Facing the fear of school
“The vast majority of children with learning disabilities have some emotional problem associated with the learning difficulty” Abrams 1986
I sit here while my children play happily with their friends…..feeling sad, anxious and a little sick. It’s the last day of school holidays and tomorrow is the day we dread every year. The day filled with fear and doubt. The day that marks the beginning of another year I have to face as a mum of a child with multiple learning difficulties and anxiety.
Tomorrow is also extra special as it marks the start of High school. I taught high school so you would think I have nothing to fear…..but I know the reality of what she may face. I know, despite great groundwork laid down by the very professional and caring Learning Support Teacher, that there will be teachers who do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, ignore all professional advice and make our lives difficult!
Our visit to the psychologist on Wednesday went well. We have great management in place. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy at age 8 gave me back my happy child that I had not seen for such a long time! Last year was the first year since year 2 my daughter didn’t have an anxiety vomit on day 1! She has come so far that her anxiety for the start of the year is somewhere close to within the normal range for any child off to highschool without her main friends. This year she has been quite brilliant and I’m so proud of her!
I still worry. She still worries. Despite great anxiety management, work on her self esteem, strategies to battle the learned helplessness the scars still remain. The mental health side of things holds my child back far more then her learning difficulties.
“Research has shown that individuals with learning disabilities;
_may experience increased levels of anxiety.
_may be at greater risk for depression.
_experience higher levels of loneliness.
_may have a lower self-concept.
_are at greater risk for substance abuse.
_may be at greater risk for juvenile delinquency”
Adapted from Great Schools 2016
It comes as no surprise that children with dyslexia suffer from a much greater rate of mental health issues. The moment they walk into a classroom, where literacy is the focus, they are confronted daily with their greatest area of weakness. The expectation is that learning to read is the initial purpose of school. My daughter first cried going back to school in term 2 of Kindergarten. She had a lovely caring teacher but unfortunately she wasn’t receiving the explicit literacy instruction that she needed.
When a child fails in the primary task of schooling they are forced to judge themselves, are judged by other and live daily in a world of stress. That stress follows them home in the form of homework and adult expectations. Only the most resilient children can survive such a traumatic and constant onslaught. This often results in feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, anger, frustration and guilt. Eventually a situation of learned helplessness results as the student will no longer even attempt to do something new or something they have failed in the past. They see no point in trying as they are convinced they will fail. Anxiety will increase the impact of dyslexia leading to a vicious cycle of increased anxiety, decreased motivation, frustration and failure.
My husband in recent years changed companies. For 2 years he battled a job that he hated. He gained weight. Drank more. Was constantly stressed and cranky. So he changed. Yet we ask a child to walk into a place everyday where they are faced with failure. They are tasked with learning the most difficult skill they may ever learn. Reading. Yet if not supported and instructed well they will face 12 years of heartache and failure.
No child should ever be afraid to go to school. Without the feeling of safety and support we are not creating an environment in which learning will occur.
We need to…..
*Ensure all children receive evidenced based, rigorous literacy instruction.
*Identify those at risk of reading failure early, early and early.
*Ensure all children who are struggling receive evidenced based intervention.
*Identify children at risk of mental health issues early.
*Ensure children receive professional advice for mental health.
Please see Mental Health and Dyslexia Fact Sheet also available in Fact Sheet menu. https://www.dropbox.com/s/zvg9ks1y6vzujn7/Mental%20Health%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0
Abrams, J. C. (1986). On learning disabilities: Affective considerations. Journal of Reading. Writing, and learning Disabilities. 2, 189–196.