October 7, 2019 by Kim Wyrley-Birch
Dyslexia Awareness Week is upon us, and the British Dyslexia Association is doing everything it can to raise awareness of learning difficulties. Between 7 – 13 October (2019), the British Dyslexia Association is asking schools and companies to put aside half an hour to discuss how to empower the skills dyslexic people offer.
Awareness of dyslexia is critical. We need parents, teachers, and employers to appreciate the incredible strengths and diversity dyslexia brings. However, I also want to bring attention to the connection between dyslexia and anxiety.
There is significant evidence and research that shows dyslexic pupils have anxiety levels way above those without learning difficulties. Many studies show a higher percentage of people with dyslexia suffer from depression too.
In my personal and professional experience, I’ve observed that specific learning difficulties can lead to chronic anxiety. It’s a huge barrier to learning, as well as the overall wellbeing of the child.
Imagine struggling every day with things family and friends seem to be able to do with ease such as following instructions, finding the right words to use in a conversation, remembering daily tasks. Or imagine finding the straightforward things at school hard, such as remembering what sound is attached to a letter, which way round words are spelt or how to read the simplest of words.
Add to this a dyslexic’s need for time to process symbols and sounds while everyone’s telling you to hurry up! Not forgetting the shame that a child feels when they hear phrases like “I’ve taught you this so many times”, “why aren’t you listening” and “hurry up, or you’ll have to do this in your break time”.
It’s no wonder many dyslexic children feel a constant state of anxiousness throughout their day. Especially when put in the same scenario again and again. Our bodies are designed to react when faced with something scary – the ‘fight, fright, flight ‘response. Sadly, for dyslexic’s this panic happens when they’re faced with something as simple as a word, sentence or number. The reaction may be:
What’s then important to understand is the side effects of anxiety. Anxiety affects those same cognitive abilities that people with dyslexia struggle with. Anxiety also affects higher-order thinking skills such a logic reasoning something dyslexics are typically brilliant at – reducing the strength to a weakness.
Mix the effects of dyslexia and anxiety , and it ends up becoming one vicious circle. The more anxious a dyslexic child is, the more dyslexic they’ll appear, the more their self-esteem drops. That’s why it’s vital we do everything we can to manage a child’s anxiety. Do this, and their learning can and will – improve.
Illustrations by Kim Wyrley-Birch
THE EFFECTS DYSLEXIA AND ANXIETY HAVE ON CHILDREN
There are six common (cognitive) abilities that are typically weaker in people with dyslexia. It’s these abilities that we use to learn to read, write and spell:
When someone is suffering from anxiety, the side effects are:
You can see that almost all the cognitive areas dyslexic children have difficulty with are also the areas anxiety affects. Dyslexic’s strengths are also usually their higher-order thinking skills – however, this is completely diminished by anxiety.
If learners with dyslexia are to reach their potential, anxiety needs to be recognised, and practices need to be put in place to alleviate the effects.
Illustration by Kim Wyrley-Birch
WHAT ARE THE ANXIETY WARNING SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN CHILDREN?
Anxiety can be difficult to detect, especially in children who find it hard to explain how they feel. Signs can be physical or emotional, but it’s important to realise they’re not always obvious. The most commons signs to recognise are:
Physical symptoms of anxiety in children
Emotional signs of anxiety in children are harder to identify as they may be seen as unfavourable or “naughty” behaviour:
The Dyslexia Portrait, a project organised by Kate Harr
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP AN ANXIOUS CHILD?
Unfortunately, there’s not a one size fits all answer very much like with the support a dyslexic child needs. Every anxious child has their areas to work on.
I’ll go into more detail about ways to help children with anxiety in a later post. However, for now, here are a few options to explore:
If you’d like to chat further about your child who you believe is struggling with anxiety, do drop me a line. I have a lot of experience with the children I teach, and my children, in this area so I’ll hopefully be able to lend a hand – or an ear.