Thursday, 25 August 2011

Stresses associated with dyslexia

Many people associate dyslexia and similar problems like dis calculi and dyspraxia as entirely learning orientated. In other words they assume that the only effects people will suffer will be in terms of finding it harder to read, write, and in the latter two conditions, count and perform physically.

However there are a number of other effects, often completely disregarded by people generally, and even teachers and lecturers.

Most people with dyslexia and similar conditions go a fairly long period of time without having been assessed and identified as having the condition. Therefore there is usually a period of struggle prior to then having to face the "label" of the condition.

The period of struggle often involves been considered "slow", "clumsy", "stupid", "lazy", "not applying yourself", "could do better", "bad attitude", "disruptive" etc etc.

As a person is faced with these opinions, through no fault of their own, resentment grows and a negative attitude towards authority is commonplace. This results in a number of problems:
- Being disruptive, since you are being punished anyway
- Being resentful, since the system and people are being unfair
- Being depressed, since you are being criticised unfairly
- Having anger management problems, as a result of the unfairness
- Having very poor self-image, as a result of the negative comments
- Trying too hard and potentially being obsessed with success or acceptance
- Obsession with proving everyone wrong

Then there is the adjustment that occurs at the point of identification -  or "labelling". Although this can be the beginning of a positive outcome with increased support and resources, in the short term it is common for this to be another source of depression or anger. It tends to be a point at which people analyse and remember all that was said and done before, raking up old insults and conversations. It also challenges the self identity of the person, who may have worked hard to prove themselves intelligent, only now to receive what seems like a new form of critical label.

There is then also the problem of a "glass ceiling" that tends to exist. With support and positive strategies many people with learning issues create new and imaginative ways of moving forward and coping. Sometimes this even leads to new leaps of creative imagination and new useful learning strategies for other people. There is usually however a limit or ceiling beyond which the person can not easily travel in terms of achievement. This can be painful, frustrating and very bad for self image.

The problem with such a learning issue is therefore two-fold. Firstly there is the actual cognitive impairment, which is not something that can be cured, and thus has to me managed. Then there is the range of emotional and psychological issues and problems that can arise from it's presence. The two interact with one of the key issues being how badly such learning problems react to stress, anxiety or depression. Thus the dyslexic who is stressed performs far worse than the calm, collected dyslexic who is able to calmly consider their learnt strategies for learning or examinations.

Additional effects of note include the ability of dyslexic people to often see patterns within information, almost a savant effect, to use visual representations far easier than dense text, to be creative, and to think outside the box. Often these abilities are directly related to having to find new ways to cope with their own problems. Another area that is often a struggle and requires additional strategy and support is the common effect of poor short term memory. Memory tricks, careful use of diary systems and managing stress and anxiety levels are helpful in reducing the effects of any impaired short term memory. Another helpful method is frequent rehearsal prior to examinations over a longer than normal revision period, thus enabling the information to enter long term memory, where it may remain intact ready for the exam.

A number of strategies are notably useful for people with dyslexia. Meditation or mindfulness based exercises before study or work can help to cultivate the optimum state of mind ready for learning, and reduce the frequent emotional disruption suffered.

Calibration exercises are a relatively new idea, but involve learning and balance related exercises prior to starting work. This might involve listening to the TV news to begin processing information, especially on the strap line, or reading a newspaper. It might physically involve balancing and centring with Tai Chi or Swiss ball exercises. It should however be a controlled exercise so that it does not become a type of procrastination to avoid the main work at hand. It should remain a preparatory routine followed by the planned work.

Counselling and psychotherapy can be a useful combination for looking at the developmental issues and emotional issues. Self hypnosis or hypnotherapy can be used to assist memory. NLP can be used to adjust emotional states, exercise can be used to wear off anger and frustration.

Overall a kind and understanding approach is needed, not just from a therapist, but from the client towards themselves. This is crucial since the client may have internalised all the critical comments over the years, and may be used to emotionally beating themselves up!

I (Stuart) am particularly interested in the field of managing dyslexia and it's effects since both myself and my wife are dyslexic, and I work with a number of clients with the  issue. I combine the study of psychology (MSc level) with psychotherapy, counselling, hypnotherapy, NLP, CBT, coaching and meditation based exercises including Chi Gung or Mindfulness where appropriate.

Potential enquiries should note no claim is made to "cure" dyslexia, which is a life long cognitive impairment.

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