Two very recent research papers –  summarized here in bullet point format, but both relating to dyslexic identities which is a core component of my research.

Two very interesting papers that are grouped in this post partly because they were read together, and secondly because their content overlaps. Although Henderson’s paper is more concerned with reporting process issues in identifying dyslexia in HE students, its introduction makes some good summary points about dyslexic identity.  This links well with the second paper under summary review in this post where Thompson et al conducted a highly interesting study exploring dyslexic identities by examining ‘posts’ on a dyslexia online discussion forum,

So as to capture the gist of both papers directly after reading them, points that caught my particular interest as being highly pertinent to my research are summarized here in a very brief bullet-point format, with the intention of expanding these into a more narrative commentary later.

Firstly, the key points in Henderson’s paper:

The study discusses challenges in identifying and supporting students in HE with dyslexia. It is reported that amongst other factors, recent government policies on widening participation in university education in the UK has encouraged a greater uptake of higher education from those in groups traditionally labelled as socially disadvantaged or under-represented in some other way. It is stated that students with dyslexia currently form the largest minority group of students entering higher education but points out that there remains no obligation from students in this group to either disclose their dyslexia on application or entrance, nor indeed at any stage throughout their courses. Various reasons are suggested to account for this reluctance to disclose, ranging from concerns that to do so could jeopardize future employment (for example, in nursing) to a wish to retain a non-disabled identity, to strategically deciding when to disclose in order to enhance prospects of a better degree at the end of the course.

In summary:

These initial key points are very pertinent to my research project as its focus is sharpening onto a study of the ‘dyslexic self’ and the impact that being labelled as disabled has on academic agency.

Henderson describes the methodology of the research which, briefly, focused on the experiences of four learning support tutors at one university in the UK, collecting together their thoughts about student disclosure of dyslexia, what leads to this disclosure or might not and the reasons students provide for coming forward to disclose when they do.

The analysis and discussion also draws out some interesting points:

Two, key recommendations emerge from Henderson’s research: First of all, and as broadly indicated in the summarized point above, we must not assume that all students with dyslexia will report or disclose this at an early stage of their university journey, or even at any point during their time studying. This is consistent with my research conjecture that there are many students at university either with known but undisclosed dyslexia and more significantly, with unknown dyslexia. Henderson suggests that finding ways to ensure that late-reporting dyslexic students don’t become discouraged or lose confidence in their abilities to study at university is an important issue to address.

Secondly, Henderson reports findings that suggest that some students with dyslexia were more likely to come forward if their student peers had already reported similar learning issues or challenges. He therefore advocates recruiting student champions with learning differences such as dyslexia to be involved in pre-admission and open days so that dyslexia might be de-stigmatized and a more inclusive message reaches prospective students to a university which might encourage them to be more candid about their dyslexia at the outset of their studies.

Next, summarizing the significant findings in the 2015 research by Thompson

This very interesting paper reported an enquiry to explore how people with dyslexia aligned themselves against three identity descriptors:

The process examined threads on an online forum hosted in the UK and used by a wide variety of people with dyslexia or with an interest in dyslexia: Since I am building into my research QNR a self-identity question in the opening section which asks a few brief questions about the respondent, such as their student status, their gender. I have included an option to self-report what I have described as ‘specific learning challenges’ where I am hoping that students who know they are dyslexic will self-identify. When they do, I have asked these to complete a statement sentence which tells me how they were told of their dyslexia and in what way was the syndrome described to them:

I am hoping that data gathered from the variations in the options for completing the sentence may enable me to detect tensions related to stigma about being labelled as disabled which is highly pertinent to my research, and link this to the broader discourse about the dilemma of difference as written about by Norwich (eg: 2010). Although his context is in the areas of special education and special educational needs, terms in themselves that are quite contentious due to their associations with deficit and disability, there is an increasing discourse about stigma in not only education but across society more widely that is taking a more analytic approach to the impact that stigmatization has on individuals, how they construct their identities and their realities, and in particular on how it impacts on their relationships to learning. (eg: Ainlay, et al, 2013). In keeping with the positivist direction in which this research project is pointing, it is of note that development in the ‘capabilities approach’ as a counter to deficit-laden disability labelling is making some headway in the educational context. (eg: Norwich, 2013, Hornby, 2015). This is an interesting discussion and will be the subject of a later post to this StudyBlog.

So, some of the key points:

The next section discusses the concept of ‘differently-enabled’ as a more positive viewpoint on individuals with dyslexia:

The results and discussion section of the paper is divided into three sections, each corresponding to the three identity categories outlined in the introduction: 1. ‘learning disabled’, 2. ‘differently-enabled’ and 3. ‘socially disabled‘. The major part of each section uses examples of forum-posts to populate the analysis and examples of these are reproduced here

  1. learning-disabled‘:
    • I never thought I was stupid or anything like that, but I did feel that my smarts were trapped inside my head, unable to be properly explored” (p12);
    •  “The fault often comes from others who are not fully informed about dyslexia and think illiteracy is seen as a result of low intelligence” (p13);
    • For me, realizing I was dyslexic gave me the clues to start to work out why I felt so out of step with the world” (p16);
  2. differently-enabled‘:
    • I just think and deliver my knowledge in a different way to other people” (p17);
    • The truth is, there are many advantages to being dyslexic. The trick is finding out what these advantages are and how to use them” (p19);
    • Thompson comments that many posts analysed in this section where individuals considered themselves to be ‘differently-enabled’ poured scorn on the traditional focus of non-dyslexics on dyslexia-associated deficits rather than strengths. However, this is consistent with the viewpoint that whilst education systems remain fixated on literacy-based assement processes, it will be the deficits in this single area that continue to disadvantage those with dyslexia.
    • it is easier to focus on peoples’ weaknesses … because they have already decided that because of ‘weaknesses’, that person has got to be thick” (p19);
  3. socially-disabled‘:
    • on reflecting about peers at university: “there were no geniuses – none that I could spot anyway. But they [student peers] did have one thing in common: they were good at reading, writing, exams and planning assignments – the very stuff I was so bad at” (p21);
    • I find the world is not arranged in a way that uses my abilities. Rather it is arranged in a way that emphasizes my problems” (p21);

In the final section of Thompson’s paper, some of the conclusions of the research are telling:

My research project unashamedly takes a positivist standpoint and I strongly echo current and prior researchers and thinkers who advocate a re-evaluation of the value of dyslexia in learning communities where all creative talents and competencies should be equally celebrated and more so, accommodated in learning and knowledge-acquisition processes. Thompson’s paper concluded with a recommendation that whilst the status-quo prevails,  at least by converting those with an identity stuck at ‘learning-disabled’ to one more aligned with ‘differently-enabled’ is likely to influence the development of positive self-worth (esteem).

Ainlay, C., Becker, G., Coleman, L.M., (eds), 2013, The Dilemma of Difference: A multidisciplinary view of stigma, London, Plenum Press.
Chanock, K., 2007, How do we not communicate about dyslexia? The discourses that distance scientists, disabilities staff, ALL advisoers, students and lecturers from one another. Journal of Academic Language & Learning 1, A33-A43.
Fraser, V., 2012, The complex nature of dyslexia support in the context of widening participation, In: Supporting Adults in Higher Education and the Workplace, Brunswick, N. (ed), 43-50, Chichester, John Wiley.
Graham, L., Grieshaber, S., 2008, Reading dis/ability; interrogating paradigms in a prism of power, Disability and Society, 23, 557-570.
Hornby, G., 2015, Inclusive special education: development of a new theory for the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities, British Journal of Special Education, 42(3), 234-256.
Jacklin, A., Robinson, C., O’Meara, L., Harris, A., 2007, Improving the experiences of disabled students in higher education, Sussex, University of Sussex.
Lahteenoja, S., Pirttila-Backman, A., 2005, Cultivation or Coddling? University teachers’ views on student integration, Studies in Higher Education, 30(6), 641-661.
Morris, D., Turnbull, P., 2006, Clinical experiences of students with dyslexia, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 54(2), 238-247.
Mortimore, T., Crozier, W.R., 2006, Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills in higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 235-251.
Riddick, B., 2001, Dyslexia and inclusion:time for a social model of disability perspective? International Studies in Sociology of Education, 11, 223-236.
Zeleke, S., 2004, Self-concepts of students with learning disabilities and their normally achieving peers: A review. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 19, 145-170.

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