By Dr Vivek Sharma
Dyslexia is not always the learning demon that it is perceived to be. with a few shifts in attitude it can be managed effectively
Sonia is a charming little girl, who loves animals, is a great artist and is sensitive to those in distress or pain. Unfortunately, she has a hard time at school because Sonia has been labeled a dyslexic. Dyslexia is a developmental learning disorder that usually manifests itself during the early years of a school-going child. It indicates an inability to read letters, to mix their sequence and to have difficulty with numbers. This disability creates a significant gap between the true potential and the day-to-day performance of a child in school. The trauma of not doing well academically, often leads to emotional trauma, causing an aberration from normal behavior outside school as well.
On encountering such children, educators and parents often wrongly label the child as intellectually deficient. This labeling further harms the child’s self-belief and only serves to lower his aptitude even more. One notices that the majority of dyslexic preschoolers are happy and well-adjusted. Their emotional problems begin to develop when early reading instructions do not match their learning style. Over the years, the frustration mounts, as children with dyslexia often focus on their inability to meet expectations. Their parents and teachers see a bright, enthusiastic child who is simply not learning to read and write. Time and again, dyslexics and their parents hear, “He’s such a bright child; if only he would try harder.” Ironically, no one knows exactly how hard the dyslexic is trying. The emotional turmoil these children undergo manifest in the following ways:
Anxiety is the most frequent emotional symptom reported by dyslexics. Dyslexics become fearful of school because of their constant frustration and confusion there. School is something that makes them conscious of their failure and inability and therefore they prefer to avoid studies altogether. Sadly, many teachers and parents misinterpret this avoidance behavior as laziness.
Many of the emotional problems caused by dyslexia occur out of frustration with school or social situations. The obvious target of the dyslexic’s anger would be schools and teachers. However, it is also common for the dyslexic to vent his anger on his parents. Mothers are particularly likely to feel the dyslexic’s wrath.
The dyslexic’s self-image will be shaped significantly in his early years. If parents and teachers understand his problem and encourage him from early school years he is likely to grow into a confident individual. Unfortunately, in most cases, the opposite is true. Dyslexic children meet failure and frustration and believe that they are inferior to others, and that their effort makes very little difference. Instead of feeling powerful and productive, they learn that their environment controls them. They feel powerless and incompetent. Feelings of inferiority develop by the age of ten. After this, it becomes extremely difficult to help the child develop a positive self-image.
Depression is also a frequent complication in dyslexia. Although most dyslexics are not depressed, children with this kind of learning disability are at higher risk for intense feelings of sorrow and pain. Perhaps because of their low self-esteem, dyslexics are afraid to turn their anger toward their environment and instead turn it toward themselves. Since dyslexics tend to have negative thoughts about themselves, they tend to view the world negatively. Dyslexia can therefore snowball into problems at the societal level. Among these would be the following:
Dyslexia affects the family in a variety of ways. One of the most obvious is sibling rivalry. Non-dyslexic 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 runs 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 that 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 and terrifying emotions, which can interfere with the adult’s parenting skills.
The dyslexic frequently has problems with social relationships.
• Dyslexic children may be physically and socially immature in comparison to their peers. This can lead to a poor self-image and less peer acceptance.
• Their social immaturity may make them awkward in social situations.
• Many dyslexics have difficulty reading social cues. They may be oblivious to the amount of personal distance necessary in social interactions or may be insensitive to other people’s body language.
• Dyslexia often affects oral language functioning. One may have trouble finding the right words, may stammer, or may pause before answering direct questions. This puts them at a disadvantage as they enter adolescence, when language becomes central to their relationships with peers.
• Dyslexics have difficulty remembering the sequence of letter or words, they may also have difficulty remembering the order of events. Because of sequencing and memory problems, the dyslexic may relate a different sequence of events each time he shares something. Teachers, parents, and psychologists may conclude that he is either psychotic or a pathological liar.
A few other handicapping conditions arise with dyslexia. A child in a wheelchair remains there; in fact, if on some days the child can walk, most professionals would consider it a hysterical condition. However, for the dyslexic, performance fluctuates. This makes it extremely difficult for the individual to learn to compensate, because he or she cannot predict the intensity of the symptoms on a given day. These great variations produce a “rollercoaster” effect for dyslexics.
On some days, reading may come fairly easily. However, another day, they may be barely able to write their own name. This inconsistency is extremely confusing not only to the dyslexic, but also to others in his environment. Many dyslexics call this “walking into black holes.”
A Positive Approach
Both teachers and parents need to offer consistent, ongoing encouragement and support. This encouragement can be meted out in these different ways.
• Listening to children’s feelings. Anxiety, anger and depression are 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 result. For the dyslexic, progress and efforts should be considered more important than marks.
• When confronting unacceptable behavior, adults must not inadvertently discourage the dyslexic child. Words such as “lazy” or “incorrigible” can damage the child’s self-image.
• It is important to help students set realistic goals for themselves. Most dyslexic students set impossible goals. By helping the child set attainable goals, teachers can help them.
• 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. In some cases, the dyslexic’s strengths are obvious, and many dyslexics’ self-esteem has been salvaged by prowess in athletics, art, or mechanics. However, the dyslexic’s strengths are often more subtle and less obvious. 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 society for dyslexics 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. Perhaps that student can reciprocate as a reader for the dyslexic student. Tutoring younger children, especially other dyslexics, can be a positive experience for everyone involved.
Dyslexia – A Gift
Dyslexic people are visual, multidimensional thinkers. They are intuitive and highly creative, and excel at hands-on learning. Because they think in pictures, it is sometimes hard for them to understand letters, numbers, symbols and written words.
They can learn to read, write and study efficiently when the methods used are geared to their unique learning style and coupled with the positive outlook of parents and teachers.
The child needs to be reassured that there is nothing wrong with him. The problem is not lack of motivation or low intelligence. It is hidden disability that needs accommodation and special help in the classroom along with the focus on strengths. These children need caring and support, not humiliation and intimidation. They need accountability and reasonable expectations. They need positive affirmations, accurate assessments and respect for their learning style.
Let’s join hands to change the face of how dyslexics are viewed. Let us enlighten them with the gifted aspect of dyslexia. Let them know that even their darkest hour has only 60 minutes. All we need is to change our attitude.
The author is based in Jaipur, Rajasthan
Contact: Ph.: 0141-2752347, 98290-62347:
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Here are some famous people who allegedly experience or experienced dyslexia and did not let it stand in their way:
Eminent scholars: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Michael Faraday, Walt Disney
Prominent corporate leaders: Henry Ford, Ted Turner (AOL Time Warner), John Chamber (Cisco), Winston Churchill, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy.
Successful actors: Richard Chamberlain, Tom Cruise, Anthony Hopkins. General George Patton also had dyslexia