Stress is a normal part of life for all people. However, people with dyslexia can experience high levels of stress and anxiety.
Types of stress
There are different factors that can cause stress. Eustress is ‘good stress’ and usually we choose to go through this ourselves because this is the type of stress we feel when we challenge ourselves in sports, at a fun park or when watching a film. Acute stress can also be good for us as it helps us to deal with unpredictable situations. We might experience this in a traffic jam, before giving a public talk or when we realize we have forgotten the car keys.
Chronic stress on the other hand is a result of living in repeated exposure to stressful situations. Research shows that this kind of stress can be a physical threat as it causes our bodies to react by continuously producing stress hormones. These stress hormones in turn can cause damage to our bodies. They can cause high blood pressure, heart failure, strokes and even diabetes.
Sometimes we try to deal with this by mentally trying to block out the stressor and at times we can show signs of shutting down physically or psychologically.
Anxiety and Dyslexia
People with dyslexia are more prone to experience this type of anxiety that often leads to stress. Sometimes people who do not understand what dyslexia is, tend to make the individual feel inadequate, have a low self-esteem, experience lack of confidence in everything they do and thus fail in most of the things expected of them at home, school or in the community. Myths surrounding dyslexia, such as ‘People who have dyslexia are lazy, lack intelligence, can never learn to read and will never get a good job’ continue to stress the individual.
This stress starts at a very early age. Sometimes this starts off as early as in pre-school when children with dyslexia might also experience speech difficulties. Then in the early years, during primary school classes, the core subjects are the most difficult for the student with dyslexia to grasp. They are the years when children are introduced to the basics of reading, writing and spelling. With traditional teaching methods where children have to write, spell and read together with the ‘pen and paper’ approach in all subjects, it is no wonder that children feel so stressed out. To top it all, in Malta at such a young and vulnerable age, children have to cope with two languages, not one. Because of their difficulties, progress is slow and frustrating and what is even more frustrating is the attitude towards these difficulties. Sometimes at home or in the classroom, children are compared to the siblings or peers that do not have difficulty relating to the traditional methods of learning. Children become embarrassed, introverts and defensive most of the time also getting into trouble because of their ‘behaviour’. Even at such a young age, children isolate themselves and become lonely and depressed. In older students, keeping up with a conversation can also be problematic. At times, schools also nurture this depression as students become more and more aware that they are lagging behind when compared to their peers.
Helping to overcome anxiety
Ideally, if a student or child is experiencing difficulties with learning, it is the parent’s / guardian’s or teacher’s responsibility [in this case to recommend to the parent] to make
sure that the child is assessed by an educational psychologist. One can do this by directly finding an educational psychologist, by discussing with the school’s INCO or by applying for this assessment through a credible organisation such as the Dyslexia Association or the Learning Centre at Inspire. The assessment usually takes about one to two hours [sometimes even more] where the psychologist tests a range of the student’s abilities. These tests look at abilities / difficulties that examine skills in reading, writing, Maths, problem solving, processing and visual skills. Once an assessment has been made then the profile of the student’s difficulties can indicate the type and frequency of the support needed. At this point the student must also be involved in the understanding of where his difficulties lie and how these are impacting his functioning in the school environment. He /she must understand that this is happening not because he is unintelligent but because these difficulties are causing an impact on his way of learning. Discussing these difficulties openly even with school staff will decrease the stress level on the student. Teachers must be involved in how stressful situations need to be dealt with and where possible, avoided. Examples of this can include copying from a board or reading out aloud in the classroom.
Self-advocacy will also support the individual throughout his life. Children and adults need to know what their areas of difficulty are. They also need to know what strategies will help them succeed as opposed to fail.
Another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is leading a healthy life-style to include an adequate, varied diet, intake of fluid and exercise. As research states the importance of leading a healthy life-style is also beneficial – regular exercise is known to enhance brainpower and to reduce stress. Another important aspect that helps to reduce stress is finding an area of strength and using this to implement an extra-curricular activity such as sports, arts, music etc.
Many people with Dyslexia will tell you that these activities have kept them from thinking that they are good at nothing and that they cannot achieve because they are having difficulties at school.