Your child’s mental well being is one of your top priorities. As a parent first and foremost you want your child healthy and happy, the rest will fall into place as life throws its inevitable curveballs towards you and your family. Having a learning disability does not just impact your child in the classroom or sitting at the kitchen table doing homework, it can impact every facet of their lives. Learning disabilities, like dyslexia, are intertwined with mental health challenges namely anxiety, self-image issues, and depression. When most people have little to no experience with dyslexia they often view it as children seeing letters backward. They fail to realize that it is so much more complex than that and it has the potential to have drastic impacts on a child’s mental health. To celebrate World Dyslexia Day we wanted to shed some light on how anxiety, self-image, and depression can be caused by learning disabilities and what parents and teachers can do to help.
Anxiety is the emotional symptom that is most closely linked with a learning disability. A child can enter a cycle where their learning disability has caused them to get a bad grade, or not be able to understand a book they are reading in school, and then anxiety sets in. They remember what it was like to see that grade as the teacher put it down on their desk or how it felt to sit up at night trying to understand an assigned reading book and in the future they will be wary about taking tests or reading class books. Everybody who suffers from anxiety knows that you want to avoid the thing that you fear at all costs. For children with learning disabilities, this is often schoolwork and homework. Many children with learning disabilities are reprimanded for not participating in class discussion or not turning in homework on time but according to LDonline.org, this has a lot more to do with anxiety than with the child being uninterested in the topic.
We find comfort in the familiar. It is why we gravitate towards the same coffee shops, watch the same movie every time you see that it is on, and no matter how much you want to “try something new” you probably rotate between your favorite 3 takeout places every time you order in.
On the flip side, we find the unfamiliar uncomfortable. Moving to a new town, exploring a big uncharted city, or starting a brand new job all offer varying levels of anxiety. The idea that newness and uncertainty results in anxiety shed light on why children who have dyslexia and ADHD tend to deal with mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. According to Smartkidswithlearningdisabilites.org; “For the child with LD/ADHD, walking into a restaurant can feel like being a young child in Times Square on New Year’s Eve: too many people, too much noise, and the feeling of being trapped can lead to panic. Next time the child is expected to go out, he begins to worry hours before.”
In general, a child is in school for 180 days a year, 5 days a week, and about 7 hours for all of those days, (or for the time being they may be distance learning) give or take some holidays or absent days. This means that a child’s entire life is pretty much dictated by the school and its environment. Children put so much weight on everything that happens at school whether it is who they sit next to at lunch, or which friend got the highest essay grade. A child’s self-image is incredibly dependent on how they are doing at school. If they are getting constant positive feedback their self-image will soar. If they are getting constant negative feedback, particularly from people in authority like a teacher, their self-image will plummet.
This can create an inferiority complex in a child’s head and they create almost a hierarchy of the class placing themselves at the bottom. Children without learning disabilities claim their successes and realize that when they succeed it is because what they did was correct/good and when they get something wrong they think about how they just have to try harder next time. Children with learning disabilities tend to not think in the same way. When they get something wrong or “fail” they attribute it to them being “dumb” or “stupid” and when they get something right they may toss it up to luck.
Embarrassment adds to a low self-image for children with learning disabilities. Children are usually so concerned about how their peers view them and sometimes those peers aren’t the nicest. Being called on and getting the answers wrong, or being asked by their teacher to speak after class their self-image takes a hit each time. According to LDonline.org, a child has the foundation for their self-image developed by 10 years old and it can be very hard to reverse.
Children with learning disabilities are at a much higher risk of sadness and painful thoughts. This has a lot to do with their negative self-image. This low self-esteem causes them to feel like bad things that happen are all their fault and they can’t see and don’t blame outside factors. Depression often takes the form of low energy, an inability to get out of bed, and a lack of motivation in adults. It can show itself differently in children and have almost the opposite effect. Children can “mask” their depression and become even more hyper and even more talkative.
While they may not talk about how sad they are you might hear a child mention bad things about themselves. As they become more and more depressed their self-esteem drops even further. They also become negative about the events around them. Things that are supposed to be fun may not give them any joy at all. What makes this even more difficult is that they often don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Their depression has clouded their view of the future and they might think that their future is going to be just as grim and depressing as they view their present.
How to help them
As a parent, the last thing you want is for your child to have negative feelings; especially not anxiety and depression. The first thing that you can do is have an open path of communication with your child. According to Smartkidswithlearningdisabilites.org; if these feelings are left to fester they can deepen and cause long-term social isolation or academic failure. Connecting with a mental health professional can help set your child on the right path to redirecting some of that negative self-talk and ultimately help them with anxiety, self-image, and depression.
Remembering the fact that a child’s life revolves around the school is also essential in battling mental health challenges. It is important that you and your child’s teacher are on the same page when it comes to how to interact with your child. They are already going to be hard enough on themselves it is imperative that parents and teachers practice positivity and encouragement with your child. Parents and teachers need to encourage effort not just results and work with the child to set realistic goals that are tailored to them. This is a team effort and one that is essential in setting your child up for success, which is the ultimate goal of both you and your child’s teacher.
Need help understanding how to advocate for your child at their school? Reach out to one of our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL Family Support Partners at 888 - 273 - 2361 or reach us online here.