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Title: Investigating the strengths of dyslexia in successful adults and university students
Author: Agahi, Andisheh Sara
ISNI:       0000 0004 5350 291X
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2015
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The aim of the research in this thesis is to contribute to the body of knowledge relating to the strengths of dyslexia, with the longer term aim of helping dyslexic individuals to craft their lives and their jobs according to their strengths. This research has its foundation in three ‘communities of practice’: Work Psychology, Positive Psychology and dyslexia. The combination of the three areas of focus has led to the development of ‘Positive Dyslexia’ (Nicolson 2012), with a view to identifying -or crafting- a career that suits one’s strengths. The approach provides a counter-weight to the necessary but limited focus on weaknesses and their remediation. Current knowledge about career strengths in dyslexia is piecemeal and anecdotal. The overall design of the thesis was therefore to explore the territory of dyslexic career strengths by carrying out systematic qualitative interviews with successful dyslexic adults with the aim of identifying sources of commonality and heterogeneity. A questionnaire was then developed designed to incorporate the themes identified in this qualitative research and was administered to dyslexic and non-dyslexic University students thereby providing quantitative data on their incidence in a younger population. The overall design of the study followed an exploratory research design and is outlined below. Study one was a qualitative study with twelve dyslexic high achievers using a semi-structured interview designed to identify what they considered to be their strengths and their difficulties in the workplace. Participants were selected to represent a range of careers. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, 2009) was used to identify sub-ordinate themes. These were then classified into a three-domain taxonomy: Work Strengths, Cognitive Strengths and Inter-personal Strengths, with a 'triad' of strengths in each domain: for the Work Domain, Determination / Resilience, Proactivity and Flexible Coping; for the Cognitive Domain, Innovation, Big Picture approach, and Visuo-spatial skill; for the Interpersonal Domain, Teamwork, Empathy and Communication. Differences between domains arose both from job requirements and from experience. Study 2 was designed to assess the generality of these findings, using interviews with eight dyslexia experts with extensive experience of working with dyslexic adults. The interview schedule used for this study included additional sections relating to support for dyslexics and the need for strengths based research. From the themes in study 1, all six of the Cognitive Strengths Triad, Inter-personal Strengths Triad (the 'Big 6') and the Work Experience Strengths were supported, whereas from the Work Strengths Triad skills, only Determination/Resilience were highlighted. Additional themes emerging were need for ongoing support, areas of difficulty and consequences of not finding strengths. Study 3 was designed to address three issues emerging from the first two studies; first development of quantitative measures of the strengths identified in Studies 1 and 2; second, testing of younger adults (students rather than work professionals) to assess which skills might be self-selecting for success and which might develop through experience; and third to assess the specificity of the Strengths triad to dyslexia by including non-dyslexic student groups that were expected to show strengths in each area. Three student groups were used for this comparison; Management students to compare entrepreneurial traits and behaviours, Psychology students to compare levels of empathy and Architecture students to compare degrees of visuo-spatial ability. A comprehensive test battery was developed based on the themes generated from the first two studies by combining where available, existing tools with direct assessment of interpersonal and cognitive strengths. Student groups were also assessed on Holland’s Occupational Types (1973) in order to investigate job preferences. Overall, it comprised 110 items and was returned by 76 respondents. As expected, the groups showed great heterogeneity in performance, and this reduced the power of the statistical analyses. Between-group differences for Big Picture, Visuo-Spatial, Empathy, and Teamwork were as predicted, with significant differences found for the Big-picture and Visuo-spatial ability. By contrast, the dyslexic group did not show the predicted strengths in Creativity or in Entrepreneurial tendency. Holland job preference analysis revealed a range of differences, with the most striking being a highly significant (compared with the other groups) non-preference for Conventional careers. In conclusion, the studies in this thesis have identified for the first time a set of ten skills, characteristic of successful dyslexia adults, and developed prototype tools that allow these strengths to be assessed. The thesis also provides suggestive evidence that these skills may develop further through work experience and highlights the heterogeneity of individual strengths, both in dyslexic and non-dyslexic students. The findings provide strong support for the longer-term aim of developing dyslexia-friendly career advice and talent development systems based on a person's unique strengths. The findings have strong implications for parents, schools and employers.
Supervisor: Nicolson, Roderic ; Arnold, John Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available