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After many years of failure in mainstream education, many dyslexic adults leave school with problems with basic skills e.g. completing forms, reading newspapers and taking messages (Morgan & Klein, 2001). Whilst they may wish to improve their skills, there are emotional barriers from them re-entering any situation which places them back in the mindset of the classroom - repeating their school experiences of failure and humiliation. Morgan & Klein noted a need to tackle the ‘I can’t do it’ attitude, as this can easily lead to a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. Life Long Learning (2004) found many adults with dyslexia felt they had ‘humiliating and damaging experiences of school education and many report unsuccessful attempts to acquire basic skills through adult education…(and) were reluctant to risk ‘more of the same’…in increasing their basic skills’.

Once making it through the door of further or higher education classrooms, Pollack (2004) studying histories of dyslexic students, found high expectations of rejection and failure in examinations, with a belief of low intelligence and poor social & academic self-esteem. Stewart-King (2004) and Peelo (1994) found adult students commonly used coping strategies, such as emotional self-preserving and defence mechanism established in childhood, but as adults, these coping strategies provided only barriers to further learning. West Virginia’s Department of Education (2006) issued guidelines concerning teaching adults, that ‘negative experiences from the past may interfere with new learning and emotional association with words or events may affect the adult’s ability to gain new knowledge’. Scotwest (2006) advises adult literacy tutors that returning adult dyslexics ‘will need constant encouragement…and they will have well developed coping strategies which may be an impediment to learning’.

There is evidence that to begin the learning process, tutors need to allow adult dyslexics an opportunity to rebuild their self-esteem and self-confidence, as Adult Literacy and Numeracy (2004, p. 30) noted ‘above all, the students’ self-esteem must be boosted…and to…have students working at a level which is low enough to ensure they don’t struggle and become disheartened’. According to Morgan & Klein (2001, p.161) it is ‘crucial for students to experience immediate or nearly immediate success’. White (2006) found a need ‘for many adult return learners, particularly those who have not achieved or dropped-out of education in the past, self-confidence may need resurrection before (teaching) approaches can be effective’.

The UK’s Department of Further Education and Science (2006) notes for dyslexics ‘it is especially important to identify and understand their difficulties and use approaches that suit their learning style and give them an experience of success’ Morgan & Klein (2001) also note a need to quickly identify the students ‘learning style’, as this is the basis for their support programme.

Several researchers suggest enhancement of academic performance in students with learning disabilities through intervention aimed at increasing their perceived competence (Heyman 1990; Schunk 1989; Vogel & Adelman 1990). Morgan & Klein (2001, p. 160) note ‘it is fascinating to observe how quickly (dyslexic) adult learners can improve their self-image and demonstrable progress when teaching responds to their needs’.

Dyslexia and Reluctant Adult Learners