One of the most neglected issues in the field of dyslexia is the topic of social and emotional health.
We now know that as a group, dyslexic people are more emotionally sensitive than non-dyslexic people and because emotion memories may be so strong in dyslexic people, negative and painful experiences can have long lasting effects on children and adults.
I was recently talking to a woman who remembered the moment when a substitute singled her out for a simpler, alternate assignment. She said it was the moment she decided that she would close the door on her dyslexia and do everything in her power to act like she didn’t have it. It would take years for that feeling to change.
She never told anyone – and many people wouldn’t have known about the burden she was carrying.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NAMING THE FEELINGS
We now know that putting a name to the feeling or experience can relieve some of the emotional distress of negative experiences.
In the studies comparing dyslexic and non-dyslexic children, dyslexic children showed signs of greater emotional reactivity – as measured by physiological measures like respiratory rate or skin conductance or sweating. But something that psychologists refer to as affective labeling or “putting feelings into words” can defuse the strength of emotions – even physiological ones.
In 2007, Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues at UCLA found that putting feelings into words disrupted activity of “fight-or-flight” reactions in the brain.
Naming the feeling (frustration, shame, sadness) can often put a child or adult onto a healthier path toward reinterpreting the event (sometimes referred to as “reappraisal”) and developing a more constructive path forward.
NAMING FEELINGS TO HELP SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-COMPASSION
Parents, spouses, and friends can help empathize by finding words that may capture the feelings.
Once the intensity of emotional responses are defused, it can become easier to become more self-aware about what is causing the response. In the case of students, it may be the need for changes at school or more support.
Strong emotions can swamp words and people who process events in more nonverbal terms may have difficulty coming up with what they want to say in real time when a stressful, demeaning, or unfair situation arises.
Although you can’t always control a situation, you can control your response.
Recognize the potential burdens that come with being dyslexic and be pro-active about prioritizing your students’ emotional health.
Create a refuge in your home if school is difficult for your student. Try not to worry, compare, or over emphasize school performance. Talk to your student about dyslexia, the positive side of their differences, and advantages.
Learn about principles and practices of positive psychology. Martin Seligman described a model of well being based on cultivating PERMA:
– Positive Emotions: peace, gratitude, inspiration, hope, curiosity, awe
– Engagement: finding activities that deeply engage our interest (flow)
– Positive Relationships: friends, family
– Meaning: living for things that are larger than ourselves
– Accomplishments: doing things that have value, developing skills, achieving goals.
There are lots of wonderful resources available on the web and in book or audiobook formats that can help you learn more about positive psychology, mindfulness, and resilience.