Travelling without a Compass: Exploring the Diverse Life Worlds of University Students with Dyslexia

Within the field of education studies, disability, difference and inclusion are widely debated constructs. Arguably, the usefulness of identifying dyslexia categorically raises critical questions about why labelling continues to inform policy decisions, funding, and determine reasonable adjustments for adult students at university. Moreover, there are contrasting views about the nature of dyslexia, which can contribute to confusion about how to understand it through late identification.

For students, the unique phenomenon of experiencing dyslexia within university also presents challenges regarding the necessity of self-concept, experience and readiness to learn (Knowles, Holton and Swanson, 2012). Additionally, the lack of opportunities to devote focused time to untangle uncertainties with others, alongside studies and multiple responsibilities, can feel isolating. To compound this feeling, when university students begin to struggle academically, they are often encouraged to try to discover what is wrong with them and dyslexia is sometimes suggested as a label to explain difference. To this end, the extent to which dyslexia is acknowledged is constructed from individual participants’ perspectives. Principally, I aim to explore the extent to which trustworthy dialogical relationships play a role in contributing to self-understanding for university students with dyslexia.

This study adopts a phenomenological “critical orientation that is inherently political” (Agostinone-Wilson, 2013, p.62)—an approach which enables me to engage with voices which have often been excluded from hierarchies of knowledge. More specifically, the heuristic relationship between researcher and participant facilitates reflection about how dyslexia manifests through ongoing conversations informed by personal photographs and concept maps. Heuristic evaluations (Moustakas, 1990) of research activities conducted both individually and collaboratively by participants and researcher facilitate opportunities to develop trustworthy relationships. Transparent conversations about dyslexia at university illuminate shared appreciation of the diversity of lived experiences.

The research illuminates the life worlds of a purposive sample of ten university students with dyslexia through four distinct methods including: concept mapping, photo-elicitation, photovoice and photoautobiography. These methods contribute to monthly research activities which provide an in depth exploration of student reflections over the period of an academic year. Through photoautobiography, the chapters participants create contribute new knowledge about dyslexia at university. Emerging findings suggest that using photographs as temporal visual footprints, which require multiple re-engagements, facilitates deep reflexive evaluations. Furthermore, communicating about a later identification of dyslexia through ongoing dialogue also has been described as a therapeutic experience throughout the research activities.

Agostinone-Wilson, F. (2013) Dialectical research methods in the classical Marxist tradition. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F. and Swanson, R.A. (2012) The adult learner the definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Seventh edn., Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Moustakas, C. (1990) Heuristic research: design, methodology, and applications. Newbury Park, CA, USA: SAGE Publications, Inc.