Several years ago I ran a workshop in Birmingham that was aimed at assisting parents of dyslexic children to gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding dyslexia.
The workshop was well attended and some of the parents had brought along their children with them as they perhaps thought it would be of benefit for them to meet me – maybe to inspire them to persevere with their efforts to overcome dyslexia – you see, I was functionally illiterate as a child and it took me from the ages of 18 to 31 to learn to read and write to a good enough standard to get myself into university – I’m now finishing off my PhD in education on the subject of dyslexia.
Anyway, returning to the focus of this post, ‘The Dyslexic Label and Low Self-Esteem’, there were twin boys (8 year olds) attending the workshop – one that had been labelled as dyslexic the other who had not. Yet, both brothers showed very similar issues when it came to reading and writing.
However, I noticed a striking difference between the two of them – the twin that had been labelled as dyslexic had very little confidence when it came to his reading and writing abilities. His brother, on the other hand, was extremely confident and was at times – in typical sibling rivalry – mocking his brother for the ‘mistakes’ he was making whilst writing a short story about his dyslexia. This twin was also keen to show off his literacy skills whilst his brother shied away from writing and at times seemed to be somewhat embarrassed when asked to writing something.
Curiously, the father of the twins spoke to his son who had been labelled as dyslexic differently to how he spoke to his son that had not been labelled in this way. For example, I heard him telling the dyslexic twin that his brain was not normal like his brothers and that’s why he needed to have special treatment at school – a sure way to knock a child’s self-esteem! I also noticed how his attitude seemed different to the ‘dyslexic’ twin, it was almost as if had resided himself to the fact that this son would never achieve academically.
Both brothers produced written work on the day along with a couple of drawings that had speech bubbles coming from the characters they had created. At first glance, I couldn’t tell who had produced what – they both spelt words unconventionally, their handwriting was ‘messy’ and in places illegible, and they both appeared to have difficulties expressing themselves on paper to a level that matched, or came somewhere close to, their verbal abilities. The only differentiating factor between the two sets of work was that they had both taken the time to write their names on the top of each piece of paper. On looking at their work I was puzzled why one of the twins had been assessed as dyslexic and the other one had not.
On reflection, I remember thinking how the lives of the twins would most probably go off in quite different directions as a result of one being labelled as dyslexic – this happening despite there being (in my opinion) very little difference between the two of them in terms of their literacy skills.
I remember thinking at the time how the only real difference between the twins was the perception that they held of themselves in relation to their literacy skill. The ‘non-dyslexic’ brother appeared to have high levels of self-esteem and seemed to view himself as more than able to read and write – whist the other brother appeared to have low levels of self-esteem and clearly doubt his reading and writing ability. I speculated that the ‘non-dyslexic’ brother stood a far great chance of improving his literacy skills over the years as he would more than likely engage with written language to a far great extent than his ‘dyslexic’ brother would.
It was during this workshop that it really hit home just how damaging the label of dyslexia can be for some children.
Article by Antonio Farruggia-Bochnak, 11th January, 2010