Wow. I’d like to let you know that I received a robust volley of emotion-filled replies to my recent blog about the misperceptions surrounding dyslexia. A big shout out to all my wonderful readers! So many folks shared their childhood experiences, and many of them had not even been diagnosed until adulthood. As I read people’s stories, it got me thinking about how we can find meaning in those early struggles. Pain and suffering are not fun, but can they be turned into something positive?
When you have dyslexia, you become intimately acquainted with failure at a tender age. Our brains don’t work like non-dyslexic brains, and that causes many complex challenges. After failing repeatedly, perhaps being held back a grade a time or two, we can develop a pervasive fear of failure. We can feel broken and hopeless. And of course since dyslexia is life-long, these struggles don’t go away. They are forever a part of our daily life. Might sound kinda grim, and it might often feel that way too.
But how can we use these personal experiences to help others? In a word, mentoring.
When we seek out kids who comprise the next generation of dyslexics, we have so much to share. Think about it: what would it have meant to you to have someone in your life, just as you became aware you were different, telling you they understood how you felt and offering helpful suggestions? What if they told you that you might feel broken and ashamed, but that you were not broken, your brain just worked differently? Maybe they could have even explained how toxic shame is to the human heart and spirit, and helped you develop a healthy inner dialog to foster self-esteem. What if they showed patience and kindness, and helped you in fun, practical ways with your reading and writing? I daresay that such a mentor could change a life in a profound and powerful way.
Here’s the thing: as an adult with dyslexia, you have just such an ability. Here are some ideas to get you started.
If your child, student, grandchild, or family friend is very young—say, elementary school age or younger—start with a fun, instructive story about mentoring and asking for help. Failure, or fear of failure, is one of the greatest challenges in pursuit of our passions. I’ve written a picture book called Chipper the Clown that could help with this. It tells the story of a man who pursues his dream, encounters stumbling blocks along the way, and eventually succeeds with the assistance of mentors. This story encourages children to pursue their passions in life. It teaches them not to give up when they don’t succeed the first time, but rather, to be willing to ask for help.
Some other practical ideas:
- Beware of information overload when mentoring. Children may find it difficult to remember many things at once.
- Speak slowly, pause between phrases, and maintain good eye contact.
- Give verbal instructions in a quiet place if possible.
- Give concise instructions in the exact order they need to be carried out. Since sequencing is often a problem, be prepared to offer instruction a step or two at a time.
- Engage kinesthetic learners by counting off steps on your fingers. As the child watches you count items off on your fingers, he/she will “anchor” each item to it’s appropriate finger.
- Ask the student to repeat back information/instructions while “anchoring” on his/her own fingers—this will ensure that there has been no misunderstanding.
- Repeat or rephrase things as necessary.
- Visually indicate left or right if this is part of the task.
- Be willing to share freely form your own experiences: feelings, thoughts, self-esteem challenges you’ve faced, and how you’ve learned to cope with the ongoing challenge of your dyslexia.
- Be quick to commend for hard effort, creativity, verbal abilities, interpersonal skills, spatial skills, and problem solving.
- Along with commendation, help the child discern their strengths and feel good about what they bring to the table.
- Be patient.
January is National Mentoring Month. Help a special child recognize that mentors are all around us, and that they can make a real difference in our lives.
Here’s a great picture book for National Mentoring Month. In Chipper the Clown, Chipper learns that in order to follow his dreams, he needs help. This story is about the benefits of asking the right people for help and the value of mentoring.