Dyslexia Matters – The Psychological Effects of Dyslexia


"Dyslexia Matters" is the theme for this year's Dyslexia Awareness Week 2014, concentrating on not just the condition, but providing support and encouragement. Around 10% of the population is dyslexic according to Dyslexia Action.

This has wide ranging consequences not only for those that are diagnosed at school, but at work and beyond. Dyslexia (sometimes called specific learning difficulty (SpLD), is not something that can be cured, but it can be managed. Getting the right strategies in place to help your child manage their dyslexia can change the way they view their own abilities across a wide range of areas and particularly in relation to school.

Dyslexia Awareness Week runs until November 9 2014.

Dyslexia – jumbled words

Recognising Dyslexia

The lack of a shared outlook about what dyslexia is and how best to deal with it can often leave children in limbo when it comes to managing their school days. The psychological effects can be damaging, not only in the short term but in the long term. Dealing with the psychological problems can almost be as difficult as managing the educational issues but getting your child the right diagnosis as soon as possible can make a huge difference.

Many children who are bright manage to give the appearance of overcoming the problem by being able to guess at words simply from the context. This can mean that teachers don't realise there's a problem and simply assume that the child is perhaps less intelligent than their cognitive ability scores would indicate.

At Maxwell Gillott we know from personal experience that this can lead to significant difficulties as the child struggles to understand why they can’t do as well as their friends, and can lead to serious problems with self-esteem and ultimately school attendance. On top of this, dyslexia is often found in combination with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or an autistic spectrum condition and may be missed by teachers focusing on the difficulty which appears to be causing most problems in the classroom.

Talking to your child and asking them how dyslexia affects them is the most effective way of finding the underlying cause of any anxieties they have. Feelings of frustration, hopelessness and lack of confidence are all common with SpLD.

Often, children become frustrated because they know they're not performing up to the standard of their fellow peers. This can lead to them becoming distant in class, or simply not taking part at all and ostracising themselves. Not all teachers are trained in how to identify special educational needs (SEN) and so they may miss these simple triggers and attribute them to something else, such as lower ability than the child actually has, bad behaviour, or 'acting out'. Other children simply coast through the education system, hiding their dyslexia or achieving at a level that is only just below average and so teachers don't flag them as needing any special attention.

Children and young people who present as being in a high ability range because of their level of understanding during discussions, presentations or in project or coursework may just appear to be "not very good in tests." As these young people reach GCSE and A Level, this inability to "perform" in crucial exams can lead to high anxiety levels and decreased self-confidence, both of which only compound the difficulties they already face.

Difficulties in exams can be related to problems with what is known as the "working memory" and the ability to structure written answers. These difficulties can often be alleviated quite easily by the provision of a little extra time, or a separate room so that the young person can read the exam questions and their answers aloud to themselves.

One of the aims of Dyslexia Awareness Week this year is bolstering the ongoing campaign to include dyslexia training in initial teacher training.

School Phobia and Dyslexia

From an early age, all the way into adolescence, the emotional effects of underachieving can be very damaging to children. In some cases, it can lead to high levels of school phobia. If you find your child no longer likes going to school, has become clingy, fears criticism from teachers, or they're afraid of not having perfect test scores - they may be experiencing school phobia. School phobia doesn't always mean your child has dyslexia, but it may be an indication that things aren't right.

It is important that when a child presents with signs of dyslexia, that it's made clear to them that their diagnosis is not an indication of their lack of abilities. Rather, it is a small barrier to learning in the modern world that can be managed with extra help and adopting coping strategies and different ways of working. In addition technological advances can mean that many of the apparent problems are made easier by the use of the right technology or in some cases, the use of particular typing fonts, or glasses with coloured lenses.

Reassure them that it's ok if they take slightly longer on a task compared to their counterparts. Helping a child to understand that it's not necessarily the time scale in which something is done, but the quality that is produced which is important, can have a positive impact on a child’s self-confidence and ability to achieve their potential.

Getting the Right Help

Dyslexia is considered to be a disability, but like most learning difficulties it is often hidden. Getting your child a diagnosis and assessment of their condition can be the first step to getting them additional help.

Getting an assessment is becoming increasingly difficult with school budget cuts, so getting some legal advice throughout the process can be helpful for you and your child. If your child's school has already committed to helping your child but they're not acting on that commitment, you can ask a solicitor about what you can do next. Dyslexia doesn’t have to be a barrier to education – in some ways it's just a different way of learning – but creating the right educational environment to support and encourage children is all part of the process.

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