The majority of dyslexic children have come to the conclusion that hey are stupid!
In any school in any week of the year a dyslexic child experiences a huge amount of failure. With sequencing difficulties, any form of writing or math/s is going to present severe problems, and the dyslexic child cannot fail to notice that almost all of the other children are able to do the work which he or she finds so hard. Why can’t he read and spell? He must be dumb, thick, stupid. It’s the conclusion that anyone would reach in similar circumstances, and it badly needs changing before any corrective teaching is going to be effective.
However good our methods with phoneme awareness, finding interesting books and word games are, this basic foundation for each child of a secure self-confidence has got to be addressed before any real progress can be hoped for
The difficulty with dyslexia is that it is not visible. If the child had a broken arm, everyone would be rushing around giving extra consideration. ‘Of course he can’t write – his arm is broken! There’s nothing wrong with his intelligence.’ But no-one ever says ‘Of course he can’t spell – he has inherited a different pattern of brain circuits! There’s nothing wrong with his intelligence.’
Teachers, parents and the dyslexic child himself come to the clear conclusion that he must be slow-witted.
What I am suggesting is a little cognitive therapy by the teacher, if possible in conjunction with the parent! Not as hard as it seems. The assumption in the child’s mind – that he is stupid – is inaccurate, and it needs correcting if he is to re-establish the self-confidence he needs to learn. This is not going to be achieved simply by telling him that he’s as intelligent as the next person. Well-intentioned people have been telling him that for years to no effect. He needs evidence, and he needs to re-construct the picture he has of himself in his own mind. Only in this way can he see his difficulties as a dyslexic learner in the proper context of a person – like anyone else – who has both strengths and weaknesses. Most dyslexic people have great strengths in the areas of physical co-ordination and/or creativity and/or empathy with other people. His strengths may lie in some of these areas, and he will know that lots of other children are weak in exactly these same areas.
The following exercise has a great effect on children, and can be carried out by a parent, or a teacher, or, if at all possible, both together with the child, who needs to be on his own (not in a group situation). Take a sheet of paper and make two columns: in one column put ‘Things I am good at’ and in the other ‘Things that I am not so good at’
- Things that I am good at
- Things that I am not so good at
Take about five or ten minutes of discussion with the child for you to write a list of things that the child is – from an objective point of view – successful at. These will include such skills as swimming, sports, caring for pets, making a collection, dancing, drama, singing, art, painting, drawing, and so on. In the ‘Not so good’ column let the child tell you the things like spelling and writing that he really finds hard. The list will look something like this, depending of course on each child’s interests:
- Things that I am good at
- looking after my rabbits
- collecting stamps
- getting on well with other children
- clearing the table
- making people laugh
- being friendly to grandpa
- knowing about space and the planets
- Things that I am not so good at
The evidence is staring the child in the face: there are far more things that he is good at than things he has difficulties with. He can’t possibly be stupid. He is clearly a successful person.
But he may well say that the things he is weak at are the things that matter in life. If you can’t spell, how can you pass exams and get a job? This is the stage at which you have to argue – not tell – and say such things as ‘What do you value people for – because they are good at spelling? Of course not. You value people for all sorts of qualities, especially their ability to be friendly, get on with you, consider your needs, think of other people before themselves and so on. It’s up to you to keep the argument going until the child can really begin to see himself in a new light – as a successful person who just happens to have been born with a small handicap. Like being color-blind. It’s not his fault. It’s not because he doesn’t try hard enough (as, unfortunately, many teachers will have told him).
Seeing himself in a new light can be a turning point for the child – whatever his or her age – and this new-born self-confidence can lay the foundation for the special kind of learning he needs to build up the spelling and writing skills that his fellow pupils find so much easier to acquire.
But it’s not an over-night change, and it needs carefully nurturing over the coming month. The list should be carefully preserved and pinned up at home in the kitchen for all to see. He needs praise, gold stars, credits, and certificates over the coming weeks for things he does in school – of a non-cademic nature – which are commendable: helping a new pupil to settle in, co-operating well in a games session, coming up with a fresh creative idea for art, and so on. The certificates he receives for these valuable activities may be the first he has ever received in his entire school career.
Confidence Building in Practice
I began this activity by talking about a new session my learners would be having with me, which is Positive thinking. I modelled on the board my list and the children called out ideas. At the beginning of this activity this particular learner said, ‘I’m not good at anything’.
My reply was ‘Yes you are. You are good at football’. This made him realise that – yes – he can do things. With some discussion he managed to make a list.
Things that I am good at:
- Helping my friends
Things that I am not so good at:
- Writing stories
At the end of the session he felt quite confident about the things he isn’t so good because I was able to bring to his attention that he can read just not as well as he is wanting to at the moment. We talked about books he had read and group reading activities where he sometimes helps other children with words like they help him.
The following day it was group reading. He put his hand straight up to be the first to read and he read steadily and more readily accepted help from the other children. (S. B-W., Somerset, UK)
Recognizing low self-esteem
A J is the typical 14-year-old boy—great athlete, “cool” with the girls, and loves to clown around when the pressure is on. I believe that underneath that façade what he projects is fear of failure in the eyes of his peers. During class he appears to pay attention but, when he is called upon to answer something that he is unsure of, he pretends not to have heard anything in the past five minutes.
This elicits a classroom response of giggles, especially in English or history. Science is a totally different matter, where he is truly interested, and is the first to answer or ask questions about an experiment. History and English are difficult, so he is frequently forgetting to complete assignments on schedule without constant reminders. He wants his peers to believe that he is just as carefree as everyone else and that school doesn’t offer any extreme challenges. (Lisa Landers, Texas)
Praise for non-academic achievements
Dyslexic children rarely receive certificates, merit points or stars for academic achievements. To compensate for this, non-academic achievements can easily be recognised and rewarded. Examples of such instances include:-
- Helping in class by handing out/collecting in work;
- Demonstrating to rest of class in P.E.;
- Showing good effort (regardless of outcome);
- Keeping desk tidy;
- Being organised with own equipment for lessons;
- Showing kindness to others;
- Willingness to participate in discussions;
- Sitting quietly and attentively;
- Good table manners at lunchtime;
- Helping to put out equipment or tidy up;
- Being polite;
- Setting a good example to younger pupils;
- Willingness to become involved in all aspects of school life (productions, clubs, trips, fundraising activities, etc).