On the morning of my recent exam I received a text from my mum saying, “Remember to take your purple glasses!” That wasn’t because she hoped I would wow the examiners with my unusual fashion sense; the colour of my glasses reduces the effects of the visual stress associated with my dyslexia. In natural light, they don’t make much of a difference to me, but in artificial light they help me to read faster. In exams, it’s important to read fast, and let’s face it, they’re usually held in rooms with terrible lighting.
Different colours work for different people, and they don’t work for everyone. My purple lenses were prescribed for me at a specialist optician, but you can also experiment with different coloured paper, or computer screen backgrounds. You can even get transparent coloured plastic sheets to place over your computer or papers.
Colours are only one of the resources that can help. When I was a teenager I also got extra time in exams, because I couldn’t write as quickly as my peers. (Not so that anyone could read it, anyway.) These days I don’t really need that anymore, and I don’t have that many exams fortunately. But if your or your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia you can ask the school about extra time for exams, or being allowed to use a computer instead of handwriting.
Of course, life isn’t just about exams. In everyday life there are little things you can do to it easier for yourself if you’re on the dyslexia spectrum. As well as different colours, different fonts can make things better or worse. Studies have shown that fonts without serifs are easier for dyslexics to read. (Serifs are the little decorative lines at the ends of strokes.) Putting text in italics, on the other hand, make reading much harder.
Some of the best fonts for dyslexics are Helvetica, Verdana and Courier, which are available in most word processing programs. You can write your own documents in these fonts. If someone sends you anything in a Word file (.doc or.docx) you can also change the font to whatever you prefer – and maybe add a background colour, too.
So that’s reading – what about writing? Text-to-speech technology is much more widely available than it was. By downloading some software, you can dictate to your computer instead of writing on it. And with smartphones it’s even easier. Most have built-in apps that let you compose and send text messages, or search the web, without typing a word: OK Google, how do you spell ‘convenient’?
(You can find out more about assistive technology in this recent post.)
You can also set reminders on your phone, of course. That’s useful if you tend to forget important appointments, or even just to get the mince out of the freezer. And there are techniques that can improve your memory, things like memory palaces and using vivid images to ‘fix’ memories. There isn’t room to go into those techniques here, but anyone, dyslexic or not, can learn to use the brain they’ve got more effectively. And as a final backup, you can always get your mum to text you a reminder 😉
What are your top tips for handling dyslexic life? Let me know in the comments below.
Guest blogger, Karen Murdarasi