Over the years, an increasing amount of attention has been given to celebrities and successful people in general who happen to have dyslexia and/or other learning disabilities. This is a good thing. I do it myself. So do other excellent sites such as the Yale Center of Dyslexia and Creativity. Young (and older) people who “have dyslexia” as part of their profile need heroes and role models, people that show us that a diagnostic label doesn’t define who we are. Finding out that a nobel prize winning geneticist is dyslexic can be a powerful and hopeful image for a child or teen with a learning disability. When you’ve experienced a loss of self-belief, these things can be so helpful.
I also know that the public relations playing field needs to be kept level, and that adults, parents and professionals, can’t wear rose-colored glasses that hide the social and emotional damage that results from being a kid with learning differences. I’ve commented and posted here and elsewhere about the high risks for low self esteem and some serious mental health problems that can stem from being an academic/school misfit. One of the biggest triggers of adolescent anxiety and stress is school-related struggles. Anxiety carries high risks for self-medicating and/or self-harming.
In this article from the UK, we meet Lora Coyle, a young woman who was addicted to cutting herself; who started this increasingly common and unhealthy way of dealing with her life’s pain. It’s as though when you control the pain yourself, it’s easier than dealing with the real source of one’s pain. Teens who do this sort of thing, report that it’s a type of a release from their emotional pain and they learn to feel dull instead.
Lora’s pain was that she struggled to read and write. She only found out when she was twenty-five, that she is “severely dyslexic.”
“It was only two years ago I discovered I’m severely dyslexic, but I didn’t know that back then. I thought I was stupid. I would rather people laughed with me than at me, so I’d throw chairs to make them laugh if I was struggling to read in class. I was labelled the bad kid at school.”
Her cutting escalated when she was kicked out of school at age fifteen.
Lora’s problems got worse and she started drinking when she was sixteen.
The good news is Lora is now recovering and even leading self-help groups for others struggling with similar behaviors.
There are schools and treatment programs who can help address these types of problems.
I keep talking about this underbelly of our youth. So many kids who simply learn differently, who struggle when they aren’t taught in a way that matches their needs, eventually come to believe their efforts don’t matter. Lives matter. Kids matter.
We need to keep hearing and pointing to our success stories. But we also need to be vigilant to underlying causes of stress and failure.