Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia

My clinical observations lead me to believe that, just as dyslexics have difficulty remembering the sequence of letters or words, they may also have difficulty remembering the order of events. For example, let us look at a normal playground interaction between two children. A dyslexic child takes a toy that belongs to another child, who calls the dyslexic a name. The dyslexic then hits the other child. In relating the experience, the dyslexic child may reverse the sequence of events. He may remember that the other child called him a name, and he then took the toy and hit the other child.

This presents two major difficulties for the dyslexic child. First, it takes him longer to learn from his mistakes. Second, if an adult witnessed the events, and asks the dyslexic child what happened, the child seems to be lying.

Unfortunately, most interactions between children involve not three events, but 15 to 20. With his sequencing and memory problems, the dyslexic may relate a different sequence of events each time he tells the tale. Teachers, parents, and psychologists conclude that he is either psychotic or a pathological liar.

The inconsistencies of dyslexia produce serious challenges in a child’s life. There is a tremendous variability in the student’s individual abilities. Although everyone has strengths and weaknesses, the dyslexic’s are greatly exaggerated. Furthermore, the dyslexic’s strengths and weaknesses may be closely related.

I once worked with a young adult who received a perfect score on the Graduate Record Exam in mathematics. He could do anything with numbers except remember them. The graduate students he tutored in advanced statistics or calculus had great difficulty believing that he could not remember their telephone numbers.

These great variations produce a “roller coaster” effect for dyslexics. At times, they can accomplish tasks far beyond the abilities of their peers. At the next moment, they can be confronted with a task that they cannot accomplish. Many dyslexics call this “walking into black holes.” To deal with these kinds of problems, dyslexics need a thorough understanding of their learning disability. This will help them predict both success and failure. Dyslexics also perform erratically within tasks. That is, their errors are inconsistent. For example, I once asked a dyslexic adult to write a hundred word essay on television violence. As one might expect he misspelled the word “television” five times. However, he misspelled it a different way each time. This type of variation makes remediation more difficult.

Finally, dyslexics’ performance varies from day to day. On some days, reading may come fairly easily. However, another day, they may be barely able to write their own name. This inconsistency is extremely confusing not only to the dyslexic, but also to others in his environment.

Few other handicapping conditions are intermittent in nature. A child in a wheelchair remains there; in fact, if on some days the child can walk, most professionals would consider it a hysterical condition. However, for the dyslexic, performance fluctuates. This makes it extremely difficult for the individual to learn to compensate, because he or she cannot predict the intensity of the symptoms on a given day.

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