How disability has changed my educational experience — Scope | Disability forum
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How disability has changed my educational experience

NatalieW Member Posts: 4 Connected

I’m Natalie, I’m 21 and I have dyspraxia and mild cerebral palsy. I blog about my experiences as someone with dyspraxia/CP, which can be found at The Blog With One Post. I’m a psychology student and will soon be starting my Master’s.

Having been in education for the past 17 years, I can certainly say my experiences have been different to those of others. Some of the areas my dyspraxia and cerebral palsy affect are my balance, coordination, fine and gross motor skills, concentration, thought processing and fatigue. My primary school didn’t know much about dyspraxia at all (and I hadn’t been diagnosed with CP at the time), so I didn’t really get any support during primary school. Thankfully my secondary school were much more understanding and I was given various extra support including extra time, a laptop and rest breaks for exams. At university I have been provided with a variety of equipment through DSA, such as a voice recorder, arm rests for my desk and assistive technology (notetaking software, mindmapping software, speech-to-text software and text-to-speech software).

Laptop on a desk with arm rests

So firstly, there’s the direct effects of my disability on my educational experience. For example, having difficulties with handwriting meant that I used a laptop to make notes in lessons at school. A slower processing speed meant that I would take longer to complete homework than others would. Struggling with fatigue (particularly during sixth form) meant that I would often come home from school and not be able to concentrate on homework/revision at all, adding to the concentration difficulties I already have as a result of dyspraxia. Any subjects involving coordination or good motor skills were also a huge struggle – P.E., music, art, textiles etc.

Secondly, there are the resulting effects of having a disability in terms of my educational experience. For me, many of these are due to having a hidden disability (although I have ataxic cerebral palsy, it is very mild – and dyspraxia is a hidden disability). At the start of a new school year I would get my laptop out in the lesson and would be faced with questions asking “Why are you using a laptop?” , “Will you be using it all the time?” – not just from peers but from teachers too!

Luckily my school had a fantastic learning development department, so if I had any problems such as this I would go to the SENCo’s office during break and lunch times. Whilst it was reassuring to know that issues such as this would be sorted, it also meant that I would sometimes miss bits of break and lunchtime. Similarly, at university I would sometimes spend breaks between lectures attending my one to one study support sessions (I have this support provided via Skype now which works much better for me). 

My dyspraxia also affects me socially – for example, I find it harder to make new friends and I struggle to keep up with conversations in big groups of people. This affected me a lot during both primary and secondary school. Thankfully, during my more recent years of education – sixth form and university – my friends have been really understanding.

Natalie smiling

On the other hand, having a disability has certainly changed my educational experience in many positive ways. The fact that everything takes me longer to do than it does for others has made me determined and hard-working. Having a disability has even influenced my career path! I’d love to become an educational psychologist and hopefully change how others experience education in a positive way, helping to ensure people have the right support in place. Without going through education with a disability, I certainly don’t think I’d feel as passionate about this as I do. Whilst having a disability has made certain aspects of education more challenging, I definitely wouldn’t change it due to the positive effects it has had.

Let us know what your experiences are! Aside from the struggles you may have had, has disability impacted your educational experience in a positive way?


  • painter
    painter Member Posts: 52 Pioneering
    Hi Natalie, well done for getting to university and now starting your masters.  Its great that you have had lots of help to enable you to study line everyone else.  My son is doing an OU degree in history.  The DSA have been very helpful but i was interested in your note taking software.  What exactly is that??
  • NatalieW
    NatalieW Member Posts: 4 Connected
    Hi @painter, thank you! It’s audio notetaker software. It allows me to have the audio from lectures next to the PowerPoint slides and my own notes - each of these has it’s own panel. So it’s mainly used for making notes in lectures, but has other uses too. You can use it for your own revision notes as a different way of getting your thoughts down, or can use it as a way of organising different pieces of research for an essay. I’ve found it really helpful! Probably the most useful out of all the assistive software actually. 
  • painter
    painter Member Posts: 52 Pioneering
    Hi Natalie.  David is just starting his second year.  Due to the brain injury he needs to have everything in written form.  His brain only takes in so much verbally, yet he can read something and it immediately stays in!!  We are hoping to arrange for someone to sit in and take notes when he goes to a tutorial.  As its OU this only happens every 3 wks or so but likely to increase. We'll get around it some way!!
  • Chloe_Scope
    Chloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,545 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @painter, DSA do offer a notetaker so I hope you are able to get this sorted and in place. If not, the uni themselves may be able to provide something!

  • NatalieW
    NatalieW Member Posts: 4 Connected
    @painter hope you’re able to get the support sorted! 
  • painter
    painter Member Posts: 52 Pioneering
    Thank you everyone.  Will let you know how he gets on.  He is raring to go now, all his books etc have just arrived.

  • TammyJayne
    TammyJayne Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Hi Natalie. 
    Thank you so much for posting your story, it really is moving. And congratulations on going for your masters. I wish you all the luck in the world, you deserve it. 
    I would like to say that your case is isolated, unfortunately I can't.
    I'm a learning assistant in a primary school, I specialise in SEND. I see this a lot. And I've been through hell and back while I was learning. I still do, I'm dyslexic and dyscalculia. My maths is really bad that I have to ask how to do the lessons on a daily basis. 
    With the right support and care we can get on in life and have jobs we love.
    So keep going, your doing great
  • DavidOnline
    DavidOnline Member Posts: 34 Courageous
    Hi all... I found this interesting... And this might help, which I took from Wikipedia:  

    Wikipedia: Like they did in childhood, adults with cerebral palsy experience psychosocial issues related to their CP, chiefly the need for social support, self-acceptance, and acceptance by others. Workplace accommodations may be needed to enhance continued employment for adults with CP as they age. Rehabilitation or social programs that include Salutogenesis may improve the coping potential of adults with CP as they age

    Salutogenesis is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. Focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis);  concerned with the relationship between health, stress, and coping.

    Sense of coherence
    The "sense of coherence" is a theoretical formulation that provides a central explanation for the role of stress in human functioning. "Beyond the specific stress factors that one might encounter in life, and beyond your perception and response to those events, what determines whether stress will cause you harm is whether or not the stress violates your sense of coherence." Antonovsky defined Sense of Coherence as:

    "a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring though dynamic feeling of confidence that (1) the stimuli deriving from one's internal and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable and explicable; (2) the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by these stimuli; and (3) these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement." 

    In his formulation, the sense of coherence has three components:

    Comprehensibility: a belief that things happen in an orderly and predictable fashion and a sense that you can understand events in your life and reasonably predict what will happen in the future.
    Manageability: a belief that you have the skills or ability, the support, the help, or the resources necessary to take care of things, and that things are manageable and within your control.
    Meaningfulness: a belief that things in life are interesting and a source of satisfaction, that things are really worthwhile and that there is good reason or purpose to care about what happens.

    According to Antonovsky, the third element is the most important. If a person believes there is no reason to persist and survive and confront challenges, if they have no sense of meaning, then they will have no motivation to comprehend and manage events. His essential argument is that "salutogenesis" depends on experiencing a strong "sense of coherence". His research demonstrated that the sense of coherence predicts positive health outcomes.

    The sense of coherence with its three components meaningfulness, manageability and understandability has also been applied to the workplace.

    Meaningfulness is considered to be related to the feeling of participation and motivation and to a perceived meaning of the work, with Job control and with task significance; employees have more authority to make decisions concerning their work and the working process. 

    The manageability component is considered to be linked to job control as well as to access to resources. It has also been considered to be linked with social skills and trust. Social relations relate also to the meaningfulness component.

    The comprehensibility component may be influenced by consistent feedback at work, for example concerning the performance appraisal.

    Several studies concluded that adults with CP need greater knowledge and understanding to enhance decision-making processes about their health. 

    The studies reviewed also provide knowledge for healthcare and social service providers who care for adults with CP to better understand how psychosocial health can be preserved during the ageing process.
  • debbiedo49
    debbiedo49 Member Posts: 2,904 Disability Gamechanger
    Love this thread. I like to learn but having anxiety I have become restricted in how to learn and gain qualifications. Recovering from agorophobia I tried to go to my local learning centre and take on a course but it was too much at the time and I failed to carry on. Later I found out about individual funding for courses and found some online as well as distance learning. Just achieving one module at a time has given me confidence to carry on. Then I tried adult learning team for tailored courses locally and was able to try going again to small group courses locally where there has been compassion for people’s personal needs. I still enjoy learning online as well. This has been a positive experience for me in many ways and has been helping my recovery. Give it a go!


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