Cindy (23) is an ambitious student of commercial economics, who began studying six years ago. But studying with dyslexia is difficult. For a long time she covered up her ‘disability’.
She was born in Slovenia and moved to Holland when she was nine. Cindy has had problems reading since secondary school. ‘A teacher once asked me if I was dyslexic. I immediately said no, because I thought it was a strange disability to have. Twelve year old children even have better reading comprehension than I have. You feel very stupid and bad about yourself when you can’t read. In addition I had a sense of pride. I always want to be the best, the funniest, the quickest. To be labelled with a handicap is awful.’
Her reading problems are slowing down her studies. ‘I almost always have to take a resit and I never score higher than 57%. It’s always touch and go. I do however think I would be capable of more than the average student, if I didn’t have a reading problem. But studying takes up so much time, it’s killing. I’d rather run a marathon, than open up a book.’
The reactions from Cindy’s fellow students to her reading problem, vary widely. ‘I have had projects where I would come home crying, because I had been told by all parties that I was the project’s dummy. That’s very frustrating. When a project’s not running smoothly, angry fingers all point in my direction. Not everybody knows how to deal with it. But there are some very understanding people as well. It varies per project.’
There are few people with whom Cindy speaks openly about her dyslexia. ‘My mother can’t help me: they’ve never heard of dyslexia in Slovenia. And I’ve only just started talking about it with my friends these past few years. You can talk to your friends about it, but it doesn’t solve anything. That’s why I always covered it up. I didn’t tell my boyfriend about it until last year. He is enrolled in a harder course and I didn’t want to appear to be the dumb blonde. I was afraid I wouldn’t be interesting enough for him anymore. But his reaction was very understanding.’
In her third year Cindy finally took a reading test. That concluded that she has the reading speed of an eleven year old. ‘I took the test to prove that I really did have a problem. It was a huge step for me. A test like that costs a fortune as well: five hundred Euros. But because I turned out to be dyslexic, I was awarded an extra year of student grant. I should do a lot more tests to find out exactly what the problem is and how I should deal with that. But I don’t have the money for that at the moment.’
The test did cause a turnaround. ‘If I hadn’t taken the test, I may never have come forward about the difficulty I have reading. Just like gays often don’t dare admit they are different, admitting that you’re dyslexic is also a form of coming out.’