Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Looking at Dyslexia, Part 2

What does the dyslexic person feel?
As discussed in Looking at Dyslexia, Part 1 dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Or to put it more simply, it means a difficulty learning to read. Because school is so reading-heavy, being a struggling reader means, almost certainly, that most of school is a struggle. Today’s post talks about what feelings a struggling reader may be dealing with. Although the bulk of this information comes from the International Dyslexia Association website, I’ve edited the information to shorten it. Please visit their site for more information.
Dyslexics often become fearful because of their constant frustration and confusion in school. Anticipating failure, entering new situations can be scary for them. Anxiety causes people to avoid whatever frightens them. The dyslexic is no exception.
Many teachers and parents misinterpret this avoidance behavior as laziness. In fact, the dyslexic’s hesitancy to participate in school activities such as homework is related more to anxiety and confusion than to apathy.
Many of the negative feelings and behavior problems with struggling readers occur out of frustration with school or social situations. The obvious target of their anger would be schools and teachers. However, it’s common for them to vent their anger on their parents. Often, they will sit on their anger during school to the point of being extremely passive. However, once they’re in the safe environment of home, these very powerful feelings erupt and are often directed toward one or both of their parents. This becomes very frustrating and confusing to the parents who are desperately trying to help.
Self Image
The struggling  reader’s self-image can be extremely vulnerable to frustration and anxiety. If  children succeed in school, they will develop positive feelings about  themselves and believe that they can succeed in life. If children meet failure  and frustration, they learn that their effort makes very little difference.  Instead of feeling powerful and productive, they feel powerless and incompetent.
Researchers have learned that when typical learners succeed, they credit their own efforts for their success. And when they fail, they tell themselves to try harder. However, when struggling readers succeed, they’re likely to attribute their success to luck. And when they fail, they simply see themselves as stupid.
Depression is also a frequent complication in struggling readers. Although most are not depressed, they are at higher risk for intense feelings of sorrow and pain. They are unlikely to be lethargic or to talk about feeling sad. Instead they may become more  active or misbehave to cover up the painful feelings.
Family Problems
Like any handicapping condition, dyslexia has a tremendous impact on the child’s family. However, because dyslexia is an invisible handicap, these effects are often overlooked. Dyslexia affects the family in a variety of ways. One of the most obvious is sibling rivalry. Nondyslexic children often feel jealous of the dyslexic child, who gets the majority of the parents’ attention, time, and money. Ironically, the dyslexic child does not want this attention. This increases the chances that he or she will act negatively against the achieving children in the family.
Specific developmental dyslexia tends to run in families. This means that one or both of the child’s parents may have had similar school problems. When faced with a child who is having school problems, dyslexic parents may react in one of two ways. They may deny the existence of dyslexia and believe if the child would just buckle down, he or she could succeed. Or, the parents may relive their failures and frustrations through their child’s school experience. This brings back powerful emotions, which can interfere with the adult’s parenting skills.
How can parents and teachers help?
Some struggling readers have learned to deal successfully with their learning problems, while others  have not. Three of the things that affect their chances for success are:
  • Early in the child’s life, someone has been extremely supportive and encouraging.
  • The young dyslexic has found an area in which he or she could succeed.
  • Successful dyslexics appear to have developed a commitment to helping others.
Both teachers and parents need to offer consistent, ongoing encouragement and support. However, one rarely hears about this very important way to help youngsters.Successful encouragement involves at least four elements.
  • Listening to their struggling reader’s feelings. Anxiety, anger and depression can be daily companions for dyslexics. However, their language problems often make it difficult for them to express their feelings. Therefore, adults must help them learn to talk about their feelings.
  • Teachers and parents must reward effort, not just the product. For the dyslexic student, grades should be less important than progress.
  • When confronting unacceptable behavior, adults must not inadvertently discourage the dyslexic child. Words such as “lazy” or “incorrigible” can seriously damage the child’s self-image.
  • Help students set realistic goals for themselves. Most dyslexic students set perfectionistic and unattainable goals.  By helping the child set an attainable goal, teachers and parents can change the cycle of failure.
  • The child needs to recognize and rejoice in his or her successes. To do so, he or she needs to achieve success in some area of life. Parents and teachers need to find ways to relate the  child’s interests to the demands of real life.
  • Many opportunities exist in our schools, homes and churches to help others. One important area is peer tutoring. If dyslexic students do well in math or science, they can be asked to tutor a classmate who is struggling. Tutoring younger children can be a positive experience for everyone involved.
The original article was written by
Dr. Michael Ryan is a psychologist with a private practice in Grand Rapids, MI. He specializes in working with people with learning disabilities. A dyslexic himself, Dr. Ryan is a past president of the Michigan Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and a former national vice president of IDA.
I hope you have found this information to be helpful. Do you have comments or questions? Please add them to the Comments box.

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