A mature nurse student’s journey with dyslexia and dysgraphia

MSc Advancing Practice in Health Visiting student Laura Adam was only diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia at 47-years-old after meeting with the Inclusion Centre team at RGU. She shares her journey from avoiding writing in school to obtaining her first A at university after receiving the support she needed.

How have learning difficulties impacted your life before RGU?

At school, I used to talk a lot to avoid reading. Every time there was a group work, I would volunteer to do the talking because I was terrified of standing up in front of everyone and having to write on a board or scribe. This kept going throughout my nursing course in college. Reading out in class was also awful.

I had a little support in primary school, but it stopped beyond that. Because of my struggles, I was bottom of the class for English. But the interesting thing is that I obtained a 2 (equivalent of a B) for my standard grades. This is because standard grades are not only about exams. I was also assessed on projects I did throughout the year. This was the type of work that allowed me to come back to it multiple times and learn from my mistakes.

I guess my dysgraphia has also unknowingly affected the way I write. Somebody analysing my handwriting would have a tough time because I have three different styles. The way I write can depend on the day. My hand can become physically sore when I write a lot. It’s also hard for me to process my thoughts into writing and interpreting what I put down on paper.

Why did you decide to join RGU as a mature student?

Laura Adam

I have been a qualified nurse since 1996, after obtaining a diploma. Despite struggling with reading and writing, I still managed to finish school and build a career. However, I recently had to make some changes due to a chronic physical condition. This affected my ability to carry out my job.

Unfortunately, because I didn’t have a degree in nursing, I was being refused interviews for roles around my level. Being a charge nurse with lots of experience wasn’t enough. I had a sense of panic, because I had all this experience and I was being told that I needed to go back to being a junior staff nurse. Going through this physical change and struggle with redeployment started affecting my mental health.

That’s why I decided to look at some of the modules RGU offered. I started with a couple of standalone modules that I self-funded before commencing the MSc Advancing Practice in Health Visiting course, funded by NHS Grampian.

What led you to get a diagnosis with the Inclusion Centre?

The first module I did was on long term conditions, which I researched around my chronic illness. It was very challenging because I hadn’t done any academic writing before. I still managed to pass that module, but failed another. I struggled to grasp what was asked of me. The work was based more on reading than talking, which has always been harder for me. Also, everything was online at the time. And even though there was information on the websites to engage with, I needed to be able to discuss my thoughts in person to get a better understanding of the work needing to be done.

When I failed this module, I felt really upset and lost because I thought I couldn’t work at this academic level. It was frustrating because I knew this didn’t impact my ability to do my job well. Thankfully, I managed to pass the module the second time with a D. When I failed the first module of the master’s course I panicked and decided to contact the Inclusion Centre to get some support.

I had a conversation with them before Christmas in 2020, so just three months after I started my master’s. Of course, they asked about my school history, and if I would mind getting some tests done. They suggested that having a meeting with the Educational Psychologist would be beneficial.

How did your tests go?

I had a phone meeting with the Educational Psychologist after Christmas. He was a very nice person and made me feel at ease. The process lasted two hours and was actually a really emotional moment. I had to do many things that I usually shielded myself from, such as reading out loud. I was also asked to write and spell, which was exhausting.

The educational psychologist clearly recognised what I was good at and what I struggled with. Before even making his report, he knew I had dyslexia. After our appointment, I cried for lots of different reasons. Firstly, it was a very emotional exercise to go through. Secondly, I had a sense of relief because for the longest time I had been made to feel stupid because my brain worked differently.

When the Educational Psychologist report came, I was also diagnosed with dysgraphia. The diagnosis wasn’t really surprising though. My eldest daughter is dyslexic and I have a son who has ADHD and autism. So we are clearly a neurodiverse family.

What kind of support did you get after your diagnosis and how did it help you?

During the six months after my diagnosis, I went through an appeal process and the university started putting some things in place to support me. The Inclusion Centre helped me get funding with SAAS. I got a computer with programmes that can help me academically, which I was trained on by a very nice chap. I also had access to proofreading. On top of this, I was allowed to have extra time during exams. I got an additional 20 minutes, which I definitely needed. I don’t know if I would have passed my modules without it.

But what I found helped me the most was Study Skills. The Study Skills teacher I had was amazing. I had my first face-to-face meeting with her for my final essay. My youngest daughter was with me and Kerry, my tutor, told her: “you should be proud of your mum, she is amazing”. Study Skills gave me the confidence to believe in my abilities, as did the support of my academic tutor.

I recorded each meeting with Kerry to focus on our conversation and be able to come back to it later. She reassured me that I knew what I was talking about, but that I struggled to express it in writing. That’s why the recordings were very important. It’s all about learning what strategies work for you, and that’s a very individual thing.

I finished the course and final trainee placement passing everything. I got an A for one of my essays. It’s the only A I got in my whole life. I never thought I’d achieve something like that, let alone on a master’s level course. And when I read that essay back I can’t believe I actually wrote that.

What message do you have for other students with learning difficulties?

You should look at all the resources available at RGU. It’s important to contact the Inclusion Centre straightaway to have a discussion about your needs. The team there is very supportive and good at putting things in place to help you.

You should also take advantage of Study Skills. Watch the sessions that are recorded online and attend one on one tutoring. Every time you start a new module or a new piece of coursework, discuss the information with your tutor to make sure you understand properly.

All in all, there is help out there, but it doesn’t fall on your lap. Don’t be scared to ask for it. Nothing is impossible with determination and the right support!

Laura Adam

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5 responses to “A mature nurse student’s journey with dyslexia and dysgraphia”

  1. Fantastic Laura, well done you. It is such a shame that as nurses we constantly have to prove ourselves academically to progress in our career. You are right, experience counts for nothing yet more industries are now moving away from that model and will choose experience and leadership over academia.
    We have also been lied to for so long that being degree trained we will be recognised as a profession and brought in line with other professions. This argument has been heard for 25 years now and finally we are prepared to take action. It should have never have come to this. It is not all about the money but the respect. No wonder so many nurses are leaving the profession.

  2. I’m very impressed with this lady , a mature student , someone with a family and someone with learning difficulties as well as disabilities , she was able to find a way and prove that if you are determined to succeed and find a solution, you can do it. Im so proud of you, I’m now a retired RGN who came to England from the Philippines in the mid-70’s after my Uni degree, BSc. In EDUCATION. I was lucky , I finished nursing here, work as a nurse here, got married here and has a family and still lives here. I must say if you’re determined to achieve and has the drive to achieve something , you can do it.
    I’m so proud with this lady, you should be proud like your mum, Shirley Adams and you can reached, achieve anything. Reach up the skies and you have everything ahead of you. Regards to your family and take care.

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