Dyslexia; mental health matters!

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With children’s mental health week coming up, I thought it an opportune time to write about dyslexia and mental health.

Dyslexia impacts on the mental health of a child and its carers. The wellbeing of the dyslexic and their family is in the hands of the school, other educational setting, or work. Wield your power mindfully and with compassion.

I returned to education a couple of years ago. Whilst being a slow processor, with some learning challenges: memory, written expression, organisation, I’ve always loved school and learning. I loved my journey through education and have always held my teachers in high esteem.

In the course of my MA studies: a practical session, last year, I was sitting next to a ‘fast’ processor. We were sharing the activity and it was something she was familiar with. She confidently dominated, taking charge and my brain went into shut down. As an adult learner, I was able to make a joke of it and ask her to slow down. I had to look through the work at my own pace, so that I could confidently process it.

What stayed with me was the sense of panic and also a feeling, only just suppressed, of inadequacy creeping in. As a confident adult, I had the inner voice to quash this voice of dissent, but many children aren’t robust enough, and have not learnt to develop this inner voice, they come to believe they are stupid as implied and that learning is not for them, they disengage.

The experience was in sharp contrast to some Kagan training I attended a year or two previously. Here, we were put into groups according to experience (i.e. mixed ‘ability’), this is how the Kagan structures are played out. I felt vulnerable as a learner when a page of maths (not my strong point) was given out without instruction. I sought the eyes of my friend in the room, we giggled at each other, felt reassured. What I really enjoyed was working with the person next to me who showed me what to do. The Kagan structures are just that – structures devoid of content which binge around mixed ability groupings. The goal? Attainment for all. This kind of cooperative approach requires committment and skill. Then, it works.

Incidentally, this was some of the most enjoyable and influential training I have had.

Most schools now have ‘ability’ settings and dyslexic children are usually to be found on the lowest table.

Why is that?

They are often bright, articulate and love to learn. They do notice the ‘ability’ settings and these now start as early as Reception. Incidentally, I think these are as unhelpful for the ‘highers’, who start to feel entitled and lack resilience, as they are for the ‘lowers’ who often stop trying and are made to feel a failure.

How are the needs of this invisible disability being met? How is that impacting on the self-esteem of the individual? Their behaviour, anxiety levels? How are they treated by other children in the class and what small slights must they suffer daily?

Self-esteem can be thought of as the gap between where an individual would like to be and where they are. Consider this: a reasonably bright, interested individual (sometimes VERY bright), who is struggling every day to do the simple things (reading and writing) that peers seem able to do without much effort i.e. automatically. Effort is key here.

In maths, dyslexics might struggle to remember symbols, plot layout, learn to tell time and times tables. Ask them to do something quickly and they may not be able to do it at all.

Given the fact that children naturally compare themselves and that this is being implicitly reinforced through ‘ability’ groups, it surely has to take its toll?

In a school or setting where dyslexia is not recognised, dyslexics are undermined: every day, every minute, every second.

The difficulties may not end with academia. In sport, where several instructions are given at once, involving an ability to orientate oneself, dyslexics may also struggle. In performances, they may find it almost impossible to remember lines or lyrics and will struggle to sit through hours of rehearsals.

Personal organisation may be poor; the coat may be left outside, the PE kit on the floor, the glue stick all over the table. At lunchtime, they may forget the sequences around queuing up and getting served, exacerbated by a pressured and noisy environment.

Please be patient.

Please don’t suggest your dyslexic learners need to ‘learn resilience’, ‘work harder’, develop a ‘growth mindset’, these are skills a dyslexic person generally has in abundance.

Bullying of dyslexic learners by peers may be subtle and ‘below the radar’; be aware and work to stamp out attempts to undermine these children, often amongst the most vulnerable in the classroom.

Talk with your class about dyslexia and what it means for the individual, give your dyslexic children a voice and help others to understand and not to judge.

If you want to improve understanding about dyslexia in your school, read here:

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