Dyslexia and mental health

Our 9-year-old daughter is dyslexic.  Dyslexia runs through both sides of our family although myself and my husband are not dyslexic.  When we started to realise that our daughter was finding reading, writing and spelling difficult at school, we panicked.  We wanted school to solve this for us straight away.  As we have learnt more and more about dyslexia over the past two years we realised that dyslexia is life-long but that most people develop strategies to overcome the barriers.  Our daughter is wonderful, creative, inventive, artistic, considerate, kind, intelligent and hard working.  All those traits will set her up for a wonderful life.

However, we know school is going to be tough, but we continue to focus on the positives and we always talk of dyslexia in a positive way to our daughter. One of my main reasons for this is that our family also has a history of mental health issues.  I can see that my dyslexic daughter is sensitive and has already been doubting herself because she is dyslexic.  I want her to know that dyslexia is not a disability, it is a different way of thinking and that being able to think differently is actually really rather wonderful and makes her unique.

I became a member of Dyslexia Scotland in 2017 and joined the Moray Firth Branch Committee in 2018.  As a result, I was able to attend a recent residential weekend for all branches in Dunblane at which committee members from the various branches across Scotland came together to share their learnings, to meet and talk to each other and gather information from Dyslexia Scotland about new projects and resources and work being done to promote awareness of Dyslexia Scotland.

At the residential weekend, I met adults with dyslexia and parents like myself with dyslexic children, there were also teachers and people from business.  Whether they were looking for support or offering it, everyone was there as a volunteer.  Speaking to people either in the same situation as myself or having gone through something like what my daughter is going through, was so enlightening and so inspiring. These people have had such wonderful varied lives, they have had some fantastic careers and experiences. There were artists, teachers, business owners, civil servants, office managers and more.  All had experienced periods in their life which were challenging and many had experienced periods of mental unwellness largely through their years of education when times are really tough for dyslexics.

We were lucky to have Eugene Adams of Our Mind Matters come and talk to us about mental health and self-esteem in children and his work in the education sector trying to assist children who need support and assist teachers in providing that support.  Children (and adults) with dyslexia are highly susceptible to have low self-esteem and possible mental unwellness and although Eugene was not talking about children with dyslexia specifically, it was good to hear Eugene talk about how to support mental health in children.  For me the key things were to listen, be positive and promote being active.  I will ensure that I always talk to my daughter about dyslexia being a positive thing, I will try to always listen and make sure that she knows she can come to speak to me or someone else she trusts at any time and I will always encourage her to be active whether that be in sport and physical activity or participating in something she enjoys such as arts and creative activities.

Mental health affects everyone not just people with dyslexia although the evidence does suggest that people with dyslexia are highly likely to suffer mental ill-health at some point and most probably during their education years. We need to remove any stigma associated with both dyslexia and mental health.  I want to encourage the 10% of the population with dyslexia to feel strong enough to say, “I have dyslexia and I am not stupid”.

By Mandy Clinch

If you need help and support, call Dyslexia Scotland’s Helpline on 0344 800 8484 or email: helpline@dyslexiascotland.org.uk

For more information about dyslexia, please visit our main website:

www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk

Or our website dedicated to supporting children and young aged 8+:

www.unwrapped.dyslexiascotland.org.uk

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Writing for dyslexic wellbeing

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Writing helps me take care of myself, practically and emotionally.  In this blog post, I’d like to tell you about 3 things I write and how they help me.

1. Guidance for dyslexic adults

I share good practice with other dyslexic adults by writing blog posts, magazine articles and tips guides.  I find helping my peers exhilarating, confidence-boosting and emotionally healing.  The guidance I write also lets me identify and harness things I can do to self-manage my own dyslexia.

2. Letters I don’t send

– To people who have been important to me but whom I’m no longer in touch with

This lets me ‘check in’ with people at different junctures.  It helps me to cope with their loss and absence.  But it also helps me to celebrate things I would have liked to share with them.

– To people whom I never met

…such as family members who have passed on.  This lets me express things that I did not have the chance to say to them.

– To people I’m angry with

This lets me express my anger safely.  It often lets me see aspects of the situation that I haven’t seen before, and makes me feel calmer about it.

In each of these cases, imagining the other person as the audience helps me crystallise my thoughts and express my feelings.  Even though I know the people I’m writing to are not going to read any of what I write, it still helps me to articulate it.

3. Poetry

Writing poetry helps me recover emotionally from my negative experiences.  It does this in two ways.  Firstly, it lets me feel that I am gaining control of my experiences by:

– reducing them 

Poetry is very distilled.  So describing my experiences in a poem contains them and makes them feel more manageable.  The distilled nature of poetry also gives you a lot of choice in what you say and don’t say.  If there is something that you don’t want to share, you can just leave it out.

– expressing any of them I wish in an indirect way

For example through imagery or metaphor.

– giving them some order 

My memories of these experiences are patchy and not in chronological order.  By contrast, poetry has structure, which lets me put my experiences in a certain order.  It doesn’t matter that the order I put them in is not the order they happened in; what matters is that they are now ordered and it’s me who has put them in that order.

Secondly, writing poetry lets me feel that I am distancing myself from my negative experiences by:

– creating something new and beautiful out of them

This transforms them into something else, which gives me an alternative reference point for them.

– engaging my mind 

Crafting a poem – for example teasing out ideas, playing with words and searching for rhymes – takes my mind off everything else.  I find this complete absorption in a creative activity very therapeutic.

– achieving

I find the editing process very satisfying because it lets me articulate myself fully.  Each poem I write gives me a sense of achievement, especially as I never know I have it in me until I’ve written it.

More information

If you are interested in finding out more about how writing can help your wellbeing or other people’s, whether you are dyslexic or not, I recommend a book called ‘The Writer’s Key’ by Gillie Bolton.  You can find out about it here.

By an anonymous adult member of Dyslexia Scotland