For a dyslexic child small problems can seem like insurmountable mountains. In this article, Sughra Farah Taha uses a real life example and an example from popular media to explore the indicators of this learning disability, and how they affect a dyslexic child’s social and emotional development.
A learning disability (LD) is a neurological condition that interferes with a person’s ability to store, process, or produce and reproduce information (Ryan D., 2013). This definition is an umbrella term for a wide variety of learning difficulties. In this article, I am going to explain from my experience, how dyslexia affects a child emotionally and socially.
Dyslexia is defined as difficulties with accurate and or fluent word recognition and is characterised by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instructions (NICHD, November 2002).
“I do it … I try, I cry, they‘re all wrong”
To support and explain the emotional and social aspects of dyslexia, I will refer to a personal example and also to an example from a film.
This is the writing of a 9-year old dyslexic boy. His writing indicates how he perceives words. He writes, “I do it … I try, I cry, they‘re all wrong”. His feelings of frustration and disappointment at not being able to achieve success are clear in these writings. Such feelings lead to low self-esteem. Every child needs to be proficient in reading and writing; this allows them to follow simple instructions, express their thoughts on paper and also to use grammar and syntax correctly. However, for a dyslexic child this does not come easily. I think that when a dyslexic child is unable to display these acquired skills he suffers a great deal of trauma when mocked by his peers in school, which is their predominant learning environment.
I would also like to talk about the Bollywood film Taare Zameen Par, which many of you may have seen. This film depicts the life of a dyslexic child, Ishaan. The film charts Ishaan’s mental anguish when he repeatedly fails tests and exams, when his peers mock him, and when he gets no support from either teachers or family. Ishaan is labelled as “lazy” and “stupid”. His academic shortcomings make a strong impact on both his social and emotional development. As a result, he is unable to make friends and is reluctant to participate in class due to the lack of nurturing in his environment.
Of messy handwriting, spelling mistakes and mirror images
‘When discussing social and emotional skills, it is in reference to the reactions, responses, techniques and strategies that a child with dyslexia uses in a situation when he or she is amongst a group of people. When talking about the emotional impact, it refers to not only feelings but also a dyslexic child’s emotional intelligence; which include knowing one’s emotions and recognition of others as well’ (Keogh, 2003).
Children should feel comfortable and be able to develop a sense of confidence in their learning environment; however a dyslexic child feels a sense of de-motivation, and humiliation, due to the lack of social and emotional skills, thus developing low self-esteem.
We can see in both examples that the children have difficulty writing, which is reflected in the erratic sequencing and structure of the words, the lack of or incorrect use of punctuation, and irregular spelling errors. Handwriting appears to be messy, immature and illegible; the spelling mistakes are due to mistakes in phonetic sounds like “wean” for “when”; word transportation, for example “owt” for “out”, letter omission, for example “pensl” for “pencil”. “Often in the same paragraph or sentence, each child tends to misspell the same word incorrectly numerous times”(Francis, 2011).
When his teacher is discussing Ishaan’s lack of progress in the principal’s office with his parents, numeric mistakes can also be seen in Ishaan’s math test and the numbers appear to him in a mirror image. This mirror imaging is also seen in the writings of the dyslexic child that I know personally.
Dyslexic children also face problems when reading text, as often the words appear jumbled on the page. Comprehension is also a challenge in dyslexia as instructions are often not understood or processed by the child (Ryan D. , 2013). Furthermore, we see that when typical learners succeed they credit their own efforts for their success and when they fail, they simply try harder. However, for the dyslexic child, when he or she succeeds, it is attributed to luck and when he or she fails, the child sees himself as unintelligent. This can be seen in Taare Zameen Par when Ishaan is the only child who is able to make a model boat, but when his friends applaud him, he runs away.
To further support my analysis, here are two paragraphs from an article written by Dr Michel Habib.
1. “One of the most robust discoveries in the domain of cognitive mechanisms leading to dyslexia is the repeated demonstration that the core deficit responsible for impaired learning to read is phonological in nature and has to do with oral language rather than visual perception. The deficit is in the ability to manipulate in an abstract form the sound constituents of oral language, so-called phonological awareness (or metaphonology). Whereas most children are able to perform tasks requiring segmenting words in smaller units (syllables and partly phonemes) well before reading age, dyslexic children are still unable to do so even after several months of reading and writing.”
2. “Clinical studies have long reported that most dyslexics make errors that follow visual rather than strictly phonetic laws, e.g. confusions between symmetrical (b/d) or visually close (m/n) letters, and that at least some of them may derive from purely perceptual impairments. Although such errors are present in most children with otherwise typical phonological problems, they can also occur predominantly or even exclusively in some, a situation often referred to as visuoattentional dyslexia. Accordingly, the characterization of a `dyseidetic’ subgroup of dyslexics supposed a visual deficit at the origin of the disorder with preferential use of a phonetic strategy when reading. A reverse dissociation was proposed for `dysphonetic’ dyslexics” (Habib, 2000).
A cycle of frustration and confusion
There are eight stages in Erikson’s psychosocial theory and each has its own distinctive goal for developing a healthy personality. “Each stage arises because of a new dimension of social interaction becomes possible with increasing maturity” (Doreen A. Rosenthal, 1981). If children succeed in school, they will develop positive feelings about themselves and believe they can be successful in life. If children meet failure and frustration, they learn that they are inferior to others and that their efforts make little difference. Eventually they begin to feel powerless and incompetent.
One of the many emotional problems caused by dyslexia occurs out of frustration with school or social situations. (Ryan D. , 2013). A dyslexic child’s emotional problems begin to develop when early reading instructions do not match their learning styles; frustration mounts over the years as classmates surpass the dyslexic student, as seen when Ishaan is made to repeat grade three.
Social scientists have often observed that frustration produces anger, aggression, violence, and irritability. The obvious target of a dyslexic child’s anger would be schools and teachers. Often, the child sits on his anger during school to the point of being extremely passive (Greene, 1997). Anger is a by-product of failure and frustration followed by anxiety, depression and aggression; this is apparent in Ishaan when he kicks the flowerpots outside his neighbours’ door out of rage and frustration. Almost eighty-two per cent of dyslexics experience these issues (Greene, 1997, p. 202). Anxiety is the most frequent emotional symptom reported by dyslexic children; they become fearful because of constant frustration and confusion in school and social settings. Many teachers and parents misinterpret this anxious behaviour for apathy and indifference, when in fact the dyslexic child’s hesitancy to participate in school activities, such as homework, is related more to anxiety and confusion (Greene, 1997, p. 202). This anxiety and confusion is often the reason that a dyslexic child has trouble completing his assignments correctly or even attempting them. Not surprisingly, the writings of the dyslexic child that I know indicate to us these feelings of anxiety and frustration when the child says, “What’s wrong? It’s wrong, they’re all wrong.”
The problems with peers
Further analysis of my studies reveals that seventy-two per cent of dyslexic children are withdrawn and prefer isolation (Prascilla, 2011). The child withdraws himself from all social activities and interactions for fear of being mocked, teased and rejected by peers, teachers or siblings. Poor social and withdrawn behaviour combined with their below-grade level performance can often lead to bullying and rejection as well (Prascilla, 2011). From these statements it is found that the most serious and lasting problem of these children are their inadequate social skills; this can be seen in the film when Ishaan avoids the company of his peers in school and also instead of playing cricket with the boys in his building; he plays with the dogs. In another scene, Ishaan is seen on the rooftop all alone whereas his peers are playing by the lake.
Furthermore, dyslexia affects language skills. Dyslexic children have great difficulty in finding the right words to express themselves. As a result they may stammer or pause for a long time before responding to questions (Vogel D, 2010). This would explain why Ishaan was stammering when telling his parents that he had ‘bunked’ school.
The effects of dyslexia reach well beyond the classroom. It can affect a person’s self-image. Students with dyslexia often end up feeling ‘dumb’ and less capable than they are.
After experiencing a great deal of stress due to academic problems, dyslexic students may become so frustrated that they begin to consider school and learning, to be bad experiences or punishments. In the film Ishaan saw the boarding school that he is sent to, as a punishment. Once this happens, it is difficult to change the child’s perception of school.
‘If only he would try harder’
“When the child is labelled as ‘lazy’, or as ‘not trying hard enough’ or is verbally abused by being called a ‘duffer’ and ‘idiot’; often parents are told that ‘their child is bright, if only he would try harder’ (Colins, 2011). Ironically, no one knows exactly how hard the dyslexic child is trying. This on-going conflict of labelling and not understanding the struggle of the child can be seen where the dyslexic child says, “I do it, It’s done, They’re all wrong, I try…”
Depression is another common problem in dyslexic children. Although not all of them are depressed, they are at a higher risk for intense feelings of sorrow and pain, mostly due to their low self-esteem. They tend to be stuck in a negative thought cycle and sometimes develop a negative self-image. They see the world in a negative manner, making it difficult for them to have fun. This point is made clear when the teacher in the film comes dressed as a clown and everyone is enjoying it, whereas Ishaan shows a negative response to the teacher by not smiling or participating in the fun and looks down throughout that time.
The social impact of dyslexia is also evident in peer relations. This may be due to several factors such as difficulty in reading social cues or being insensitive to people’s body language. Dyslexic children’s poor motor skills and lack of perception, limits sporting and play activities (Colins, 2011). We are informed of the lack of this skill when Ishaan’s brother explains how he is unable to throw or catch a ball. It is my observation that this inability to display these motor skills leads to less peer acceptance, as is seen when Ishaan is unable to throw the ball back to the boys who were playing cricket. The boys begin to call him names and also try to hit him.
Dyslexic children also have difficulties remembering the order of events and when relating it, they tend to mix that sequence, making it seem as if they were making up a story. These are further causes for peer ridicule and social unacceptability (Ryan M. , 2004). Many dyslexic children have difficulty reading social cues meaning, “they may be oblivious to the amount of personal distance necessary in social interactions or insensitive to other people’s body language” (Ryan M. , 2004).
The importance of early intervention
The aspects explained in this article outline feelings of anger, anxiety, fear, failure, confusion and depression experienced by dyslexic children. These hinder their social and emotional development. Social and emotional developments are closely related and are often regarded as one domain of learning. In order to help these developments take place, teachers and adults must be aware of the symptoms of dyslexia. Only then can they make an early intervention, which is imperative for the child’s social and emotional development.
Dyslexia is an underlying brain abnormality. After psychological testing, a suitable learning program designed with the dyslexic child’s needs in mind can be developed. Growth in these domains is essential as it helps children to make friends, feel secure and feel good about themselves. Consistent, on-going encouragement and support is essential. If factors such as joy and success in academics as well as personal relationships are found, then a dyslexic child will excel and succeed in life.
Retrieved from Dyslexia Research Institute: www.dyslexia-add.org
Colins, A. (2011). Understanding Dyslexia. 3.
Doreen A. Rosenthal, R. G. (1981). Journal Of Youth And Adolesence, 252-537.
Francis, P. H. (2011). A Dyslexic Student.
Greene, L. J. (1997). Learning Disabilities And Your Child. New York: Ballentine Books.
Habib, D. M. (2000). The neurological basis of developmental dyslexia. 6-8.
Keogh, B. (2003). Temerament in the classroom. In Understanding Individual Differences. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.
NICHD. (November 2002). Retrieved from http://www.interdys.org/FAQWhatIs.htm
Prascilla, S. (2011).
Ryan, D. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.ldaamerica.org/new_to_ld/defining.asp
Ryan, M. (2004). Social and Emotional Problems Related To Dyslexia.
Sughra Farah Taha has been teaching at Kids & Co since 2010. She is an IECE graduate (2013-2014). This article has been repurposed from an assignment she did for the TRC-IECE Child Development course.