Palti G. (2001): "Social and Emotional Aspects of Dyslexia"

I come to school.
I see all the other friends.
Who can rite and read.
But me, I’m all on my own
Not good at riteing.
Not good at reading.
I site on my bed,
I cry I cry and I cry.
But I boh’t see why.
It’s so hared for me.
Can’t you see?

(Jodie Cosgrave, age 11. Chievers and Andrew, 1996)

For many years researchers have been trying to assess the effects of dyslexia on the individual. There is a consensus that dyslexia has a profound effect on the individuals’ educational experience and their ability to master literacy skills. However, it is difficult to assess the effects of dyslexia on the pupils without considering its emotional and social effects. It is not only the specific cognitive inefficiencies that make dyslexia a serious problem, but it is also and mainly the adverse reactions and feedback these pupils receive from their social surroundings because of their specific learning difficulties.

Dyslexic pupils are perceived as being at risk of failure not only academically but also socially and emotionally. The difficulties in learning experienced by dyslexic pupils may also lead to social and behavioural difficulties in class, and/or at home. The frustration of prolonged failure on a range of curriculum subjects, resulting in feelings of insecurity and lack of confidence can have profound effects upon social status, friendship patterns in class, and acceptance and adjustment in the playground. Aggressive and anti-social behaviour may result from these tensions. Stress and insecurity can lead to an accentuation of information processing difficulties. When dealing with problems, the dyslexic pupil may adopt strategies of avoidance and self-blaming.

The dyslexic pupils are vulnerable to negative reactions from parents, teachers and peers, and may show feelings of shame of failure, feeling of inadequacy, low self-esteem, hopelessness and helplessness.

At school, underachieving pupils may be perceived as ‘lazy’ and ‘not trying hard enough’, and their failure may be viewed in terms of poor behaviour and attitude. Increased impatience and an attitude of blame on the part of the teacher intensifies the pupils’ anxiety, frustration and confusion, and bring adverse consequences to the self-esteem.

Pupils with dyslexia are very often described as having low self-esteem or negative self-perception. Such descriptions are not surprising as dyslexic pupils often experience academic and social failure and receive negative feedback at school as well as at home.

Pupils low in self-esteem are more likely to exhibit anxiety and insecurity, and to perform less effectively under stress and failure. The more the pupils experience the consequences of specific learning difficulties, the less enthusiastic, optimistic and self-confident they may become.

In the light of the evidence that pupils with dyslexia may experience behavioural, emotional and social deficits, it is important to identify those pupils at risk of experiencing such problems and to develop intervention programmes to deal with these problems.

Developing efficient communication between the pupils and the others involved with them such as parents, teachers and peers is an important process towards the effective adjustment of these pupils in their environment.

Remediation must find a way to reverse the cycle of failure and to experience success, build feelings of self-worth and increase confidence. It is important that social and emotional problems of pupils with dyslexia are addressed in the early stages as there is evidence that these difficulties may persist into adulthood, affecting their performance at work

Trying to cope with the academic demands has an emotional cost for the dyslexic pupils. It is very stressful for them to keep up with the academic work. Their socio-emotional maladjustment may be the result of aggravated and prolonged states of stress related to their learning difficulties, particularly when their coping strategies are ineffective or even generate new problems.

Individual therapy or counselling could be effective when introduced in conjunction with special educational provision. However, group therapy may sometimes be much more effective than individual therapy, because peers may be a better source of support and insight, especially peers who have the same problem. Group therapy and individual therapy may often be recommended to compliment each other. When insight is gained in individual therapy, it can be exercised in the safe environment of a supportive small group. This is recommended because dyslexic pupils do not often have a chance to air the problems they experience without being judged or criticised, not only problems with reading and writing, but also problems about making friends, feelings of isolation, shame or frustration. Because of the nature of their difficulties, many dyslexic pupils have difficulties in articulating their feelings, and thoughts often get confused because they do not have the skills to verbalise these thoughts effectively. They may also have difficulties pointing to the source of their anger or frustration. Therefore, individual or group counselling or the combination of both may clear some of these uncertainties.

Helping the dyslexic pupils develop a sense of commitment, control and challenge may be useful when coping with their stressful circumstances. The ‘committed’ dyslexic pupils will be able to find the learning situation more meaningful. They should be actively involved with building their specific educational programme, rather than presenting them with the ready-made programme. ‘Committed’ dyslexic pupils will have both the skill and the desire to cope successfully with stress.
Control means that the dyslexic pupils believe and act as if they can influence the course of events. Control allows the pupils to perceive many stressful life events as predictable consequences of their own activity and, thereby, as subject to their direction and manipulation.

Challenge is based on the belief that change, rather than stability, is the normative mode of life. From the perspective of challenge, stressful event can be anticipated as an opportunity and incentive for the growth, rather than a simple threat to security.

Thus, commitment, control and challenge, could be used effectively in conjunction with specific educational provision, to reduce stress experienced by dyslexic pupils.

In summary, parents and educators should not perceive the dyslexic pupils’ academic success as satisfactory in itself. There is a need also to address the social and emotional problems associated with dyslexia. These problems should be addressed in conjunction with the specific educational provision, if the dyslexic pupils are to cope effectively with this stress inducing disability.

The above information is extracted from the research conducted by the author as part of the Doctorate degree at the University of Bristol (1998):
“A Study of the Socio-Emotional Aspects of Educationally Resilient Dyslexic Pupils”.