Overcoming the obstacles: life stories of scientists with learning disabilities



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Scientific discovery is at the heart of solving many of the problems facing contemporary society. Scientists are retiring at rates that exceed the numbers of new scientists. Unfortunately, scientific careers still appear to be outside the reach of most individuals with learning disabilities. The purpose of this research was to better understand the methods by which successful learning disabled scientists have overcome the barriers and challenges associated with their learning disabilities in their preparation and performance as scientists. This narrative inquiry involved the researcher writing the life stories of four scientists. These life stories were generated from extensive interviews in which each of the scientists recounted their life histories. The researcher used narrative analysis to ?make sense? of these learning disabled scientists? life stories. The narrative analysis required the researcher to identify and describe emergent themes characterizing each scientist?s life. A cross-case analysis was then performed to uncover commonalities and differences in the lives of these four individuals. Results of the cross-case analysis revealed that all four scientists had a passion for science that emerged at an early age, which, with strong drive and determination, drove these individuals to succeed in spite of the many obstacles arising from their learning disabilities. The analysis also revealed that these scientists chose careers based on their strengths; they actively sought mentors to guide them in their preparation as scientists; and they developed coping techniques to overcome difficulties and succeed. The cross-case analysis also revealed differences in the degree to which each scientist accepted his or her learning disability. While some demonstrated inferior feelings about their successes as scientists, still other individuals revealed feelings of having superior abilities in areas such as visualization and working with people. These individuals revealed beliefs that they developed these special abilities as a result of their learning differences, which made them better than their non-learning disabled peers in certain areas. Finally, the researcher discusses implications of these findings in the light of special accommodations that can be made by teachers, school counselors, and parents to encourage learning disabled children who demonstrate interest in becoming scientists.