How To Learn To Code With A Learning Difficulty
Being dyslexic, dyspraxic and having ADHD definitely affects your learning but it doesn't mean learning to code can't be done.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD just after I discovered coding. I'm still getting to know my new gifts and trying to understand what works for me and what doesn't however as I discover, I have found ways that work for me. Before I dive in, it's better to explain what each of these conditions are before I give you my tips, just in case you're reading this out of pure curiosity.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a "learning disorder that involves difficulty reading". It's commonly described as a reading disability but dyslexia "affects areas of the brain that process language". I struggle with reading a lot. You may read a sentence as "The quick brown fox is jumping" and I would read it as "The fox is quick jumping brown" but I will show you how I was able to practise reading more and reducing how overwhelming it can be.
What is dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia is described as a "neurological disorder that impacts an individual's ability to plan and process motor tasks." It can often make some someone appear really clumsy. It can effect your co-ordination skills like riding a bike or how you learn new skills and retain information.
What is ADHD?
ADHD, (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is a neurological disorder that affects an individual's behaviour. ADHD tens to fall into three categories being inattentiveness, hyperactivity or a combination of both. Mine is a combination of both. I struggle with concentration, retaining information and processing information so I have to find strategies that work for me.
With all three of these conditions, it is something you are born with whether it be you were born prematurely or had a low weight range at the time of your birth but there is no cure for any of these conditions.
With learning something as intensive and complex as coding, it can definitely be overwhelming but it's definitely not impossible so here are some tips and resources that you can try for yourself.
- With dyslexia, everyone handles it differently and it effects people differently. The most valuable thing I did was understanding my learning style. Your learning style will help you understand how best you learn whether it be through audio, visuals or a combination of more than one style. For example, I learn better through visuals. I'm a creative person and seeing things visually rather than through linear descriptions helps me absorb and retain information. Here's where you can learn more about the different learning styles, evaluate how best you have learnt in the past, reapply them and explore other ways you can capitalise of your learning style. Here's some more information about it here.
- Reading software has been a lifesaver for me particularly when reading documentation. The software I use is "Read and Write" but this is something I pay to use on my home laptop and something that is paid for by work on my work laptop. The software reads PDF files and Word Documents which I find useful as it reads out text and uses high contrast text as it goes along so you can read along with it. There are free readers out there but most I found are browser-based and I find that you have to copy and paste the text you are trying to read into the website to read it out to you which can get tedious. Here's a link to alternative reading software that you can look into. You can also look at Chrome extensions that have readers too.
- For many dyslexics, reading black and white text is our worst nightmare! I respond well to the colour 'orange' when I'm reading and I use a physical filter for my laptop and one for reading physical form books but I do have a digital filter that comes in the form of a Google Chrome Extension called nOverlay. You can adjust the colour to anything from reds to greens, whatever works for you.
- This might sound a bit daft but repeating things back to myself has been so useful to me especially as a dyspraxic. It helps me to know what my brain missed when trying to learn something especially with online courses. Repeating something back then rewinding a snippet of the course helps me to spot what I missed. I'm always learning something new so when I do need to learn a new technology for an upcoming project or to upskill, going through online courses and repeating back the information has helped me grow in my development.
- With dyspraxia and ADHD, time management is an 'actual madness' (as my brothers would say). I would suggest trying the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique is a learning technique where you concentrate on a task for 25 minutes and take a 5 min break. It actually helps me keep track of my time so that I'm pushing myself to pay attention to what I'm learning and allow time for my mind to process what I've learnt. I actually do 20/10 but experiment with both and find what works for you.
- With all these conditions, my final tip would be do not try and overwhelm by trying to cram loads of information at once. You will only lose yourself, time will fly by then you will probably feel bad and not feel motivated to continue learning at another stage. Give yourself time to learn a programming language or build your projects, after all, you know what they say about Rome.
I hope you found these tips useful but I must say this. What worked for me, may not work for you and that's OK. You need to get to know your learning conditions and understand what works for you. For example, rather than reading black and white, (which is already stressful for my dyslexia), try out different filters and colour on the rainbow and see what your mind responds to better. Pay attention to your senses and notice when you feel happy and stimulated when learning in a particular way compared to another.
I hope you find this useful. I hope it doesn't seem generic but everyone learns differently and if you find none of these tips work for you, take the time to evaluate how you learn and try it out for yourself.