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Anxiety, Depression and Self-Esteem in Students: Comparison Against Dyslexic Students

Info: 11430 words (46 pages) Dissertation
Published: 1st Mar 2022

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Tagged: Psychology

Dyslexic students experience secondary characteristics such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem when studying. Are these though common to all students in higher education?

Introduction – Background

An explanation and definition of the learning disability, dyslexia has long been problematic, with different theories all lacking in agreement with the very definition.  However, there is agreement that difficulties in reading and writing are characteristics of dyslexia. Researchers have attempted to group commonly observed forms into different categories, ensuring dyslexic people of all types do not fall behind.

There are six types of dyslexia, (readandspell, 2019), Phonological dyslexia difficulty in breaking speech into individual sounds that make up a world. Surface dyslexia takes longer to process language beyond the decoding stage, as not all words are spelled as they sound in English. Visual dyslexia impact’s the visual processing, the brain doesn’t receive the full picture of what the eye is seeing, resulting in not being able to remember the correct letter sequences. Primary dyslexia is a genetically inherited condition. Secondary Development dyslexia can be due to infections, or babies experiencing brain development issues causing neuroglial impairment. Acquired or trauma Dyslexia results from a brain injury that can develop difficulties with language processing. 

The British Dyslexia Association, (BDA, 2019), however defines Dyslexia as a name given to a specific learning difficulty, approximately 10% of people in the UK have dyslexia. This often occurs with related conditions such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia and attention deficit disorder. Dyslexia varies from mild to severe and affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent reading and spelling, with difficulties being phonological awareness verbal memory and verbal processing, Individuals also have unique strengths and weaknesses. Some of the signs may differ but the most common signs normally apparent in children at school once they learn to read and write and they may do this slowly, have delayed speech, difficulty learning the alphabet confusion of left to right, messy writing, struggles to read a clock face, tying shoe laces.

Adult symptoms are (BDA, 2019), inconsistent spelling, unable to pronounce long words, have an understanding when told vocally but have difficulty if the information is written down also, struggle with planning and organisation. Therefore, adults avoid reading, hides disability are under employed with a lower skill job often working in skilled labour. Dyslexia is usually a genetic inherited condition that is permanent that occurs in people of all races, backgrounds. The abilities are varied from person to person that therefore makes day to day living challenging affecting their everyday feelings of belonging.

However, (Stein, 2018), research paper argues that even though the phonological theory has become well accepted, making it problematic to distinguish dyslexia from social causes of reading failure, such as epigenetic modifications, environmental influences such as poor nutrition, and stress. He suggests that people that do not have the acquired phonological skills needed for reading do not prove to be the underlying causes for the failure to read.

Stein, (2018), research paper also investigates the neuroscience and genetic theory into dyslexia with how the unimportance of brain processing in reading has changed with images of the brain, showing clear differences in cerebral cortical activity particularly within the left hemisphere areas that’s important for language.  However, brain differences do not prove that they cause reading difficulties, but they could be the result of them.

Elliott and Gibbs, (2009) research questions the meaningfulness, purpose and effect of the dyslexia construct and if a diagnosis has clinical or educational value. Studies compare dyslexics with non-dyslexics frequently selecting participants as representative of normal and non-normal.

Biological theories in reading, (Elliott and Gibbs, 2009), have yielded many insights, however, the brain-based studies for making judgements to whether the individual is, or not dyslexic examines individuals with reading difficulties not a special subgroup of poor readers that might have been labelled wrongly as dyslexic.

Elliott and Gibbs, (2009), research provides evidence that the view of dyslexia is a randomly and a largely socially defined construct as there appears to be no clear-cut scientific basis of different diagnosis of dyslexia, versus poor reader, verses reader.

There are many though definitions of dyslexia with some definitions purely descriptive while other definitions are casual theories. Being diagnosed as dyslexia also means that additional help or support is available, particularly those suffering issues that affect their mental health, such as increased anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and stress. These are known as associated secondary characteristics of dyslexia.

Chappel, and Walker (2005), suggests that It has been believed that someone that can read, and spell is not dyslexic, however it can also vary depending on mood, tiredness, state of health, degree of self-efficacy, and the support available as dyslexia appears patching in individuals. When individuals enter back in to education or have changes in the work environment they also have to analyse words in a new way, without structured tuition some individuals cannot develop the awareness, or the skills required to do this. There are also stress points for adults with dyslexia throughout their life, changing from school to work, school to community life, work going back into training or education, job redefinition and promotion. Change of jobs, employment to unemployed and back again, marriage, parenthood, young adulthood to midlife and midlife to old age.

Chappel, and Walker (2005) research also shows that the emotional reactions that also come with dyslexia is confusion and bewilderment, embarrassment in certain situations, shame and quilt, lack of confidence in specific tasks and generally. The dyslexic adult may underestimate themselves and has probably been teased and misunderstood throughout school resulting in low self-esteem, anxiety fears and panic, all that can lead on to withdrawal and or aggression. Additional difficulties the adults with dyslexia all so surer from are poor motor coordination, organisation problems and short-term working memory difficulties, many adults are still unaware that they are dyslexic. However, the positive characteristics are that individuals with dyslexia have creative thinking skills, literal thinkers, have good practical and problems solving skills with a holistic approach to problem solving. Most dyslexic people show remarkable persistence and staying power in their efforts to overcome and to compensate for their problems.


The selection of the research question here became apparent when originally researching my original interest, which was concerned with the ‘impacts of late diagnosis’ of dyslexia for mature students. Unfortunately, there was too little even to start a literature review on this aspect and therefore focus shifted to review the secondary characteristics associated with dyslexia, for mature students in higher education. What though was highlighted was that some studies were not able to be certain as to whether all students suffered impacts when studying, such as anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Some studies did provide a comparative view with a control group, but these were minimal.

Overall, the importance of the actual review here is to ascertain whether all students should be offered support whilst studying, if they are impacted in terms of their mental health and well-being and not only those who are identified and labelled dyslexic. The research itself would add to the understanding of whether distinguishing between certain groups actually is discriminatory in terms of what support is available for those mature students in higher education.

The Equality Act 2010 suggests protection from discrimination providing legal rights in education, employment access to goods services and facilities. In addition, The Special Education Needs and Disability act 2001, (SEND) is a guide on the special needs and disabilities system for children and young people aged 0-25 from the 1st September 2014. This is a legal requirement that must be followed, thus explaining the duties of local authority’s health bodies, schools and colleges of the Children and Families Act 2014.

In terms of the organisation of the review, the literature will be separated into four main clusters. The first grouping will support the first claim in the question that dyslexic students are impacted by the secondary characteristics of anxiety, depression and self-esteem when studying in higher education. The second grouping though will support the counter claim that these characteristics are common to all students studying at this level. Finally, the third group will review those studies that provided a ‘control’ group and finally the forth group will focus on the life histories of a group diagnosed dyslexic but whose attempts at succeeding in education failed.

Literature review

Dyslexic students’ paper 1

The inclusion of (Dale and Taylor, 2001), article in relation to the research question, is that it provides evidence that even if students did not know that they were dyslexic, they were often ‘labelled’ from a young age and this appears to have resulted and re-enforced impacts such as anxiety and low self esteem.

Dale and Taylor (2001) aim of this qualitative research paper reviewed the consequences of labelling. The sample consisted of 21 students that were put into 7 x 3 groups with the age of the participants being in the range of 16-60. It reviewed personal learning journals, observations of classes and the statements of learners.

Dale and Taylor (2001), research presented that Most students advocated that they had a history of education failure which they took as a personal failure. One particular memory was that one participant, at school, was asked to stand on a chair to spell and was told they would have to remain on the standing on the chair until they spelt the word correctly. At the time, there was no discussion of dyslexia, but they were labelled as being on ‘the thick side’.  

The results from (Dale and Taylor, 2001), showed that occurrences in early education such as this, re-enforced characteristics such as low self-esteem and anxiety. Participants over forty years of age had come through school with no recognition of being dyslexic, whereas the younger students had some recognition of having a learning difficulty. Both age groups though admitted suffering with anxiety and low self-esteem.

A significant strength that emerged as of (Dale and Taylor, 2001) investigation was that there was an open dialogue between the two tutors and students, as opposed to the usual pattern being sole tutor single authoritative voice. The research was also guided by ‘grounded theory’ and the ‘Interactionist perspective’ of knowledge, whereby the students were able to talk in their own right, and this allowed them to reveal personal truths.

However, although the sample was small and consisted of only twenty-one respondents, the sample was diverse, as the University had used a form of random sampling.

In addition, there were no fees and no forms of requirement for prior enrolment to remove every barrier. The sample consisted of a wide range of society including afro- Caribbean, Asian as well as white and had an even balance of gender. The age range was from 16 to over 60.

Clearly though the research is now considered old as it was presented in 2001

Dyslexic students’ paper 2

The significance of (Collinson and Panketh, 2010), research is that it includes a longitudinal approach and again for this group of dyslexic students under review there appears to be a history of secondary characteristics and negative experiences.

Collinson and Panketh, (2010), research paper focus again was qualitative, and the aim was to gain an understanding of why and how some gain academic success and others fail. The learning stories that emerged were from interviews with six postgraduate students who were assessed and identified as dyslexic. They talked about their earliest learning experiences through to their present. A time line approach was used. The method used was qualitative research to explore the personal narratives and learning histories. The results concluded that all had suffered with low esteem and anxiety at some points during their lives.

In the first stage analysis, narratives included informal learning experiences that were both negative and positive. All had a degree of humiliation and the sense of low expectation that the memories had for them.

There was also a degree of resistance and perseverance resulting in the inclusion in formal learning in later life. The ‘young’ stories reflected early academic failure. However, when individuals re-entered education later in life as mature students and become academically successful, the earlier memories were still vivid.

The narratives also had a sense of being physical and emotionally excluded and linked to heightened anxiety. The study sought to develop an understanding of how some individuals with dyslexia could re-enter formal education settings and complete their studies where so many others could not or chose not to, withdrawing from education at the earliest opportunity.

Learners also recalled being physically, moved to a remedial unit or separate area within the class room, Adrian recalled being told by his teacher, to sit in the corner and don’t eat the crayons. 

In terms of strengths, (Collinson and Panketh, 2010), study sought to develop an understanding of how some individuals with dyslexia could re-enter formal education settings and complete their studies where as so many could not or did not.  The students were also able to discuss the degree of humiliation or the sense of low expectations that the memory had of them.

A limitation of (Collinson and Panketh, 2010), research paper is that life experiences are shaped by complex factors so the research can’t simplify individual experiences. As learning experiences were the focus of the interviews these narratives reflected the degree of experiences that could not be isolated from life and can be described as socially situated.

Dyslexic students’ paper 3

Kong, (2010) article links to the research question in terms of dyslexic students having depression and low-self esteem, even when being diagnosed dyslexic as a mature student (Those in Higher education). The aim of this research paper was to provide a deeper understanding of the consequences of this late diagnosis, and to explore the emotional impact on their lives. It also highlighted the need for approaches to be tailored to specific needs.

The sample consisted of three females and four male students who were formally diagnosed after starting a Master’s degree at Chiropractic College. The age range was 28-43. The method for this research paper was a Qualitative study, using semi structured interviews, with personal accounts compared and common themes identified.

The results (Kong, 2010), paper showed that all participants IQ’s ranged from 101-139. Many of the participants had a history related to low academic expectations at primary and secondary school. All suffered lower self-esteem and greater levels of anxiety and emotional insecurities. The participants expressed anger that parents and teachers hadn’t identified dyslexia so struggled through school. All students suffered from low self-esteem throughout their life and feelings of self-pity. All accepted that they would get lower grades which then lead to anxiety. All students are hard working but feel that they are lazy from other students. The major themes identified were: Distress, Self-doubt, Embarrassment, Frustration, and Confidence.

The diagnosis as an adult was found to be devastating and cathartic depending on the individual’s current emotional status and personality at the time of the diagnosis.

Kong, (2010), study found that a third of the sample were diagnosed after starting university.  However, a stigma is still attached to learning difficulty that adversely effects learning experience. Lacking is much needed assistance that can impact academic success and emotional wellbeing. 

Following diagnosis all questioned their academic abilities to varying levels becoming less confidant, de-motivated and having feelings of failure. This resulted in self-pity and confusion.  Participants also found that they became depressed and struggled with sleep as stress and anxiety levels increased.

In terms of the strengths of (Kong, 2010) study, there was no incentives to taking part in the research. The participants came from traditional academic backgrounds and all were mature students from different social and economic backgrounds. However, they all belonged to the same larger culture all that had experienced varying levels of difficulties and support.

This study also reveals a deeper understanding of the emotional crisis of a diagnosis and reinforces the need for management approaches to consider emotional support.

The limitations of (Kong,2010), research paper were that the participants responded as part of a university project therefore didn’t talk so freely as they may have done due to concerns of repercussions of speaking freely.

The sample size was also small and was only six participants. This was due to a difficulty in finding willing participants and a larger sample may have revealed more themes also allowing the data to be generalized to the general population.

Dyslexic students’ paper 4

As the focus of (Glazzard and Dale,2012) article is related to trainee teachers, with dyslexia, it also explores their studying experiences and how these are linked to impacts such as low self esteem and anxiety.

The aim of this research paper was to explore personal experiences of schooling as trainee teachers and the ways dyslexia has shaped then professionally denies as teachers.

Glazzard and Dale (2012) used the ‘life history’ approach as the participants neared the end of their course. The sample was of two trainee teachers, one aged 21 having come from University to a teacher training course and the other student was a 28-year-old mature student, who had been a nursery nurse teacher. Both students benefited from reasonable adjustments to their higher education programme which has helped them to achieve their full educational potential. Both had been successful with their teaching placements, receiving good marks in their academic work despite finding the work challenging.

The results of (Glazzard and Dale, 2012) research paper showed that both trainee teachers illustrated negative effects of dyslexia, suffering from low self esteem and anxiety. They also found that teachers weren’t helpful and there was a lack of understanding as no helping strategies were put in place. For example, one responded…..’ when I was in secondary school a very patronising teacher would ask if I would want help writing my name. This affected my self-esteem, causing anxiety throughout my schooling and I then thought that I would never be able to achieve a degree’. Julie had a very happy carefree life but parts of childhood due to education were not happy and affected her self confidence that could have had a detrimental impact on her future had things not worked out differently.

Another example indicated that early memories of school when people were called up to read, Julie couldn’t read the words and with eyes beginning to fill with water, the teacher would shout…. ‘come on your not even trying’. She was told to just go and sit down as ‘you are silly’. This greatly affected her self-esteem and confidence and from that day she hated school. Even to this day thinking about it makes her feel sick.

Although it’s not possible to make generality from the narratives the stories do illustrate the negative effect of dyslexia on self-concept and how an early diagnosis may help towards establishing a more positive self-concept. This was iniated by the two trainee teachers who used their own experiences of dyslexia to shape themselves as teachers based on caring and supportive values. This added validity to the research although it could be argued that they may have lacked objectivity.

Again, however the sample was small in this life history approach as only two people were interviewed

The validity of the research can also be seen questioned as the researcher has no real way of knowing if the participants are lying with there narratives or if their memories are correct.

Dyslexic students’ paper 5

Lambert and Dryer (2018) article reviews particularly a group studying on-line and therefore it’s effective in adding another dimension as groups in contemporary times study in different ways, particularly mature students with dyslexia. In addition, the research here was conducted in Australia, so this would give a comparative assessment to other countries. It would though again support the view of dyslexic students also experiencing secondary characteristics when studying.

The aim of (Lambert and Dryer (2018) research paper was to examine how learning in an online environment affects the quality of life for students with learning disabilities. The sample consisted of five females and three males, with the age range 21-43. Six of the participants were undertaking online courses, whilst two were ‘on campus’ students but they had also completed courses online. All the participants were diagnosed with a learning disability with one participant being diagnosed with a dual diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The method was semi structured interviews.

Lambert and Dryer (2018) article found that higher education participants rates amongst students with disabilities, have increased in countries that have legislations and programmes promoting equal education opportunities. Australia increased from 4.3% in 2007 to 6.1% in 2015, representing a 98.1% growth of students with disability. A key barrier for students with a learning disability is that students report needing to commit significantly more time to reading and completing assessments and have to work much harder to achieve the same results as a non-learning peers.   

The results from (Lambert and Dryer (2018) research showed that the quality of learning affected several different areas of their lives, including: stress and anxiety; self esteem; lack of time available for other activities; personal relationships and financial pressures. This then led to significant frustration which turn increased their levels of stress and anxiety. They also experienced increased exhaustion and physical illness due to the work and trying to keep up with other students. Overall online studying appeared to have a negative influence of student’s quality of life with regards to their psychological wellbeing.

For example, those with a learning disability reported a loss of marks due to grammar and spelling mistakes. They also felt inhibited and were slow to post online and reading ’posts’ caused distress and anxiety. One student stated …….‘some-times I wonder why I bother doing it especially when my results don’t reflect what I know.’

The study itself was guided by the critical realist perspective and the findings indicated that participating in online education had a negative influence on the quality of Life of students with regard to their psychology wellbeing, social relationships and financial situation.

Two authors of the present study did acknowledge the potential bias that may be inadvertently introduced due to not personally having learning disabilities or any other disabilities, so neither had experienced the significant challenges.

More quantitative research though separate from the relative contribution of learning disability is needed investigating interaction online, to see if that for of online studying effects different parts of student’s life.

Another limitation is that quantitative research is needed as this research had limitations as its qualitative, method with the skills of the interviewer, the depth of qualitative information may be difficult to analyse.

Dyslexic students’ paper 6

The significance of (Pirttimaa et la, 2015) article is that this group of students in Scandinavia also experienced secondary characteristics when studying similarly to their counter-parts in the United Kingdom and Australia.

In Finland particularly, although all participants had serious challenges with reading and or writing not all of them had a formal diagnosis of dyslexia, as in the Finnish school system students do not need to have a diagnose of dyslexia to be eligible for remedial instructions to improve their reading and writing skills. In Finland retaining data about students with reading and writing problems or any other disabilities studying in higher education is not permitted.

Pirttimaa et la, (2015) research results showed that disabled Students don’t all advance at the same pace. Leaning difficulties were linked to self-image, low self-esteem and anxiety leads on to negative mental health depression

Pirttimaa et la, (2015) qualitative research paper’s aim was to understand adult students’ descriptions and understanding of their reading and writing difficulties and how they cope. The sample consisted of ten participants: three were males and seven females with the age range 21-49. To improve understanding of difficulties, students’ expectations and solutions in academic progress, individual strategies are employed for copying reading and writing tasks.

The qualitative, semi structured interview-based questions focused on dyslexia itself. The Data was then analysed using content analysis. The actual interview lasted about an hour and was recorded. The results showed that many participants had negative school experiences, including humiliation, being bullied and having feelings of not belonging. The participants also hid their problems and carefully considered if they needed to mention their problems openly in public, due to past feelings of no confidence and the feelings of low esteem.

Dyslexia also affected why the type of course is applied for as studying can be slow and demanding. A slow pace of learning also put dyslexia students into social isolation as academic work is connected to adulthood, friendships and sociability. Low achievement induced low self-esteem and self-image especially if the student thinks that they could have done better.  All results were based on student’s replies.

Pirttimaa et la, (2015) article highlighted that there is a limited amount of support available for students with dyslexia at the university level considering special needs and other forms of support are well developed in Finnish schools, but not higher education. It also highlighted that future research is needed to focus on social and emotional issues raised

Limitations of (Pirttimaa et la, 2015) research showed that the Sample was again small with only ten participants in total and the sample was also gender biased with seven females and three males.  Another limitation is that Dyslexia in older students forty years of age, plus has often remained unrecognised at school so the true prevalence of dyslexia among adults is unknown.

Mature students in Higher Education paper 1

The significance of (Michie et al, 2001) article to the research question is that although there were papers that focused on dyslexic students experiencing secondary characteristics in higher education, there is also research that was not limited to a particular group with a learning disability and it was important to consider a challenge to the group under review originally.

The aim of (Michie et al, 2001) research was to explore experiences of both direct and re-entry students in higher education. It particularly investigated the impact of age, gender, past experiences of school psychology wellbeing in relation to self-concept, self-esteem, and academic stress. Another focus was if or not that, the stereotypical assumptions about age stratification which has typified much research in this area is justified.

A 112 undergraduates from university were invited to take part in a 6-part questionnaire which was used to measure background factors such as age and gender along with key outcome variables which included self-esteem, self-concept and academic stress. The age of participants was 18-21-year olds 33% and 22 years and over 67%.

Results showed that older students were found to have more negative experiences at school that reflected in their relationships with teachers and fellow students. Female students also reported higher levels of stress than males. Females also had higher emotional stress and lower self- esteem and depression which was in line with Berry (1995) study in this area.

Further research is needed to explore the range of complexity of factors adopting a diverse set of methodologies including both quantitative and qualitative approaches which also could integrate case studies and longitudinal research.

Michie et al, (2001) study failed to support the claims within the context, of student’s higher education experience that the older re-entry students were found to have had more of a negative experience, than the younger students. However, age wasn’t found to be a contributing factor in relation of psychology well-being. There was a range of factors relating to the participant perceptions of themselves in higher education.

Mature students in Higher Education paper 2

This paper (Kahu et al, 2015) is similar to the last one in that it’s focus is on those students in higher education without a learning disability. It though is not UK based and should there offer a comparison to the previous view in testing the claim in the question on a more global level. Both papers seem though to show that feelings of anxiety, low self esteem etc are common to all students and not just those with a learning disability

The aim of (Kahu et al, 2015) research is to complement and add depth to the current knowledge by using perspective qualitative design to get a better understanding of mature students and the links between academic emotions and student engagement.

Kahu et al (2015), study follows nineteen mature aged students between 24 and 59 years. All were distance learners in their first semester at university. The research used video data, reviewing their emotional experiences. Pre and post interviews were also included. Students studying by distance make up approximately a sixth of Bachelor degree students in New Zealand. Older students tend to be Highly engaged but have different patterns of engagement compared to younger students. Older students worked less with other students but had a greater capacity to integrate their learning with work experience.

Kahu et al,(2015) Findings illustrated the complex relations between academic emotions and student’s engagement. When students talked about emotions it was guilt for not spending time with children, saying that they have highest of the highs and lowest of the lows.  Academic emotions such as enjoyment and anxiety were common while hopelessness and relief were rare. Students that were leaning for a new job or links to their work were important and effected academic emotions. Interest and enjoyment positivity influence booth behavioural and cognitive engagement.

Commonly experienced negative emotions are boredom, frustration and worry even passionate learners can lose interest depending on course content and design. Frustration was triggered by teaching practices and university process poorly designed course material and high workloads. Anxiety was common with students describing themselves as nervous worried scared overwhelmed and low self-esteem, but the focus shifts during the semester.

Different emotions stem from pride and disappointment stem from university grades in relation to student expectations and past experiences.

The strength of (Kahu et al, 2015) research paper was in that it recognised academic emotions emerge from a transaction between the person and their environment and enjoyment occurs when course content aligns with the student’s life experiences.

In addition, the participants were from diverse family structures, occupations and geographical locations.

Limitations with the focus on first year’s students may indicate that some of these findings are particular to that population. Student engagement occurs within and is influenced by socio-cultural context and therefore more research is needed as this study only included

Matched controlled paper 1

Riddick et al (1999) article and the following two directly provide ‘control’ examples and therefore directly focus and compare those with dyslexia and those without a learning disability when testing for impacts of studying in higher education. Significantly this paper provides quantitative data and in comparison, to the latter which provide qualitative evidence. This is much needed as the majority of the research is focused on interviews and observations

The aim of (Riddick et al, 1999) research paper was to review personal well-being and educational experiences using quantitative research. The literature hypothesized dyslexic students’ as having lower esteem, higher anxiety and negative past educational experiences. The sample that was used was 16 dyslexic university students and 16 matched non dyslexic as a control group. The method was a questionnaire devised by the university research team, with the aim to gather information on past and present education histories on a 5-point scale used for past present educational histories. There were three sessions: the first session consisted of writing of an essay. The second session consisted of, filling out a report about culture and self-esteem. The third session was completing a through semi structured interview.

The results from (Riddick et al 1999) research paper revealed that the dyslexic students considered themselves of having a whole range of problems, with struggling with their written work, having higher spelling errors, and considerably lower self-esteem after extra work had gone into an assignment and when the assignment has come back with spelling errors, with over half of the sample having anxiety in public situations of reading out loud.  However, universities showed big improvement with attuite.

The dyslexia group had significantly lower total self-esteem scores than the control group, with 9 out of 16 dyslexic group scoured a very low score whereas in the control group 3 out of the 16 scored a very low score. Another significant finding was that the dyslexic group rated themselves as generally worse academically that their peers at primary and secondary school, where as the control group rated themselves generally as average or better than their peers.  Several students also spoke about their negative recollections at school and that these memories affected how they felt and performed with various literacy tasks.

The conclusion reached, was that a more longitudinal research was needed to answer questions which follow children on to adulthood. Strengths of this research paper is that the 16 students with dyslexia and 16 non dyslexia matched control to compare with the questioners, essay and reports to build a bigger picture. This research alone also supported offer research. Another strength was that the research was from three UK universities. 

However, the limitations with (Riddick et al, 1999) research is the age ranged dyslexic students 18-42 and the control group was from 19-35. The research was compiled in the year 1999, twenty years ago therefore with the technology and SED the participants may have had different opinions of their learning difficulties. Another limitation of this research paper was that anxiety isn’t limited to just dyslexic students. More longitudinal studies which follow children into adulthood are needing to answer questions of causality however this research paper still doesn’t answer the question for mature adults going back to higher education

This study has not been designed to look at the underlying process that leads to low self-esteem and anxiety in individuals with dyslexia.

Matched controlled paper 2

This article directly (Carroll and Iles, 2006) also provides ‘control’ examples. The Results provided evidence that the dyslexic students showed slower reading than the control group of students and hence, dyslexic Students showed higher anxiety levels with anxiety not only limited to academic but to social situations.

The aim of (Carroll and Iles, 2006) quantitative research paper was to clarify findings found in other research materials concerning dyslexic students in higher education. The sample consisted of English-speaking undergraduates, age range 19-24. There were three males and thirteen females in each group. As a control, 16 students with dyslexia and 16 students without were interviewed all were unpaid volunteers. The method was written questionnaires with questions concerning anxiety levels. All participants were told that they would get a timed reading test and that anxiety levels measured using the state trait anxiety inventory.

Carroll and Iles (2006) findings also show that as in other studies, years of repeated struggles with reading and writing will have dyslexic students feeling signs of stress worry and anxiety when placed in a situation demanding literacy accuracy. The sample was not anticipated as the sample contacted the researchers after a group email and posters were placed around the support centre. Female students were more willing to talk about there feelings and experiences past. However, females are more prone to anxiety than males, therefore anxiety was overestimated in the results due to the sample bias of sex.

A strength for (Carroll and Iles, 2006), research paper was that the sample is of 16 students with dyslexic and a control group of 16 without dyslexia of similar ages, researching anxiety in dyslexia student in higher education. The research paper came from universities in the UK.

The conclusion suggested that the assessment of emotional wellbeing should be part of the assessments for dyslexic students entering higher education.

The sample group however was small and had a small age range. The students also may have also accumulated unhelpful strategies and damaged self esteem before in so there was no way of comparing the groups. Another limitation of this research was that the paper is quite old as the study was concluded in 2006.

However, anxiety would also be predicted in all students of the same age in both groups due to the increased literacy demands placed upon all students but would need further research. Also, anxiety levels would be higher at the start of a course compared to the end of the course.

Matched controlled Paper 3

This paper (Mortimore and Crozier, 2006) also provided a ‘control’ group where easier comparison of dyslexic students against those without a learning disability could be interpreted.

Mortimore and Crozier (2006) qualitative research aim was to survey the perceived difficulties and support needs of students, using a questionnaire survey. Of 136 students, 62 had been diagnosed with dyslexia and the control matched 74 without dyslexia from seventeen British higher education’s institutes, focusing only on male students. Full confidently and anonymity was assured and all replies where sent directly to the researcher.

The Questionnaire had several sections with the first section focusing on difficulties with learning. The second section reviewed levels of support needs and the third focused on any diagnosis/ indication any other learning disability.

Mortimore and Crozier, (2006) results produced showed a recurrent theme of anxiety. This then stops students from approaching the tutors who are not aware of student’s status of having a learning disability. All the dyslexic students were worried that other students that had no learning disabilities will see dyslexia as a ‘free ticket’ with extra time in exams.

Participants were also asked if they had had experienced any difficulties at primary and secondary school. All dyslexic students showed that they all suffered low self-esteem and lacked confidence in writing and note taking, retention of information. Also, participants, showed concern of the stigma of entering a unit labelled disability, making the initial approach difficult as they didn’t want to be publicly labelled as part of a disabled group.

Limitations of (Mortimore and Crozier, 2006) research is the age group of the research group, the matched group wasn’t matched as there were 62 with dyslexia and 74 without dyslexic. Another limitation was that the research didn’t give the break down in males and females taking part in the controlled and matched group. Another limitation was the impacts on student identity with concerns about stigma of disability and the potential for unpleasant interactions with staff. A running theme with all the research papers is the age of the research papers.

Tutors should also recognize that difficulties dyslexia students experience are not just restricted to reading and spelling and are not overcome simply by providing access to word processors with gramma and smell checks.

Life stories of dyslexic students and failed education paper 1

The aim of (Glazzard, 2012), study was to review how dyslexia, has shaped self-esteem, self-concepts, and identities of the respondents. The sample included four case studies of people’s life stories with dyslexia who were not diagnosed as children. The method was ‘history data’, collection.

Results were that all suffered from discrimination. They felt this was due to dyslexia, with one engaging in a life of crime. All stories illustrate children with learning disabilities failed in Higher education.

Glazzard (2012) research presented that in all stories there is an emerging theme of parental support but in some stories, it is evident that parents had to fight to get support and worked tirelessly to achieve help for their child. Sophie’s mother, for example, worked tirelessly to obtain a diagnosis of dyslexia. Sophie continually addresses her literacy difficulties every day whilst working as a teacher and has to find strategies to overcome these.

In Rich’s story it is evident that parental support can be a negative factor……. ‘On a very personal basis his failure was now totally levelled at him. She perceived him as ‘difficult’ and uncooperative and their relationship was at an all-time low’.

In Alex’s case his parents were supportive but were clearly influenced by the views of more powerful professionals when the decision was made by the school for Alex to attend a special school.

The conclusion was that early diagnosis was crucial to stop feelings of low self-esteem and negative identities. Further narrative research is needed to illustrate the effects of dyslexia on people’s lives.

Glazzard, (2012) research is reasonably new 2012 and the paper is of four life stories therefore rich with detail that can’t be found with quantitative research, however the sample size is four and no age was given.

Life stories of dyslexic students’ paper 2

The aim of (McNulty, 2003), study was through using the life story method of narrative analysis comparing and analysing accounts of 12 participants, 8 men and 4 females with the age range 25 to 45, most attended main school and had all been diagnosed with dyslexia prior to 14. All were all interviewed extensively, concerning emotional experiences related living with diagnose. This research wanted to uncover emotional experiences from living with disorder and learn from experiences. The method that was used was all participants told their stories over the course of one to two meetings, taking 1.5 -2.5 hours. 10 participants were interviewed in their home or at the researcher’s office, 2 were participants were interviewed over the phone as they lived out of state.

McNulty (2003), results provide evidence that all participants related difficulties of self-consciousness, low self-esteem, experience of failure, all sensed insecurity they experience as adults related to lifelong struggles. Over compensate as adults enhancing personal growth and quality of life.

Jerome a 42-year-old had significant difficulty throughout school, having persisted graduated with a degree in social work but has had problems becoming licenced due to bilingual language requirement, cares for his elderly mother as a nursing assistant resulting in low self-esteem.

Deb a 28year old who is a practicing psychotherapist continues to struggle with her learning difficulties when she has a higher work load and is under pressure and low self-esteem.

McNulty (2003), Strength of the research is that even though qualitative can’t equate to quantitative research they can complement quantitative studies, resulting in more in-depth descriptions generating additional ideas for research. Due to using the interview technique the researcher can probe areas suggested by the participants answers. 

Limitations McNulty (2003), was that the test reports saying that the participants had been diagnosed with dyslexia were not seen as they had been lost. Participants came from middleclass with two upper class status therefore by virtue of their socioeconomic positions probably had access to resources, then less affluent persons, therefore there stories may represent more positives experiences, than those with poorer educational resources. Only 12 people were interviewed therefore limiting the data provided. Also, older adulthood may not have been diagnosed at school.


In conclusion, the purpose of this review was to view particular research concerned with students with dyslexia and those particularly with secondary characteristics and whether these are common to all students.

It is clear from the research included here in this literature review is that there is wide ranging interest in this field but the variance in the age of mature students presents a problem in terms of providing any comparative view. This coupled with a great reliance on qualitative research and its inherent disadvantages in terms of practical considerations and also methodological issues suggests that more research and testing is required to gain a better understanding of the group under study, specifically groupings of different age ranges and quantitative studies.

Another area where gaps appear in the research is a lack of context, in terms of socio-cultural aspects. Only those studies that took a life history approach were able to provide this. This presents another problem as it is imperative to understand how the individual is impacted by their environment and life chances.

Linked to this, it was also not known in some studies when if the student was dyslexic, the point that they were diagnosed. This is a particularly important aspect as this may, as some commentary has suggested, be directly linked and have a bearing on these students suffering secondary characteristics.

In addition, it was also difficult at this stage to determine whether globally all students suffer from anxiety, self esteem issues and depression or whether as the original hypotheses suggested, that these aspects were only common to dyslexic students. Therefore, it is evident, that more focused research is concluded to gain a better understanding as it is imperative that support is not only offered to students with dyslexia but to all students who suffer negative aspects whilst studying

Reference List

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Chappel, D. and Walker, M. (2005).’ Effective support for adults’ learners in Dyslexia and Effective learning ed. Hunter-Carsch, M.Herrington, M. London.  

Dale, M. Taylor, B. (2001) ‘How Adults Learners make sense of their Dyslexia.’ Disability &society, vol, 16 no 7, pp997-1008.

Lambert, D. Dryer, R (2018) ‘Quality of Life of Higher Education Students with Learning Disability Studying Online’, International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, vol 65:4, pp 393-407, DOI: 10.1080/1034912X.2017.141087 ( Assessed 25.06.2019)

Kahu, E. Stephens, C. and Leach, L. and Zepke, N. (2015) ‘Linking academic emotions and student engagement: mature-aged distance students’ transition to university, Journal of Further and Higher Education

Elliott, J. Gibbs, S. (2009) ‘Does Dyslexia exist?’ Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain

Everatt, J. (1997) ‘The abilities and disabilities associated with adult developmental dyslexia’, Journal of Research in Reading, vol. 20, pp. 13–21.

Fawcett, A. and Nicolson, R. (2001) ‘Dyslexia: the role of the cerebellum’. In A.J. Fawcett (ed.) Dyslexia: Theory and Good Practice. London

Michie, F. and Glachan, M. Bray, D. (2001) ‘An Evaluation of Factors Influencing the Academic Self-concept, Self-esteem and Academic Stress for Direct and Re-entry Students in Higher Education,’ Educational Psychology

Frith, U. (1999) ’Paradoxes in the Definition of Dyslexia’ Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, UK

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Department of Psychology, University of Warwick, UK 2Department of Psychology, The University of Sheffield, UK.

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UK domiciled student enrolments by disability and sex

Academic years 2015/16 to 2017/18


Academic year






A specific learning difficulty





Blind or a serious visual impairment





Deaf or a serious hearing impairment





A physical impairment or mobility issues





Mental health condition





Social communication/Autistic spectrum disorder





A long-standing illness or health condition





Two or more conditions





Another disability, impairment or medical condition





No known disability










Academic year







A specific learning difficulty





Blind or a serious visual impairment





Deaf or a serious hearing impairment





A physical impairment or mobility issues





Mental health condition





Social communication/Autistic spectrum disorder





A long-standing illness or health condition





Two or more conditions





Another disability, impairment or medical condition





No known disability










Academic year 2017/18







A specific learning difficulty





Blind or a serious visual impairment





Deaf or a serious hearing impairment





A physical impairment or mobility issues





Mental health condition





Social communication/Autistic spectrum disorder





A long-standing illness or health condition





Two or more conditions





Another disability, impairment or medical condition





No known disability










Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA,2019) since academic year 1994/95 have been collecting and analysing quantitative data of student records from universities, colleges and other higher education providers, that’s used to inform policy making, understanding of social and economic trends, regulating the education sector. All higher education providers have a statutory requirement of reporting data to the HE funding bodies on an annual basis.

2017/18 enrolled students aged 30 years and over total was 461495

2016/17 enrolled students 30 years and over total was 471905

2015/16 enrolled students 30years and over 477805

Using the last three years data a steady decline can be seen with 30 years and over adults going into education. However there has been a slight increase year on year with students with

learning disabilities However the report doesn’t break down into age groups

Students by Learning disabilities

Academic year          




















No known disability




Dyslexia, Snowling, Carroll, (2011), research paper illustrates that reading development requires letter sound knowledge and phonological awareness are the two foundation skills. The ability of mapping between letter strings of printed words and speech sounds is the basis of reading skills. With the main two theorist of dyslexia, biological or cognitive, cognitive views the primary cause as a phonological processing impairment. Cognitive differences in the structure of dysfunction in the cerebellum that affects speech processing general motor control that includes time estimation and balance explains dyslexia. Information from the language are of the brain and the magnocellular regions of the brain is processed through the cerebellum, weakness in any or all these areas could also account different types and degrees of dyslexia. Literacy difficulties may also be the result of the impaired development of large neurones in the brain magnocells that is responsible of timing sensory and motor results leading to confusion of letter order and poor visual memory of the written word.

Cognitive theories, Snowling,(2000), research shows that  information processing includes phonological processing difficulties, researchers say that phonological processing difficulties are fundamental to dyslexia found in individuals with dyslexia.  However other researchers accept this theory but see the phonological problems as a symptom related to the structure of the brain. Unstable binocular vision and unsteady fixation when reading resulting in visual confusion of letter order leading to poor memory unable to process fast incoming sensory information adequately.

Biological theories, Pennington, (1999), research demonstrations that genetics factors have been identified, focusing on heritability of reading and on locating gene markers on chromosomes. Research involving post mortem examinations have revealed that there are differences in the structure of the brain particularly in the language area, with the use positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), differences have also been identified in the structure of the living brain and active processes within the language arears of the brain.

Environmental theories Snowling, Carroll, (2011), research, factors in that there are broader environmental issues such as schooling, home, culture, social class differences also contributing to developing reading problems. society’s reactions to dyslexia certain literacy skills as a proxy for intelligence and educability so those that lack such skills are deemed as either uneducated or unintelligent. Children with dyslexia tend to avoid reading activities that then become magnified over time.

Frith, (1997) research paper illustrates a casual modelling frame work, which involves all three levels, cognitive, biological and behavioural, with environmental influences effecting all three levels. A poor reader would immediately be at the environmental level due to lack of teaching, cultural attributes even social factors, yet biological causes including genetic factors would need to be considered, therefore the level cogitative processing mechanisms would also be considered.

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