Neil Alexander-Passe (2015) Dyslexia and mental health. London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
This book was launched at the BDA International Conference in March 2016, and is a really welcome addition to literature on understanding cognitive and behavioural aspects of dyslexia, from someone who is dyslexic himself and has extensive experience in a learning support role. It is pioneering in bringing these two topics together so thoroughly.
From my professional observations, the main links between dyslexia and mental health are three-fold:
• People who experience mental ill health as a consequence of the frustrating aspects of dyslexia, sometimes following a late diagnosis of dyslexia in adulthood;
• People who have a pre-existing diagnosis of mental ill health, apparently separate from dyslexia, but possibly exacerbated by finding out about dyslexia;
• Dyslexia and mental ill health as co-occurring cognitive experiences (the unfortunately named ‘co-morbidity’ factor), which may or may not have a similar aetiology.
Alexander-Passe definitely covers the first of these aspects and tangentially the second; the third possibility is largely unexplored at present. Researchers are finally exploring dyslexia in its wider manifestation (not just a reading difficulty), but mental health is so complex, it is hard to imagine a study that could establish a causal link between this and dyslexia.
Dyslexia and mental health begins by seeking to define dyslexia; a thankless task, such is the range of views from research. It is necessary, however, in order to brief the reader who comes from a background of knowledge about mental illness, wanting to find out about dyslexia. Alexander-Passe redeems a rather negative coverage of dyslexic difficulties in the body of chapters 1 and 2 in his key messages at the end of each, highlighting his own more positive views of dyslexia as a difference not a disability. He takes this further in chapter 4 when discussing the need for the “transformation” of negative perceptions (p.95), through working on difficulties and celebrating strengths.
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There is far too much good stuff to make a purely rational choice, so today I heard:
Lindsay Peer make a passionate plea for us to take account of the emotional impact of dyslexia.
She told us about ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) and how we might help clients channel these into constructive change. We should aim to help people not to think they can change the past, but change their response to it. We do not have to be Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) experts to use some of the techniques from CBT, to help people be more realistic, more flexible and attentive to their emotional levels. Above all she warned us not to be complacent about the impact a diagnosis of dyslexia can have on a person’s self esteem and emotional well being.
I like the thought of working in this therapeutic way, and certainly, Dyslexia Positive seeks to make its assessments contain good news to balance the difficulties. However, I do, somewhat, worry about maintaining our boundaries, especially when acting as non-medical helpers within the rather proscribed guidelines for DSA.
Margaret Meehan tell us how hard it is being bilingual and dyslexic in Wales, especially when moving from a Welsh medium school to an English speaking university. she also lamented the lack of Welsh language dyslexia assessment material.
Rob Fidler outline research on reading comprehension in adults, that I had not heard about, when I did my doctorate…so there is someone out there after all who has parallel research interests to mine! His is based on work carried out in the UK and New Zealand, exploring the impact of meta cognitive interventions, with some promising results.
A fabulously funny and inspiring workshop on dyslexia and music by the DBA music committee, which gives me lots of stimulation for my other passion relating to music ( see @suepersop on Twitter)
Finally Kate Cain doing her usual immaculate job explaining the subtleties of reading comprehension, and the importance of early intervention to train even preschoolers in higher order language skills, and not just phonics …
Great day. Let’s see what Day 2 brings.Leave a comment or ask a question »
For many years Pat had been employed by a large public body, working at a small local site. She was conscientious, enjoyed her work and felt valued by her line-manager.
During reorganisation, she was moved to a large open plan office at the main site. Her role and the tasks to be undertaken remained the same but Pat felt unable to work effectively in this new environment. There was continuous background noise she found it impossible to cut out; telephones and mobiles ringing and pinging; people talking to colleagues, sometimes calling across the office; people talking on the telephone; scraping of chairs; closing of doors. Additionally, the bright light made it difficult for her to see a clear image of text, both on the screen and on paper.
Pat made errors, fell behind with her work and found the whole situation extremely stressful, which only exacerbated the problem. A once happy, experienced and competent worker, she became anxious and miserable and was unable to cope. Prior to reorganisation, her attendance record had been excellent. Now, she was having time off work; the stressful situation was affecting her health. Her new line-manager was unhappy with her performance. Pressure was applied, more stress was created and the situation worsened.
For some months, Pat had been attending her local college to improve her literacy and numeracy skills. There, she was assessed as dyslexic and with appropriate support she gained Level 2 qualifications in both subjects. Pat showed her Dyslexia Assessment Report and Recommendations to her line manager, together with her new qualifications. She hoped that this would improve their relationship and that recommended reasonable adjustments would be made, to enable her to work efficiently, but there was a complete lack of understanding.
Sadly, the situation was not resolved satisfactorily. The case went to tribunal. The tribunal found that the employers were at fault and awarded Pat compensation. After months of ill health, she left her job; a sad end to a formerly happy and successful career.
Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) provides help for higher education students who have to meet extra costs while studying because of their disability or ‘specific learning difficulty’. Many of the students who claim DSA funding have been identified as dyslexic. A significant number of these students appear to be assessed for dyslexia for the first time after they start their higher education studies. I am interested in why this occurs and therefore decided to undertake a small-scale piece of ‘action research.’
I felt it would be interesting to examine in more detail approximately how many students were identified for dyslexia after starting their Higher Education studies. From the DSA ‘needs assessments’ completed at one assessment centre, I selected all of those that were related to dyslexia in one academic year. I then selected a random 100 students and noted when they had first been assessed for dyslexia.
• 24 had been assessed at primary school
• 10 at secondary school (between age 11-16)
• 10 during their level 3 studies (A levels or BTEC courses) – of these 8 had changed their place of study at age 16.
• 52 were assessed for the first time at University during their undergraduate studies
• 4 were assessed after completing their undergraduate studies and had just started postgraduate courses or a PHD programme. Continue reading this article… »