You’re sitting in class full of people you aren’t familiar with. You open your textbook to find the entire thing is written in German. This isn’t new to you, you’ve explained before that despite trying to be taught German you still don’t understand it. The teacher starts to teach and everyone around you is reading out loud, they all have “caught on” as you stare at the page in front of you, unable to make any sense of the symbols on the page. It’s your turn as you hear your name called, your breaths come faster, there’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach, your palms slide against your desk, sweating. You feel as if every eye is on you, your anxiety is at its peak….
This seems like an unrealistic situation, but my son says it is very real. Dyslexia affects twenty percent of the population; my son is in that twenty percent. 2 Anxiety is one of the leading emotional symptoms reported by adults with dyslexia. 2 In 2013, the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, published a study on the Neuropsychological comorbidity in learning disorders. 1 They found that in cases of a specific learning disability, which dyslexia falls under3 , anxiety was present in nearly 30% of the cases. 1
My son was diagnosed at age six with Dyslexia, it only took two years for the diagnosis of anxiety to follow. He started school with as much excitement as any child does, but it didn’t take long for the excitement to turn to dread. During first grade there were tears and talks of being stupid, asking me if he would ever get it. The anxiety kept building, he was chewing on his clothes, on his toys, having panic attacks, and eventually it was hard to even get him out of bed. The stress of facing a system that seemed stacked against him had taken its toll. At eight years old he was put on a low dose anxiety medication after cognitive behavioral therapy didn’t entirely alleviate his symptoms. He is now ten, in the fifth grade and we’ve come a long way from those emotional first years of school. With his medication, a strong support system at school and at home, he’s now a B honor roll student and he’s starting to like school again.
Because individuals with Dyslexia, especially when there is little understanding of their disability, feel many things are out of their control. School can pose a serious stressor and without the proper supports, they may give up on it altogether. People with Dyslexia can learn to read, if given the intervention early on, remediation can take only a few years. But without those accommodations, without the proper instruction it can result in anxiety that goes far beyond just school.
My son told me recently that giving him a 5th grade level book to read is basically like asking him to read German. He is at a 3rd grade level, something to be incredibly proud of with where we started. But even now there are situations that arise that I hadn’t foreseen. Book fairs, where he comes home with books far beyond his reading level just so he wouldn’t feel so out of place with his friends. Timed tests, standardized tests, it seems as if these stressful situations will keep popping up. He deals with his stress better now, the medication helps, but anxiety will always be a part of his life.
So, imagine yourself in that situation, staring at a page full of words that might as well be in another language. You’re expected not only to decipher what it says but also know what it means. By the time you get to the end of a paragraph you feel like you’ve mentally ran a mile. Everyone else around you have finished the first three pages and you feel like you’ve failed before you even started. Imagine now, experiencing this at only six years old.
- Margari, L., Buttiglione, M., Craig, F., Cristella, A., Giambattista, C. D., Matera, E., . . . Simone, M. (2013, December 13). Neuropsychopathological comorbidities in learning disorders. Retrieved September 21, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3878726/Parents. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/
- What does the dyslexic person feel? (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2018, from http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/parents/living-with-dyslexia/home/social-emotional-challenges/what-does-dyslexic-person-feel
- What is Dyslexia? (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2018, from http://dyslexia.yale.edu/dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/