Understanding intergenerational dyslexia of a father and his daughter: A secondary conditions perspective

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reading and Language Arts


Peter B. Mosenthal


Intergenerational, Dyslexia, Secondary conditions, Learning disabilities, Anxiety, Low self-esteem

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Education | Family, Life Course, and Society | Reading and Language | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


The purpose of this study was to explore how a father and daughter perceived their experiences with the learning disability, dyslexia. The question which framed this study was, "What is the nature of intergenerational dyslexia?" A phenomenological-constructivist (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Schwandt, 1994) approach served as the initial theoretical framework for both data collection and analysis. This qualitative case study (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998) was conducted over a two-year period and involved two subjects, a father and a daughter. In-depth interviews from both the father "Ted" and daughter "Ann" were the source of information about life experiences with dyslexia.

While interpreting my data, I found that they exemplified "secondary conditions." According to Marge (1998), secondary conditions are those additional, physical or mental health complications that occur as a result of having a primary disabling condition. In my study, the primary disabling condition was dyslexia, and there were three major secondary conditions that Ted and Ann shared. These secondary conditions included: (1) anxiety; (2) low self-esteem; and (3) a struggle with dependency. These separate categories were interrelated, and Ted and Ann's struggle with dependency seemed to be the major factor that influenced self-esteem and anxiety levels.

To maintain equilibrium, a delicate balance of support and independence had to be maintained for Ted and Ann. To preserve this stability, an additional category of "safe havens" emerged in the data. Safe havens refer to the secure, protective environments that Ted created for his daughter to resist the effects of secondary conditions. In this way, Ted felt that he had more control over the disability by actively creating a solution that helped his daughter cope with dyslexia.

This research has implications for assessment as well as educational interventions for people with dyslexia. During assessment, educators should be aware that they need to explore the possible psychological consequences of dyslexia. Educational interventions should address these consequences by considering the creation of safe havens, and by recognizing that students need a balance of dependence and independence. These results raise issues of how to support the development of the "whole student" and address the need for teachers not only to focus on remediating the deficits of individuals but also to attend to strengths that individuals possess.


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