The term dyslexia is not a newly invented concept. It’s a term that has emerged over the years as one of the world’s leading explanations, as to why some individuals are confronted with certain learning difficulties, especially within the learning institutes. According to Beaton (2004) the first case of dyslexia was reported by Pringle- Morgan a general practitioner and Hinshelwood, an ophthalmologist over one hundred years ago. Despite its long history however, the dyslexia phenomena has been and still remains a concept that has generated a considerable amount of controversies and debates over the years, particularly within the field of psychology, education, politics, to medical personnel and clinicians.
Its debates has stretched from one end of the spectrum to another, by researchers such as Lyon, Shaywitz & Shaywitz (2003) who has argued passionately on the true existence of dyslexia as being neurological in nature, which means that dyslexia is a problem that can be physically located in the brain, to others such as well known politicians as MP Graham Stringer according to the BBC news on the 14th of January 2009 who has argued strongly that dyslexia is just fictional, a myth and that its very existence is erroneous. According to the BBC news, MP Graham Stringer emphasized on the point that the term dyslexia was coined in order to cover up the poor teachings at schools. Also reported by the BBC on the 14th January was an interview with a dyslexic individual namely Colin Shoreman who robustly disagreed with MP Graham Stringer’s view on dyslexia. According to the BBC News, Colin Shoreman stated that dyslexia is not a myth because his life experiences have proven otherwise. As reported by the BBC News Colin Shoreman asserted that because of his dyslexia, he has trouble finding a job and when he does, he has to settle for menial jobs because people call him thick, lazy and stupid.
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There has been a great deal of literature that has been published over the years on dyslexia in an attempt to understand its nature. As previously pointed out, there are huge conflicting arguments out there in regards to dyslexia, from its causes to whether it exists at all. Despite its long history and varied brands of arguments, it has been noticed that limited efforts and studies has been directed at those individuals who has been diagnosed with dyslexia. Capturing the lived experiences of those individuals, having to understand what challenges, if any, they have experienced, not only within the educational sphere, nor only within the work environment but focusing on the impact that dyslexia has had on their lives in general. Paying keen attention not on objective experiences, but rather on individuals’ subjective experiences are what this paper attempts to explore.
Research by Miles (1993) and Shaywitz (1998) has shown that the dyslexia affects between 5-10 % of the population. They went on further to suggest that dyslexia affects people of all ages and racial groups, and that it appears to be more prevalent in males than females. Understanding what dyslexia is has posed a huge problem to researchers who are trying to untangle its true nature. For example, for many researchers the term dyslexia captures an individual who has specific learning difficulties that makes reading, writing and spelling a difficult task to perform and also it is described as a relatively poor way of processing information.
This view is also coupled with the notion that dyslexia is a problem of letters or words reversals such as (b/d, was /saw) or letters, Words and sentences dancing on a page as asserted by Rayner, Foorman,Perfetti,Presetsky &Seidenberg (2001) . It would, however be very interesting to note that such an ideal is not maintained by Hudson (2007) who argued that writing and reading letters and words backwards are common in the early stages of learning and therefore the presences of reading words backwards may not indicate any underlying reading problems. Having attempted to demonstrate such different views on the nature of dyslexia, it would be most essential at this time to draw our attention on a definition of dyslexia to see whether one is able to capture a better understanding of the term. A varied number of definitions have evolved over the years with many sharing quite similar views on what dyslexia is, and for that purpose this paper will only focus on two definitions.
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Firstly, the British Dyslexia Association (2005) asserted that the word dyslexia comes from the Greeks and it means “difficulty with words”. They went on further to argue that dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty which mainly effects the development of literacy and language related skills. Another definition of dyslexia was brought forward by Snowling (1987) as “a disorder manifested by difficulty in learning to read despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and sociocultural opportunity. It is dependent upon fundamental cognitive disabilities which are frequently of constitutional origin”.
Understanding the various dynamics of dyslexia is very important, most essentially to psychologist. Therefore, having examined the definitions of dyslexia by the British Dyslexia Association (2005) and Snowling (1987), it appears to be evident that they both have taken what is known as a positivist epistemological stance in understanding dyslexia. Positivist according to willig (2007) describes the theory that defines something such as personality and more importantly in this case, dyslexia as something that is fixed and is located within a person. If that is the case, critics have suggested that if dyslexia is located within a person, then it should be visible in some sharp or form to the human eye. Such discovery however has not been made possible not in the past nor present. As a result, this essentialist approach that many conventional psychologist have employed to understand complex phenomena such as dyslexia has been refuted.
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This essentialist approach however has been criticised robustly by psychologist such as Vivien Burr (2007) who has taken a social constructionist stance towards the taken for granted knowledge on the nature of complex matters, such as ones personality, attitudes, cognition, learning disabilities etc. Whilst mainstream positivist psychologist would argue that dyslexia is something that is located within the individual, social constructionist such as Burr (2007) would take a relativist epistemological position, which claims that objects and knowledge about that object is socially constructed. In this case, from a social constructionist perspective it would be fair to argue that dyslexia would be a socially constructed concept and that there are no defining characteristics inside a person that would make them dyslexic.
As Burr (2007) pointed out, if an individual or a child has a learning difficulty traditional psychology would be locating the difficulty within the psychology of the individual. According to Burr (2007), a social constructionist would challenge this explanation by looking at how the learning difficulty is a construction that has developed as a result of interactions between the individual, its teachers and others and very importantly through language. This example by Burr (2007) brings to light yet a different understanding of dyslexia, not as a thing that could be found within a person, but describes it as something that people create through their interactions and social practices, culturally and historically and very importantly through language.
Similar sentiments were shared by Woods (1994) who suggested that dyslexia is a socially constructed concept and that the understanding or definition of dyslexia within the minds of individuals, and between and within different social groups, is subject to change over time. Under these circumstances however, it can be argued that several people could be using the same word, yet have different understandings of what the word really implies.
Such a view was summarized neatly by Paradice (2004) who argument that, the term dyslexia is an example of a word that is used commonly and yet remains poorly defined. According to Paradice (2004), to date it has not been possible for professionals to agree on a comprehensive or generic definition that accurately describes what is understood about dyslexia. Such sentiments were articulated by Paradice (2004) on the basis that when people talk about dyslexia or describe dyslexia they may not necessarily be talking about the same thing or they may not necessarily share the same understanding of the term. For example, in the case of a dyslexic person, whilst one may suggest that being dyslexic may be such a negative label or may have such a negative impact on their lives that may hinder their development, others may share the total opposite.
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Dyslexia is commonly characterised by a number of symptoms, such as, making mistakes copying things down, difficulty with organizational skills, such as time management, difficulty with learning how to decode at the word level, difficulties to spell and to read accurately and fluently, reading hesitantly and many experience quite a bit of difficulty in explaining ideas and concepts, particularly on paper, according to the British Dyslexia Association (2005).
In spite of those difficulties, dyslexics were also identified as being innovative thinkers, intuitive problem solvers and that they can be creative in so many different ways. Despite such positive qualities that have been identified amongst dyslexics, it has been argued that some individuals are still held bent on entertaining the belief that dyslexics are unintelligent individuals.
This misconceptualized notion can nonetheless be argued as just a myth according to Snowling (1986) and Smith and Pennington (1996) and Habib (2000) definitions, because dyslexia according to some researchers has been reported to be unrelated to intelligence. In fact, Connor (1994) has suggested that there exists a stereotype of dyslexics as one who is bright but frustrated with the difficulties that they are experiencing. This unintelligent idea according to Morris & Turnbull (2007) could come about, as a result of poor understanding of this phenomenon particularly by employers and co-workers in the work places and therefore dyslexics usually lack the self confidence purely as a result of stigmatization and the victimization that has been associated with the condition. This view was also shared by Riddick (2001) who avowed that stigma is a common problem faced by dyslexic adults.
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Despite its far shares of controversies, it would be rather fitting to communicate that many that has been known to be dyslexic goes on to being very successful individuals. Famous names such as Albert Einstein, whose scientific contributions and theories still have a major effect on today’s current knowledge of science and Sir Richard Bronson who has become one of the UK’s richest and prominent businessmen.
In order to understand this complex phenomenon, several researchers has attempted to unravel its causes. For example, whilst some researchers argue that brain scanning studies suggests that in dyslexic people, the connection between different languages areas of the brain do not work as efficiently as they should and therefore according to Hudson et al (2007), this may be a contributing factor in the development of dyslexia, leaving other researchers such as Franks, Macphie and Monaco (2002) to argued a robust genetical basis for dyslexia. In a study conducted by Frank et al (2002), they argued that there is a strong genetic involvement in dyslexia from evidence obtained from twin studies of monozygotic and dyzygotic twins. Franks et al (2002) study revealed a concordance rate for dyslexia of identical twins were 68% whereas for unidentical twins 38%.
Whilst, Hudson et al (2007) and Franks et al (2002) findings may have contributed enormously to the study of dyslexia ,they failed to address a very important issue surrounding dyslexia phenomena, and that is they focus their entire attention on trying to unravel the cause of dyslexia and paid absolutely no attention at all on attempting to understanding individual personal experiences of having to live with dyslexia, or even attempt to appreciate how those individuals construct or make sense of their condition.
In spite of intensive and ongoing research on this condition, the aetiology of this disorder still remains uncertain. Its precise nature and indeed even its very existence according to Poole (2003) is a contested concept. Contested in the sense that dyslexia can mean different things to different people and that different individuals such as dyslexics may understand and construct their experiences of dyslexia differently, as previously supported by Poole (2003) and Paradice (2004).
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For example Woods (1998) has argued that educational psychologist, teachers and parents might have different understandings of what dyslexia means.
In a study conducted by Woods (1998), it was found that educational psychologist and teachers strongly believe that dyslexia is genetically determined, whilst, on the other hand some parents believe that dyslexia stems from environmental causes. Having looked at this argument, one can clearly see that the same condition yield different understanding. One may suggest that how psychologists and other professionals interpret dyslexia is very important, however it can be argued that understanding how dyslexics themselves construct their reality of having to live with such a condition is of greater importance, and yet addressing this fundamental issue has yielded poor results.
As a starting point to addressing this issue, it must be noted that past research though limited have been conducted to explore the impact of dyslexia in specific domains such as in the work place. Morris & Turnbull (2007) conducted one of those recent studies in order to explore the impact of dyslexia on career progression of UK registered nurses. Morris & Turnbull (2007) asserted that there is a lack of understanding between employers and co- workers on the way in which dyslexia can influence performance in the work place. They further postulated that stigmatization and discrimination are common problems faced by dyslexics, and as a result, many dyslexic adults choose to conceal their disability. In a survey conducted by Madaus, Foley, McGuire & Ruban (2002) of 89 graduate college students in their first year of employment reported how 70% did not disclose the fact that they were dyslexic to their employer. One would therefore wonder why? According to Madaus et al (2002) this reason was expressed by participants, simply because they were concerned about their job security and also they had fears of a potentially negative impact in the work place. Additionally, fears of employment discrimination and reduced in job security was also highlighted as a reason for non- disclosure of their condition according to Blankfield (2001).
According to findings by Morris & Turnbull (2007) study, it was reported that dyslexia provided a challenge to the everyday work of registered nurses. They argued that career progression was achievable, but compared with their peers, took longer and also their disclosure of their condition especially to work-colleagues was selective and was heavily dependent on the perceived benefits. Another recent case of dyslexia and its impact at the work place was reported by the BBC news on the 19th of February 2008, where an Essex police recruit who was diagnosed dyslexic was asked to quit his job. According to reporter Gash George of the BBC London news, the police officer stated that he was told that because he is dyslexic there is no place for him.
Although Morris & Turnbull (2007) study and reports as that which were reported by the BBC has created a better understanding of the difficulties and challenges that dyslexics are exposed to specifically within the work environment. There were, however some limitations with the under mention studies and reports .They failed to pay much attention on trying to investigate gender differences and ethnic diversity and its impact on individuals,’ experiences with dyslexia. Most importantly, the over mentioned studies and reports have also failed to address an essential concern of those individuals, and that is to examine or to explore how has dyslexia affected them either positively or negatively if at all, not only within the work place, but holistically and more importantly to understand how different dyslexics construct their own reality of having to live with dyslexia.
In an attempt to address such concerns, some researchers have employed a qualitative approach known as Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).
For example, to explore the impact of having to live with Parkinson disease Bramely & Eatough (2004) conducted a qualitative study using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Just to mention a few other studies that have utilized IPA, and has produced substantial insight into the understanding of a particular phenomenon by its subjects, was by Osborn (2002) on chronic back pains, Reynolds (2002) on chronic illnesses, Chadwick & Liao (2002) on reproductive health and Trigoriou (2004) on the friendship between gay men and heterosexual women.
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis is a relatively recent qualitative approach used in psychology especially in the area of health, clinical and social psychology and was developed by Jonathan Smith (1996, 2004).
Like many different qualitative approaches, IPA is not concerned with explanation of cause an effect, but rather its concerns are with trying to understand lived experiences and how participants themselves make sense of their experiences. Therefore IPA is concerned with those meanings which those experiences hold for participants. IPA has its roots in phenomenology because it wishes to explore an individuals’ personal perception or account of an event as opposed to attempting to produce an objective record of the event in which mainstream positivist psychologist have employed over the years. Therefore, whilst Morris & Turnbull (2007) employed a more mainstream quantitative and experimental methodology in conducting their study, IPA researchers employs an idiographic approach and an in-depth qualitative analysis by examining how people construct meanings about a particular phenomenon that is being investigated. Moreover, IPA creates an avenue for probing which will enable researchers to have a better insight into the specific experiences of the participants (Smith 2004).
It is these thinking and such experiences expressed by Colin Shoreman by the BBC News hat have inspired the direction of this study, and therefore as a result, IPA appears to be the most appropriate methodology to be employed in this study of dyslexia. This approach will allow individual participants to express in their own words, their personal experiences of having to live with dyslexia, as it focuses not only on how it has impacted on their work, or what might be the cause of dyslexia, but rather to capture their experiences of having to live this phenomenon holistically and also how different dyslexic individuals construct and make sense of their condition. Therefore the specific aim of this study is to explore and capture the essence of (4) individuals’ subjective experiences of having to live with dyslexia, and also attempt to investigate gender differences and ethnic diversity and its impact on peoples’ experiences of dyslexia through the use of semi- structured interviews.
This study will use Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA)
Four individuals who have been formally diagnosed with dyslexia took part in this study. Of the four Participants, two were males ages 25 and 35 and two were females ages 24 and 29. Participants were from different ethnic backgrounds two of which were Afro Caribbean and two were white British. Two of the participants were recruited through the University of East London student population and two through the general population. Two of the participants were university students, one self employed and the other work within the carers industry. These participants were considered for this study because dyslexia appears to be one of the most commonly known learning conditions that affect people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
Prior to the research, ethical approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee at the University Of East London. After discussing research proposal with project supervisor participants were approached and was asked whether they are interested in taking part in a study that is being conducted on dyslexia. Those participants who agreed to take part in the study were given an invitation letter that explained and informed participants’ about the nature and purpose of the study. Afterwards, arrangements via telephone and also through word of mouth were made to meet participants