During October’s Dyslexia Awareness Month, New York’s Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education posted an important series of articles on their blog debunking commonly-held myths (see yesterday’s PediaBlog) and reviewing assistive technologies available for students diagnosed with dyslexia, curricula and teaching strategies that work quite effectively for affected students, and the importance of early diagnosis and educational intervention. What cannot be overlooked, says education specialist Beth Guadagni, is the emotional toll dyslexia has on those children:
If you’ve been following the posts in this month-long series on dyslexia, you know by now that people with dyslexia are bright and creative, that they can achieve excellent outcomes with the right instruction, and that there are plenty of great tools to help readers and writers with dyslexia navigate the challenges of literacy. All of this sounds optimistic – and it should. But parents and educators should be aware that students with dyslexia may suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, and frustration related to their academic challenges.
It’s not hard to imagine just how easily children with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities can become discouraged and demoralized as they struggle mightily with reading, writing, and speaking. These are bright children, with average-or-above intelligence and talents, who recognize the ease with which their non-dyslexic peers learn and socialize — even as they struggle academically and socially every single day:
Feedback from their teachers, even the most well-meaning, can be discouraging for children with dyslexia. Because of the types of errors they tend to make, particularly in spelling, dyslexic children are often told to try harder or pay more attention. Their errors may be labeled as “careless” or “lazy.” Some teachers, confronted with an obviously intelligent student who is making the simplest of errors, assume she just isn’t trying. In fact, many children with dyslexia are some of the hardest workers in their classes, so being misunderstood as careless can be especially frustrating.
It may also be emotionally trying for students with dyslexia to see their classmates learning to read and spell with an ease that is difficult to understand. As children develop proficiency with reading, they are often asked to read aloud in front of the class, placed in leveled reading groups, or sent to the library with their classmates to check out books. All of these scenarios could be uncomfortable for a child with dyslexia, especially one who has not received a diagnosis. All she knows is that she is in the lowest reading group and that she struggles with the easiest books while her classmates are graduating to chapter books.
Dyslexic children and adults often find themselves isolated socially from their peers:
Social struggles can continue outside academics, too. Some individuals with dyslexia struggle with language-even oral language-and may not understand complex social scripts. Some also have difficulty understanding sequencing, making blindingly fast social interactions governed by cause-and-effect relationships seem bewildering. Finding the right words is another language-based challenge that impacts people with dyslexia, so even if a child understands what is being discussed, the process of adding his insight can be frustrating. An additional hurdle, more relevant now than in the past, is the constant presence of text in young people’s social worlds. Rather than chatting on the phone, a majority of kids socialize via text messages and social media platforms, which can make it tough for kids with dyslexia to follow what’s going on with their friends and add their own contributions.
Guadagni says that helping a dyslexic child understand what dyslexia is, and what it isn’t — demystification — helps the child accept his or her differences for what they are (differences, not abnormalities) and promotes effective self-advocacy in school and in life. She ends on an optimistic note:
Finally, kids have trouble appreciating that things tend to get markedly easier for people with dyslexia once they finish school. School has made up an enormous part of their life experience for about as long as they can remember, and it’s hard to imagine that there’s any other system. Luckily, there is. The real world is kinder and more accommodating than school often is, and there are a variety of ways to build and measure success rather than a single report card.
Read more about dyslexia on the Yellin Center’s blog here.