Dyslexia Primer for Social Work

Translational Research to Update Strengths-Based Practice, Advocacy, and Attitudes


  • Michelle D. Garner University of Washington, Tacoma




Dyslexia, special education, disability, stigma, neurodiversity, translational research


Dyslexia is a lifelong epigenetic neurobiological difference (neurodiversity) in brain formation and processing. Though highly prevalent, most people, including social workers, know little about dyslexia. Whereas dyslexia predicts common cognitive strengths and weaknesses, it is most often associated only with weaknesses, due to misinformation or a simple lack of information. As a result, pervasive myths (e.g., laziness, low IQ) drive beliefs, attitudes, and policies that contribute to disproportionally poorer educational, financial, justice system, and mental health outcomes for individuals with dyslexia – a cycle of externally and internally applied stigmas with significant practical effects. This analysis applies a person-in-environment conceptual framework to explain this cycle, as a step toward disrupting it. The analysis uses translational research methods, drawing from current science, to provide positive framing to dispel common stigmatizing myths and to foster strengths-based social work practice and advocacy by and for individuals with dyslexia.

Author Biography

Michelle D. Garner, University of Washington, Tacoma

Assistant Professor of Social Work


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