Dyslexia and Art School

Dyslexia is a common distinction of the creative individual, with many young people attending art college falling into similar statistics as follows.

At Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design research by Dr Steffart found that three-quarters of the 360 art foundation students assessed have a form of dyslexia. Dr Steffart designed a series of six tests of verbal, written and spatial ability for the students. Their intellectual and visual spatial skills were at a superior level – but they had many problems with reading, writing and spelling. Independent

We know that this can cause great barriers to some subjects but you would imagine that art and design would be an area that if you were struggling with dyslexia then things would be much easier.

However, I work with students in my role at Portfolio Oomph supporting them making an application to art college or creative courses at University. One thing that has struck me, in the last 8 years since the inception of the colleges/unis using a digital portfolio to assess a student’s skills and creative capabilities, how much the organisational ability that is affected by dyslexia can really disadvantage a student.

The creation of a digital portfolio is a digitising of a student’s portfolio (drawings, paintings, sculptures etc) and arranging it to clearly demonstrate the creative process. Each college, and sometimes each course, has differing guidelines on how many images they require. They request your images categorised into research / development, final outcomes and often context (the artists and designers you are inspired by and your influences). The pixel size is limited as is the file size and type, to 200kb or 1mb of .jpeg format.

If you’re bamboozled by this, you’d not be alone.

For some courses the digital portfolio is the first part of the selection process and if they rank highly here, they will be called for interview. Other colleges use only the digital portfolio (along with their UCAS application) to select potential students.

Furthermore, many courses ask for a 500 word statement in addition to the UCAS statement, which is yet another challenge to write concisely and succinctly with passion and relevancy for their subject and college.

Art college is not just about painting pictures these days, has it ever been? More and more there is an expectation that the student’s application imbues an intellectual ability via the portfolio, UCAS statement, 500 word statement and interview. As Dr Steffart’s research defines, creative students can be intellectually gifted and their art can be the vehicle. However, if they struggle to organise and prepare sufficiently this can be critical.

So, to summarise, some courses have a 4 tier selection process requiring sustained organisation, time management and planning over a period of approx. 7 months.

The competition for creative courses is high and it’s because of this that I established Portfolio Oomph, an online hub to practically support students in all aspects of making applications to creative further and higher education.

Making a plan and being organised, thinking ahead from September about what each college requires, deadlines, content etc. is a good start to the year when you’re applying. Ensuring that you have a personal interest in your idea/themes is essential so that you can more easily express your commitment and passion for it. Use­­ the colleges’ language when talking about ‘trying things out’, ‘making mistakes’ (which are important parts of the creative process and need to be celebrated!) use research, development etc.

Finally, like most things, there is help and support out there if you seek it.

 Written by: Julie Read is the founder of Portfolio Oomph 

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Dyslexia, Mental Health and Stigma

Dyslexia is not a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect one’s mental health and it can often lead to a mental illness, like depression or anxiety, because of the ripple effect dyslexia can have on one’s whole life – from brain processing, to self-esteem, to work, to independence and isolation. However, the words ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ still carry a lot of stigma. So, if you’re finding the label dyslexia stigmatising, it’s likely you’ll also hate any other labels, especially relating to your mental health.

Well, here’s my opinion: Having mental health difficulties is no less stigmatising than having physical health problems. It’s all part of being part of this world.

  • Let’s look at asthma. You get medicine for that when needed. You avoid certain environments, pets, or hill walking, to not provoke an asthma attack. You get regular check-ups. You talk openly about it. You even write it down on forms, declaring it without a second thought. It’s perfectly fine. You can’t help it. You were born that way. Your body isn’t functioning like people without asthma but that’s ok.
  • If you break a leg, you get a cast on it. You avoid mountain climbing and running etc. People will ask you openly what happened and you’ll answer as keenly. You get help and support – maybe even a physio. You know you’re currently limited in how you can live your life, but it doesn’t define you.
  • You’re off sick with the flu. You’ve been to the doctor; they prescribed rest and fluids. You stay off work. You tell your manager – you even throw in an extra cough for emphasis. You moan to anyone who’ll listen because a bit of extra pity feels good. You binge watch TV and stay in bed all day. People tell you to relax and offer their help. You might even get your meals served in bed. It’s nice.
  • You can’t get out of bed because you’re feeling depressed. You watch TV but then feel guilty. You don’t want to tell your manager the real reason you can’t come into work. You don’t tell your friends either because you did once, and was told to ‘get over it’. Why are you even depressed, you ask yourself? Life’s good. What do you have to be upset about? Ok, so you did have that ‘thing’ the other day where you were put on the spot and you couldn’t read what you were asked or write what you were supposed to. It reminds you of the other children laughing at you at school. It wasn’t fine. It made you feel lonely. You’ve been told you have dyslexia. It’s not nice. You don’t want to declare it on forms. You feel you should somehow be able to overcome it, unlike asthma. It defines you, unlike a broken leg.

Why is a broken body acceptable? Why is breaking your leg ok, but struggling with your mind because you were born that way, not? How do we hope to change the stigma if we do it to ourselves?

I have dyslexia and am currently trying to find out if I also have dyspraxia. I found these terms very stigmatising once, until I realised it explained all the things about me that I hadn’t been able to understand; the things I had criticised myself for – and instead of stigmatised I felt freed. It was a release. After all, the many names I’d called myself throughout the years were labels too, like ‘stupid’ or ‘clumsy’. However, all the self-doubts I’d had growing up, led to low self-esteem and spells of depression.

I still get anxious when I’m asked to read out loud, but instead of letting that anxiety build, I just say I don’t want to as I’m dyslexic and that’s that. I also say whenever it comes up that I have depression and what I’ve found is that every time I’m honest – instead of pushing people away or feeling ashamed – other people feel braver and say they have problems too. My honesty, instead of isolating me, brings me closer to others. My openness about my struggles breeds inclusion instead of exclusion. That doesn’t mean everyone ‘gets it’ or accepts it – there are still judgemental people out there and there always will be – but it’s not about being accepted by others anymore; it’s about being accepted by myself and I now do, which has taken away from my sense of stigma.

Terese Smith – guest blogger

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I found these TED Talks very inspirational and helpful. Maybe you will too:

Emotional first aid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2hc2FLOdhI

Vulnerability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Shame: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0

Thank you for reading and I hope you found this post interesting. What’s your experience of stigma? Have you seen examples of – or experienced – how dyslexia can lead to other mental health problems? Any advice on how to cope and feel better? Please comment below.