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Improving the self image of a dyslexic child
by Michael Ryan, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Ada, Michigan

Over the years, many parents have asked how to improve the self-image of their dyslexic child. This is an important question because we want all children to grow up with a positive self-concept.  At the tender age of five or six, children leave the security of the family unit and become a part of an educational system largely driven by the pursuit of literacy. If a child fails at learning to read and write, it could impact his image of himself and produce feelings of frustration or helplessness. It is important to note that dyslexia is not in itself a disability, it is a condition. 

In my practice I have worked with hundreds of children with dyslexia and have found that improving one’s self-image involves three things: identifying advantages, nurturing passions, and encouragement (A.P.E.). 

Advantages

Recognizing and using the strengths of the dyslexic learning style can be considered such an asset if the child’s environment is sensitive to these strengths.  In a seminal book, The Dyslexic Advantage, Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide have combined expertise in the areas of neurology and education to explain how the dyslexic child’s unique perceptual and reasoning skills afford him with a different lens in which to view the world.  Using clinical and research data, the Eides have identified four areas of strength:

  • Material reasoning is the ability to use visual-spatial reasoning to see things in multiple dimensions. Mechanics, engineers, designers, or higher-level mathematicians possess this ability.
  • Interconnected reasoning is the ability to see how things relate to each other, often in unique ways. This type of reasoning contributes to abstract reasoning ability, sensitivity to relationships between people, and the creative abilities often seen in individuals with dyslexia. Interconnected reasoning enables the dyslexic individual to see things others often miss.
  • Narrative reasoning is the ability to construct and connect a series of mental scenes to recall the past, explain the present, or anticipate the future. This skill produces excellent storytellers and helps the dyslexic child remember information when it is told in story form.
  • And finally, dynamic reasoning is the ability to accurately predict past or future states from complex data. When given complex or ambiguous data, individuals who excel in dynamic reasoning are able to generate a number of possible hypotheses and select the one that best fits the data. Often the individual uses a combination of material reasoning and narrative reasoning skills to make real-life predictions. This is a skill that many successful entrepreneurs use to anticipate and identify ideas or products that will be needed in the future.

Passions

Identifying passions and interests is crucial.  Dyslexics often have particular subjects or activities with which they are fascinated. Finding ways to link their advantages to their passions can be difficult, but is an extremely powerful intervention. Practicing and building upon skills already proven to be an area of success fosters motivation and furthers that success.

Encouragement

The contribution of supportive and significant adults in a child’s life to encourage a child’s interests and endeavors cannot be overestimated. Recognizing and praising the child’s accomplishments is only part of this process. It is important to complement specific characteristics of the child’s performance, considering the process rather than simply the end product.  Using phrases like, “I love the way you use the color red in this picture,” or “You really shot ahead in the last hundred yards of that race, you must’ve been exhausted,” or “You must feel proud of….” builds confidence in children.

Finally, it is equally important for the adults in the child’s life to not only recognize their accomplishments but to also be involved. This may mean attending sporting events, playing video games, or helping to fix mini-bikes. It can be difficult for parents who do not share their child’s interest, but it’s important to find a way to generate that interest, for example, taking pictures of your child’s track meet. And rather than worry about the video games, keep in mind that these games are simply complex computer programs and may pique a child’s interest in becoming a computer programmer. Rap music often involves complex recording techniques that can foster an interest in technology and even help the child understand set theory.

If dyslexic child grows up with a positive self-image, a supportive and caring environment, and an understanding of their advantages, there are few goals the individual cannot attain.