Query from a prospective grad student

A prospective grad student has sent the following query to Disabled Philosophers:

I have been diagnosed with two major learning disabilities: Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder. Given the doubt and outright disbelief about both being serious diagnoses, I am reluctant to mention either on my grad school applications despite the fact that the mention would go a long way to explaining the apparent inconsistencies in my academic record. One of them is easily treatable via psychopharmaceuticals, the other is simply a fact of life that makes spelling and arithmetic take longer. What I would like to hear about from the community is this: is it worth the trouble to mention these as disabilities?

Since Disabled Philosophers isn’t a discussion forum, we thought we’d post this here instead. What do readers think?

7 thoughts on “Query from a prospective grad student

  1. My fiance graduated from Harvey Mudd a year later than his freshmen class because he has A.D.D and Dyslexia. His learning disability wasn’t diagnosed prior to college because his high school grades were so good, no one noticed. It wasn’t until college, where he was in a school that could academically challenge him that his disability was caught. He takes medicine for it and has succeeded. Fast-forwarding to recent past, he faced this challenging question often. When he was job-seeking, he wondered if he should be brutally honest and tell his employer asking him “what his biggest weakness was” about the A.D.D./Dyslexia bit. For employer, we thought “no.” But I would think that in academia, facing adversity square in the face, laughing at it, and triumphing over it to get where you are now, would pose in your favor as you’ve shown you can overcome it. So, after all that, I think “yes.”

  2. Contact the Disability Support Service (or equivalent – they tend to have a ridiculously wide range of names) at some of the places you’re considering applying to. Ask if you can talk with them in confidence about the support that would be available in graduate school; as Nicola’s story suggests, the impact of both ADD and dyslexia can become more and more significant as the size and complexity of your writing tasks increase, so you may find that seeking support stops being optional later on in the program. You want to know the schools you’re looking at have good support.

    And then, if you feel comfortable discussing it with whoever you’ve contacted, talk with them about your concerns. It won’t be the first time they’ve talked with someone who isn’t sure whether it will be better or worse to disclose.

  3. I have dyslexia but I didn’t mention it much during my very rigorous masters program. I never took notes in class because of the difficulty of translating words I hear out loud into written words (anyone with dyslexia will understand what I mean) so sometimes other students would bother me until I told them why. They thought I was showing off, when really it’s just that writing takes so much focus that it distracts me in class and it’s better if I just listen and absorb. It took me much longer than other students to write papers and read the assignments, but because it was all outside of class nobody ever knew about it. As long as you take the time to do your work well, you will probably never have to mention your ADD or dyslexia.

    The only time I would suggest bringing it up is if you are taking a in class written essay. If the professor knows that you do good work when given the proper amount of time, I found they were very forgiving about allowing extra time and ignoring spelling mistakes on essays where you can’t use spell check. Some professors will allow you to use a dictionary during the test, which helps but draws the attention of other students. I also asked any professors who regularly ask students to read out loud to never call on me to do that, it’s just too embarrassing.

    Again, once you show that you are capable of good work outside of class, professors tend to be more flexible about what happens in the classroom. Or it may just never come up since almost all the work in grad school is outside of class. Good luck!

  4. Hey, prospective grad student,
    My tried and fairly true method was to compliment the school on the services they have which support my disability. I wrote on my application: “A particular reason I wish to attend [Name o school] is because you provide such excellent services for learning disabled students; I value the x, y, and z available to scholars like me who can excel at their subjects with available accommodations.” This explained past unevenness while also, er, flattering. Hey, it worked! They saw themselves as on the side of righteousness, rather than seeing me as a potentially poor student. However, I did not mention to them any requirement of psychopharmaceuticals, because people can still be assholes about that.

  5. My own opinion: I second all calls to check with the schools disability services, I would be upfront about the issues you’ve had in the past and the ways in which you’ve dealt with them. I have a minor form of dyslexia that had no substantial effect on my work through high school and college, but made parts of graduate school difficult to say the least. If you’re already having trouble there is likely going to be more in the future, and it’s important for you to be in a program that is supportive.

  6. In my experience (7 years of sitting in on graduate admissions committee meetings): if you have holes in your transcript that are explained by your disabilities, EXPLAIN THEM. If you do not, the committee will guess, and they will guess wrongly. Both Dyslexia and ADHD are common enough now that any room filled with scholars should be able to understand that they are disorders that can be managed, either through treatment or accommodation. And having overcome adversity to get this far? Looks really good on an application.

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