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The lived experience of adults with dyslexia: an exploration of the perceptions of their educational experiences

Tanner, Kathleen (2010) The lived experience of adults with dyslexia: an exploration of the perceptions of their educational experiences. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines the life choices of a small cohort of adults with dyslexia. In particular, it focuses on the influence of their educational experiences (primary, secondary and post-secondary) on their understanding of their dyslexia and how this knowledge assisted them in understanding their role within a society that places high value on strong literacy skills.

Each of the participants in this study had previously completed a customised course for adults with dyslexia developed by TAFEWA. Most were diagnosed as having dyslexia in adulthood, a small number as part of the process that led to their enrolment in the TAFE course. The researcher was both a lecturer in that program and played a critical role in designing a number of core units, particularly the Understanding and Managing Dyslexia unit from which participants in this study were drawn.

The study shows how the participants benefited from their participation in this course as it their enhanced understanding of dyslexia. This enhanced understanding facilitated positively reframing of their attitudes towards their dyslexia and society’s attitudes to people who display limited literacy skills. Prior to the course, the participants, who ranged in age from early 20s to 60+, believed that society was setting them up to fail.

Traditionally dyslexia has been interpreted through a medical-scientific lens. This study adopts a different approach that is holistic in focus, is situated within an interpretivist paradigm and draws from a range of methodologies, including phenomenology, feminist theory and narrative inquiry to develop a series of case studies that draw individual experiences together. A significant feature of the thesis is the adoption of an ecological framework developed from Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) social ecology theories of human development and in particular his Person, Process, Context and Time (PPCT) process (1992), to present individual participants and analyse their life experiences. The time component, in particular, is important in the context of lived experience.

The analysis is based on the life narratives of 10 individuals that focus on their educational experiences and the influence this had on their life choices. Data collection involved a series of one-on-one semi-structured conversations and a faceto- face focus group.

This thesis goes beyond the work of Bronfenbrenner to reinterpret the ecological model and presents an alternate conceptual framework in which society is likened to a river flowing across a landscape. The individuals are a key part of the river alongside the micro and exo systems. The landscape represents the macrosystem and the framework within which the river flows. In a human context this equates to the relationship of the individual to society and the significance of change linked to the passing of time.

A key argument is that the lenses through which dyslexia is viewed directly influence the way people with dyslexia are perceived in a wider societal context. The language used and the emphasis in a societal context placed on literacy skills, not only limits, but also marginalises and excludes those with literacy difficulties. Thus the thesis moves beyond the medical /scientific framework within which the concept of dyslexia is traditionally viewed. Whatever dyslexia is or is not, it is clear there exists a group of people for whom day-to-day living in a literacy-based society presents unique challenges and the present study investigates how they have experienced these challenges.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Supervisor(s): McKenzie, Susan and MacCallum, Judy
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