) I have started to reflect on what my experiences here have been like. What I've enjoyed the most. What I would have done differently if I could start again. The things that would be most useful for a dyspraxic teenager to know before he or she came to university.

Disclosing my disability before I even applied to Cambridge made all the difference for me. A lady at the Disability Resource Centre helped me to compile a shortlist of colleges that would be especially suitable for my needs. We went for smallish colleges that were close to the English Faculty, so that I wouldn't be lost in a big crowd of students and would find it easy to get to lectures and classes each day. Before I made my choice, I went to Cambridge to be shown round the shortlisted colleges. One of them was ruled out because of its age - it was built in the fourteenth century and is full of narrow, twisting staircases and unexpected steps as a result. The dining room wasn't really accessible for somebody with my problems, as the seating consisted of long benches (I need a chair with arms and a back) and you had to carry your tray quite a distance to get from the servery to the tables. That left me with two colleges to choose from. I picked Selwyn because I liked the atmosphere and the location - it is very quiet and rarely discovered by tourists. If I hadn't disclosed my disability right at the start I would have had difficulty knowing which college to pick, and I might have ended up at an unsuitable one. Keep your dyspraxia in mind when you make your choices, go for a preliminary visit, and make your disability known before you apply, if possible.

Selwyn has been nothing but understanding and helpful where my difficulties are concerned. The one exception is a member of the catering team, who doesn't like me at all, largely because I've been unintentionally rude to her on several occasions and I keep holding up the queue when I'm paying. She is now deliberately rude in return. Once, when I did something wrong, she looked at the people in the queue behind me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Oh well, I tried." I was mystified, as I didn't know what she was talking about. The person behind me (a friend of mine) explained that she had asked me a question and I had appeared to ignore her totally. In reality, I was concentrating so hard on unzipping my handbag and getting my purse back in that I just didn't hear her. I suppose it might have helped if I had explained my difficulties to her at the outset of my Cambridge career, but it's too late to do so now. The other caterers understand - once I had a panic attack because the dining hall was too full, and one of the cooks (who knows very little English and has no idea about my diagnosis) took me into an empty room and let me eat there alone. Remember that your difficulties are likely to extend beyond academic work. Ensure that all the relevant people know about them, not just your tutors and lecturers.

This is especially important when it comes to arranging accommodation. I have a ground-floor room in the quietest part of college, with a rail for the toilet and an adapted shower. The first two requirements were the most important for me. I could never have coped in one of the livelier areas of college - I am too sensitive to noise and other perceptual stimuli, and stair-climbing is dangerous when I'm tired.

Perhaps the biggest piece of advice that I could give is to keep your mental health in good shape. I suffered from acute anxiety during my second year, which was triggered by the pressures of keeping myself organised and having to cope with so many people. I managed to seriously offend a student whom I didn't know very well at the end of my first year, and soon rumours were flying round college about what I had done. I was so upset and mortified. I explained to him that I was autistic, and he was extremely understanding - he forgave me without causing any fuss and we had a nice chat about a French author called Marguerite Duras. Unfortunately I couldn't go around explaining it to the other students, as I didn't even know who was responsible for which rumour. I felt vulnerable and exposed throughout the term, was snubbed repeatedly by a group of students whom I see quite a lot, and grew progressively more anxious. This was compounded by the fact that my supervisors kept rescheduling supervisions and altering the times of classes from week to week. The deterioration of my routines, and the fact that I couldn't articulate my unhappiness or my need for help to any of the others on my course, meant that I ended up having a near-breakdown over Christmas and was encouraged to consider leaving Cambridge for a year by my parents. The Disability Resource Centre stepped in once again with an offer of increased support, this time tailored to my autistic difficulties as well as to my dyspraxia, and I was able to stay.

However, I got a 2.i in my exams. This is a very respectable grade, but I had been predicted a First and it hurt to lose it - especially after getting the highest marks in my college year group for two out of three preliminary exams in the first year. If it hadn't been for the anxiety (which, unfortunately, has had a pronounced effect on my cognitive functioning that my therapist tells me will not go away until I have had some complete rest) I would have been able to get that First in second year, too.

Don't sacrifice your mental health at university. If you start to feel down or flustered or unusually stressed, don't 'wait and see' whether it goes away. Don't reason that everybody else must be feeling stressed, too, and that it's a sign of personal weakness if you can't manage it by yourself. It's not. If you feel as though you need some help, never be afraid to ask for it.

Join some clubs. I would recommend a maximum of three. Any more, and you will be too confused by all the different activities available to fully take part in any of them. I'm active in the Catholic Society, I take lessons in Hebrew, and I spent a year as the mental health officer for the student union. I also go swimming fairly regularly. This has been enough to give me a full and interesting life outside the classroom. Most dyspraxic people will need their social life to be fairly structured, which is why clubs are important, but for the sake of your work and your personal stability it's important not to get overenthusiastic with the idea and join every society going.

That's about all I can think of for now. Perhaps other DT members who are studying or have studied at university could write their suggestions and experiences here and DT members who are hoping to go to university could ask their questions.

Thanks!

Sat May 10, 2008 5:45 pm

Dear Vicky,

I just thought I would say this post has been incredibly useful- today I went to one of my shortlisted University open days (The second of two Unis that do a BSc (Hons) in Web Design- Southampton Solent.


Disclosing my disability before I even applied to Cambridge made all the difference for me.


I made it known to the Disability Support people that I have severe dyspraxia, and will require a residence near to the campus, will need assistance with some aspects of personal care, a quiet room and stuff in place for exams...

Makes me sound quite demanding actually...


I've still got to have my referall and 'Needs Assement' though- any experiences with this?

:D [/quote]

Sun May 11, 2008 10:37 pm

My needs assessment was just a long interview, in which a very nice and understanding man talked to me about my areas of difficulty and the best ways to overcome them. He prepared a report on the things that my tutors could do to help me in lectures, etc. and what equipment I ought to have to make studying easier. Whoever assesses you will have read your medical reports in detail before you go to the assessment, so they won't do any new tests with you.

I don't think you sound demanding at all - those requests are perfectly reasonable. Bear in mind that universities are used to accommodating people with extremely severe physical disabilities. There's a boy here at Cambridge who is partially paralysed and wheelchair-bound. He needs somebody to wash him in the morning and help him brush his teeth. If you just state what you need simply and honestly I don't think that anybody would assume you were being pushy - they're more used to providing support than we are to receiving it.

:)

Mon May 12, 2008 2:17 pm

Thanks Vicky,

My needs assessment was just a long interview, in which a very nice and understanding man talked to me about my areas of difficulty and the best ways to overcome them. He prepared a report on the things that my tutors could do to help me in lectures, etc. and what equipment I ought to have to make studying easier. Whoever assesses you will have read your medical reports in detail before you go to the assessment, so they won't do any new tests with you.



Thanks, I like to know whats going to happen before I do it! Out of interest, is it possible to have both a laptop and a dictaphone at uni- also how long are lectures/seminars?

I'm just worried that although a laptop is fantastic if you are talking max. of 3 hours, but I'm worried either my hands will get tired or I'll start to forget crucial things if it goes over that....



I don't think you sound demanding at all - those requests are perfectly reasonable. Bear in mind that universities are used to accommodating people with extremely severe physical disabilities. There's a boy here at Cambridge who is partially paralysed and wheelchair-bound. He needs somebody to wash him in the morning and help him brush his teeth. If you just state what you need simply and honestly I don't think that anybody would assume you were being pushy - they're more used to providing support than we are to receiving it.



That sounds reasurring! I'm a bit worried at using kitchen items idependently... (I have left the gas on before, dropped boiling objects, spilt stuff, you get the jist!) and often need reminding to do things, e.g. get washed...

If you don't mind me asking, what support did you ask for, and how much did they allow and how you went about doing it?

I also was offered at the open day a personal mentor to help keep me organised... (well, if they like a challenge !! :) )

I'm also quite worried about my sense of direction, both in and around the campus- how did you overcome this? (assuming you have problems with it aswell!).

Thanks again, that was a really, really helpful post.

Solent reasured me by telling me that they have 600 registered dyspraxic or dyslexic people and apparently are known for their great support....sounds promising!!

Mon May 12, 2008 5:47 pm

I've never heard of lectures, tutorials or seminars going on longer than two hours.

:)

Mon May 12, 2008 6:04 pm

I've never heard of lectures, tutorials or seminars going on longer than two hours.


Thats a massive relief :)

Mon May 12, 2008 8:26 pm

Some of my lectures have been 3 hhours long including a 15 minute break.

My university experience has been somewhat different. My physical coordinaation is not as bad as many of yours but I have always had problems with organisation and hte like.

-Buy lots of files and have someone help you move in and organise things. Let them talk you through it.
- Buy lots of pens and keep a pen in each individual subject folder. That way you always have a pen.
- Set reminders in your phone/pda the moment you find out an appointment time so that you have alarms going off to tell you where to be.
- Have a map to hand. Even if you can't read it yourself it will make it easier to ask people for help with directions.
- Draw maps/write directions to important places in a way that you'll understand.
-When the going gets tough and your room starts to look like a bomb site concentrate less on making it 'look' tidy and more on making sure your work is easy to find. Finding your revision notes is much more important than finding your socks.
- Ask a friend to give you an organisational top up every once in a while. Whenever a family member (or occasionally my partner) visits I ask them to help me organise my belongings.
- If you have mental health problems inform your tutors.
- Register with a doctor asap so that you may access health care if you need it. I've had a lot of trouble setting aside time to register now that I'm in the thick of it.
- Kitchen roll and cleaning wipes are a must....spillages will happen and your flat mates will not appreciate the house/flat being infested with ants!
- Make lecturers aware of the difficulties that you may face in their module early in to the course, not when the problems have begun (my mistake whoops)

:)

Mon May 12, 2008 8:50 pm

Hi Steph

Thanks for your post- I will bear that in mind!!

Ruby

Mon May 12, 2008 10:47 pm

yes do tell lecturers etc im supposed to recieve handouts but my uni are rubbish at letting lecturers know.

Re: :)

Tue May 13, 2008 6:43 pm

k9ruby wrote:Thanks, I like to know whats going to happen before I do it! Out of interest, is it possible to have both a laptop and a dictaphone at uni- also how long are lectures/seminars?

I'm just worried that although a laptop is fantastic if you are talking max. of 3 hours, but I'm worried either my hands will get tired or I'll start to forget crucial things if it goes over that....


It is possible for the people in charge of allocating DSA to give you both a laptop and a dictaphone, depending on what they think would be best for you. However, it can be difficult to get permission to use a dictaphone in lectures, as the lecture material is copyrighted. You may have to promise never to sell the tapes or share their contents with a group. In Cambridge some of the faculties get you to make this promise in writing, but this may just be because they are very eminent academics and people are actually willing to pirate and plagiarise their spoken work.

In the English Faculty here, none of the lectures are longer than fifty minutes. However, it's common to have to go to two lectures back-to-back. Then it does get tiring to type. I went to lectures in first year (I don't any more, due to problems with mental health) and if I got fatigued I would listen rather than type and compile any necessary notes afterward. Classes are different from lectures and can be up to two hours in length, but they are held in small groups and are much more interactive - when I go to a class I'm more likely to find myself having a discussion than listening and taking notes. Of course, it may be different at your university. You'd better check.

That sounds reasurring! I'm a bit worried at using kitchen items idependently... (I have left the gas on before, dropped boiling objects, spilt stuff, you get the jist!) and often need reminding to do things, e.g. get washed...

If you don't mind me asking, what support did you ask for, and how much did they allow and how you went about doing it?

I also was offered at the open day a personal mentor to help keep me organised... (well, if they like a challenge !! :) )


My college is catered, so I don't have to cook. It might be worth looking to see if it is possible to find catered accommodation for you within the university. If not, ask for a referral to an occupational therapist for help with acquiring the basic practical and safety skills needed to cook. My OT did this with me and she also gave me a lot of specially adapted kitchen equipment that I find extremely helpful when I do prepare food for myself - something that I will have to do on a regular basis once I've left Cambridge.

I'm also quite worried about my sense of direction, both in and around the campus- how did you overcome this? (assuming you have problems with it aswell!).


Cambridge is a collegiate university, so it doesn't have a campus. It has lots of colleges when students are lodged, fed, and taught in small groups, plus faculties devoted to different subjects where we have our lectures and seminars. I deliberately chose a college that was right next to my faculty (I would be able to see the English Faculty from the college garden, assuming the trees and the Divinity Faculty weren't in the way) so that I wouldn't have to go wandering about the city in search of lectures or my accommodation. As your university is campus-based as opposed to collegiate, the best thing that you could do is to ask for accommodation that is close to your main place of study or else get your mentor to accompany you to lectures at the beginning of the day. I had a mentor for the first two years, and that is the sort of thing that they can help with.

Make sure, however, that you are given a professional adult mentor and not just another student. Peer mentors can be great, but they are doing this work voluntarily out of the goodness of their hearts and they aren't properly trained to understand dyspraxia. I had a peer mentor to help me settle in and make friends. She helped me assiduously for the whole of the first term, even sending me a nice letter before I arrived at Cambridge to make me feel welcome, but by the start of the second term she seemed to assume that I had found my feet and withdrew from me. She wasn't to know that it takes me quite a long time to make friends and settle in, and of course she couldn't spend her whole time helping me - she was in the year above and had friends and activities of her own. If you do get a peer mentor, make sure they are ready to learn a bit about the nature and extent of your difficulties before they volunteer to work with you. I found a professional mentor much more helpful, as she was already used to working with autistic students and had a good grasp of what I was likely to need.

I also attend a support group for autistic students. I don't know if there is such a group where you are going, but you could enquire.

Solent reasured me by telling me that they have 600 registered dyspraxic or dyslexic people and apparently are known for their great support....sounds promising!!


That does sound good. :) Best of luck.

:)

Tue May 13, 2008 7:39 pm

Thanks for that thoughtful reply...




It is possible for the people in charge of allocating DSA to give you both a laptop and a dictaphone, depending on what they think would be best for you. However, it can be difficult to get permission to use a dictaphone in lectures, as the lecture material is copyrighted. You may have to promise never to sell the tapes or share their contents with a group. In Cambridge some of the faculties get you to make this promise in writing, but this may just be because they are very eminent academics and people are actually willing to pirate and plagiarise their spoken work.


Thanks for that- thats worth knowing. I will enquire!

In the English Faculty here, none of the lectures are longer than fifty minutes. However, it's common to have to go to two lectures back-to-back. Then it does get tiring to type. I went to lectures in first year (I don't any more, due to problems with mental health) and if I got fatigued I would listen rather than type and compile any necessary notes afterward. Classes are different from lectures and can be up to two hours in length, but they are held in small groups and are much more interactive - when I go to a class I'm more likely to find myself having a discussion than listening and taking notes. Of course, it may be different at your university. You'd better check.


I will ask...I got some email addresses of some staff so when I have had the needs assement I will check!



My college is catered, so I don't have to cook. It might be worth looking to see if it is possible to find catered accommodation for you within the university. If not, ask for a referral to an occupational therapist for help with acquiring the basic practical and safety skills needed to cook. My OT did this with me and she also gave me a lot of specially adapted kitchen equipment that I find extremely helpful when I do prepare food for myself - something that I will have to do on a regular basis once I've left Cambridge.


Thats one of the issues- all residences are self catering! However I have got some more open days to go to -UWE do the second BSc (Hons) in Web Design...but all the rest do BAs (Staffs, Birmingham city, Teeside) ... but I feel I need to see both sides before I can decide and take everything into account!



Cambridge is a collegiate university, so it doesn't have a campus. It has lots of colleges when students are lodged, fed, and taught in small groups, plus faculties devoted to different subjects where we have our lectures and seminars. I deliberately chose a college that was right next to my faculty (I would be able to see the English Faculty from the college garden, assuming the trees and the Divinity Faculty weren't in the way) so that I wouldn't have to go wandering about the city in search of lectures or my accommodation. As your university is campus-based as opposed to collegiate, the best thing that you could do is to ask for accommodation that is close to your main place of study or else get your mentor to accompany you to lectures at the beginning of the day. I had a mentor for the first two years, and that is the sort of thing that they can help with.


At the moment, the most suitable one seems to be Kimber. It is about 5 mins from the campus and has its own 'quiet area' where residents are given strict rules to comply... :) It is also split into seperate 'flats' of 6 which share both a kitchen and a living room- something that sounds good as I personally think the common room might be a bit too 'full on' - hopefully I will be able to get to know people a bit better without it just being one room, where I could be quite isolated...


Make sure, however, that you are given a professional adult mentor and not just another student. Peer mentors can be great, but they are doing this work voluntarily out of the goodness of their hearts and they aren't properly trained to understand dyspraxia. I had a peer mentor to help me settle in and make friends. She helped me assiduously for the whole of the first term, even sending me a nice letter before I arrived at Cambridge to make me feel welcome, but by the start of the second term she seemed to assume that I had found my feet and withdrew from me. She wasn't to know that it takes me quite a long time to make friends and settle in, and of course she couldn't spend her whole time helping me - she was in the year above and had friends and activities of her own. If you do get a peer mentor, make sure they are ready to learn a bit about the nature and extent of your difficulties before they volunteer to work with you. I found a professional mentor much more helpful, as she was already used to working with autistic students and had a good grasp of what I was likely to need.



I will take that on board but they didn't mention student mentors- as soon as I said I had severe dyspraxia, they immediatly replied ' Don't worry- we are used to accomdating people like you!' (RELIEF!)



I also attend a support group for autistic students. I don't know if there is such a group where you are going, but you could enquire.




Thats actually quite funny because thats one of the things thought as I went home... knowing there is 600 odd dyspraxic students thats something I will find out...who knows I might even try to start one up!



That does sound good. Smile Best of luck.


Indeed! :D :D :D [/quote]

Mon May 19, 2008 5:29 pm

I'm having a needs assessment on friday, for the pgce (teaching) course i am starting in september. I couldnt apply for any support when i applied for my degree, since i couldnt get a formal assessment of dyspraxia. But now i have had a diagnosis or whatever, means i can apply for some sort of support for my pgce course.

Not sure what they'll say at the needs assessment, but am glad to be getting it sorted. I'm going to struggle far more with the pgce than my degree, because its a completely different type of course. I am looking forward to it though. :D will let you know how it goes.

Mon May 19, 2008 5:51 pm

Lucy I do teaching atm at uni make sure if u go on teaching practice your school is aware of your difficulties you may have e.g. writing on the board etc

Mon May 19, 2008 8:58 pm

Ever since I was 5 I´ve wanted to go to university. Go to university and then become a scientist. That was all I wanted. It all sounded so simple. But now I don't even think i'll be able to complete my GCSEs. I'm crying while writing this, and i never cry. Its so hard to admit that i'm faling. All i wanted was to do well. But now i can't cope with school, I can't do any of my homework, and I mean any of it. I used to have problems with doing some of my work, but now i can't do any. And my end of year exams made me realise that I just can't cope. For two of my exams I paniked and spent the whole exam staring into space, although for one of them I managed to complete all the questions that didn't envolve much writing (so i didn't have to use a computer). And i didn't even go to another exam, i was too nervous upset and feeling unwell. This year I'm taking my Maths GCSE, i'm taking it a year early. I've taken half of it so far (one of the two papers, i have the other tomorow) and it was so much easyer than my other exams, which were just school exams and didn't mater. I even enjoyed doing the maths paper, although i was very anxious and couldn't think a couple of times. But I don't know what i'm going to do about writen exams. Its so weird, For my english exam i did well, 87% but i gues thats because it was creative writing and I enjoy doing that. But for other writen exams, like science, i find it imposible to exprese what i'm thinking in words. So I'm geting much worse results than expected there, for my multiy chocie science modules i've been geting mostly A*s (100% so far for physics) but thats becasue I don't have to write for them. I don't know what i'm going to do when i actualy have to do wrien exams. And I can't do coursework. I can't do anything. I'm completly useless at the moment. And I won't be able to do my GCSEs, or A levels or go to uni, so there isn't realy any point any more. Meh.

Mon May 19, 2008 9:31 pm

Hi,
reading your post made me feel quite sad. firstly I want to say I think you are doing really well at school taking a gcse a year early is a really great achievement in itself. We can't all be brilliant in every subject. secondly if you are struggling in certain subjects ask for some help form your teachers if you don't understand ask them to explain. Your GCSE exams are a year away you have lots of time to improve your grades and work on exam technique etc. The best thing i did when I did my GCSEs was get hold of as many past exams as possible and do them and give them back to my teachers to mark, this helped me to see where i was going wrong. I was always told to concentrate on what i could do not what i couldn't do.


I didn't do brilliantly in my GCSEs Particular English It took me 3 goes to get a C this was because dyspraxia was not being supported by my school at this time and my dyslexia had not been picked up.

I had always loved geography so did well in it at GCSE and went on to do A-level Geography for my A-levels i got 2 Ds and an E and am now at university studying geography have 2 days to go and am on track for a 2.2 I am incredably pround of my achievements I am going on to do my PGCE (Post graduate Certificate in Education) so i can become a secondary geography teacher.

Take care and good luck
Emma
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