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.
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.
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.
One of the best things that can happen to a child (or adult!) with dyslexia is a diagnosis of dyslexia from someone who can help him understand what this disability really is. He must be shown, over and over again, the difference between the kind of rote learning that his brain doesn’t master as easily and the kind of high-level thinking at which he excels.
Children with dyslexia need opportunities to feel successful, whether or not these occur in the classroom. Sports and the arts have been critical confidence-boosters for innumerable students with learning challenges. Volunteer opportunities, particularly those in which they can play a leadership role, are also excellent places for young people with dyslexia to build feelings of success and self-efficacy.
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.
photo credit: Redd Angelo