Stress is a normal part of life for all people. However, people with dyslexia can experience high levels of stress and anxiety in ways you may not realize. Here are some tips for understanding and helping kids with anxiety.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress can be caused by a physical threat, such as experiencing a car accident, or a psychological threat, such as fear of forgetting your lines while speaking in front of others. The way that we respond to stress is a reflex that is often referred to as fight or flight and is a natural response to a perceived danger that is meant to protect us from harm.
We can run away from a stressor (flight) or stand and take on the stressor (fight). If we feel like we can overcome some stressor, we will ‘fight’ and in doing so return to our normal relaxed state of being.
However, if a stressor causes us to feel a lack of control, or as if we cannot overcome it, this leads to a negative flight response. In extreme cases, this fear can cause a person to freeze – either mentally as in to shut down thinking or physically as in an inability to physically move. In this situation, we are literally paralyzed with fear of harm – whether physical or psychological.
Anxiety and Dyslexia
Stress and anxiety increase when a situation feels out of our control. All people can experience extreme stress and feel anxious, however, people with dyslexia are more apt to experience anxiety than others. Many dyslexics do not fully understand what dyslexia is and how it affects their learning. This can be compounded by teachers, coaches, and even friends and family who don’t understand dyslexia and, often times, believe the variety of myths surrounding dyslexia. These misunderstandings lead to years of self-doubt and can, over time, result in a lack of confidence and an inability to face their many daily challenges at school, work, and home.
Because the early years of school focus primarily on the very subjects that cause dyslexics the most trouble – reading, writing, and spelling, their progress is oftentimes slow and frustrating – especially when taught with traditional teaching methods of ‘drill and kill’.
This situation is exacerbated by being compared to siblings or classmates that learn well with traditional methods. This continual sense of coming up short can lead to embarrassment and defensiveness.
Because people with dyslexia have experienced embarrassment when their weaknesses are misunderstood, they are more likely to withdraw from social situations with the risk of becoming depressed and isolated. Read this post for more information on the emotional side of dyslexia.
Overcoming Anxiety in Dyslexia
As parents or dyslexia advocates, it is our job to empower our kids to overcome these situations. Here are six tips for overcoming anxiety associated with dyslexia:
1. Define: If your family is experiencing high levels of stress because of your child’s learning struggles, I recommend that you get him or her tested. Testing will show specific areas of weakness and strength and often reveal that your child’s struggles are not due to a lack of intelligence as many misunderstand dyslexia to be. Read this post on how and where to get tested for dyslexia.
2. Educate: Based on the information obtained by the testing you have done, parents and kids need to be taught how dyslexia has an impact on his or her performance in school, the workplace, or social situations including a thorough debunking of the myths associated with dyslexia. There are tons of reliable dyslexia resources listed right here on our site as well as our Parent Dyslexia Classes designed to educate parents quickly.
3. Anticipate: Encourage a dialogue with your child about situations that are causing the most stress for them and role play and discuss ways to face them – the fight reflex. For example, if attending a classroom situation is causing anxiety, mom or dad can talk to the teacher and explain what dyslexia is and common accommodations that are helpful such as not requiring a child to read out loud or pairing the dyslexic child with a child who reads well when there are activities requiring reading or writing beyond their ability.
4. Teach Advocacy: It’s important to teach children, adolescents, and adults effective strategies, techniques, and approaches that will maximize success and minimize frustration and failure. This often involves teaching them how to self-advocate – a skill they will need for the rest of their lives. Advocacy involves understanding their diagnosis, what areas of their learning are the most impacted, and which accommodations benefit them the most. In the adult years, this may also involve understanding legal rights. Read more about how to teach kids with dyslexia the vital skill of self-advocacy here.
5. Exercise: Regular and vigorous physical activity is known to enhance brainpower and reduce stress. So it is important to build in opportunities for exercise. This step also involves encouraging the person to drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet.
6. Success: In my experience raising and homeschooling our 7 kids with dyslexia, one of the most important things to do is to find areas of strength and cultivate them. This results in experiencing success often not easily found in the classroom. Allow your kids with dyslexia to experience sports, the arts, maker classes, or any other activity that they may have an affinity for. Many adult dyslexics will tell you that they never would have made it through their school years without being able to thrive in some area whether sports or music or art.
If you are looking to get educated about dyslexia and how to educate, encourage and empower your kids with dyslexia, you have come to the right place.
For more information on getting started homeschooling your child with dyslexia, download my free ebook, Homeschooling With Dyslexia 101, What You Need to Know to Homeschool Your Kids With Dyslexia, that covers things like understanding learning styles and teaching methods, how to create a positive learning environment and schedule, or how to set goals and get it all done.
For more information on specific strategies to teach your dyslexic child the way he or she learns, consider taking one of our Parent Dyslexia Classes.