Neurological disorders and education

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin.

A student’s realization that help is offered at Concordia for those who need it

University is a wonderful experience that allows you to grow mentally and emotionally. However, if you are living with a neurological condition, your time spent in higher education may be muddled by the difficulties of coping with your disability.

A 2017 Statistics Canada report shows that 31 per cent of Canadians aged 25 to 64 without disabilities have a university degree at the bachelor’s level or higher. In comparison, less than 16 per cent of people with a physical or mental disability between those ages have a university degree. The report also indicates that “the percentage with a university degree decreased as the severity of the disability increased.”

These statistics baffle me. I believe every individual has the capacity to succeed, given the proper resources. These figures make me wonder if Canadian universities, including Concordia, offer the proper resources for students with such conditions to reach their full potential.

This year, I learned about a neurological disorder I had never heard of: dysorthographia. My friend, Audrey Lamontagne, a first-year Concordia student in the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) program, is affected by this condition. I asked her to speak candidly about how it impacts her learning and if she has benefitted from any resources at Concordia.

First, I wanted to know what dysorthographia was in Lamontagne’s words. She explained that the condition makes her incapable of identifying spelling mistakes and she has difficulty solving mathematical equations. It also impacts her social skills, notably her ability to understand sarcasm. Moreover, she said, “I practically don’t have short-term memory,” meaning she quickly forgets what she studies.

In contrast, her long-term memory is above average. If she ingrains something in her mind, she will remember the information for the rest of her life. However, Lamontagne said she needs to work three times harder than an individual without dysorthographia to store information in her long-term memory.

This all seems difficult to cope with, especially in an academic setting, so I asked her the burning question I had in mind: Does Concordia help you cope with your condition?

According to Lamontagne, the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) offers her 15 hours of free tutoring per semester for any class she struggles with, and a notetaker so she can focus on lectures better. When doing tests or exams, she is alloted extra time and given access to a computer with Word Q and Antidote—programs that help her identify and correct her spelling mistakes. Overall, Lamontagne said she is very satisfied and appreciative of everything the university has offered her.

I am happy to know that students who struggle with neurological conditions have access to resources that can drastically improve their situation in school. I am even happier to know that students are taking advantage of these resources. According to Statistics Canada, 14 per cent of the Canadian population aged 15 years or older—that’s 3.8 million individuals—reported having a disability that limited their daily activities.

As someone with a mental health condition, I can empathize with those struggling with neurological conditions. The weight of your responsibilities as a student anchor you down, and it feels extremely unfair that you have to deal with an extra infuriating hurdle. All schools should help their struggling students. After all, those students will be going out into the world with all the knowledge they acquired from school.

If you or someone you know is affected by a neurological condition, know that you are not alone. You deserve help, support and guidance in order to perform to the best of your ability. Most importantly, you need to be kind and patient towards yourself. Take advantage of everything that is offered to you. Why struggle alone when help is available?

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin 

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