Let's begin with the idea of coping. Although there is part of this word that insinuates a level of success, it is certainly not a synonym with thriving. When we cope with something, we "get through it" or perhaps we work around it. Coping with a loss of someone you love doesn't mean that you have successfully gotten over them. It means that you are surviving amidst struggle.
Surviving amidst struggle is not an ideal place to be for long periods of time - and in the case of Dyslexia, it can be a lifetime of coping - which can wreak havoc on a person's self-esteem and self-worth. The emotional toll of Dyslexia is something that I will delve into on another day, however. Today, I would like to focus on the idea of coping mechanisms and coping strategies - that may seem helpful, but ultimately can prolong (and make worse) the struggle with Dyslexia.
Why are coping mechanisms so dangerous you ask? What is the big deal?
Think about a coping mechanism as a life ring. You're out in the scary, confusing, turbulent ocean. You have a life ring that is keeping you afloat and you feel safer. You can count on the life raft and wouldn't even consider letting it go - in fear of losing your life! This is basic SURVIVAL. In the immediate moment, the life ring is working, but it is not exactly going to solve your problem. You are struggling, you are worried, you are stressed, your mind is spinning, you are disoriented. Yes, the life raft is keeping your head above water, but after a while, it becomes less and less effective because other/additional elements are now weighing you down.
This situation is quite analogous to a student in a classroom. A different style of learner, the student finds himself in a classroom where he is confused, disoriented, not understanding the way other children do. He doesn't want to be alone or to be different, but clearly there's something wrong with him. He is sinking further and further away from the learning experience and his self-esteem is not far behind.
Dyslexic children begin to create coping mechanisms from a very early age, finding any life raft they can to make sense of the academic world around them. Sometimes, these coping mechanisms can be natural. For example, the child may do a hands-on project that really makes the material stick, or perhaps they realize that when they really LISTEN to the teacher talk about a subject, they can understand the material fully. These are fantastic realizations for every person to have as early on in life as possible. Understanding how you think and learn is a critical piece of the puzzle for all learners, but especially those with Dyslexia and related learning difficulties.
However, more often than not, coping mechanisms involve TRICKS, behaviors, and cover-ups that end up creating the debilitating aspects of Dyslexia. The root of my point is this: If you need a trick to remember something, you don't truly understand it! Understanding is the key to correcting Dyslexia (and any other learning challenge in my opinion). Here are a list of some common coping mechanisms:
- Singing the Alphabet song
- Tricks to remember the orientation of letters or directions
- Tricks to remember spelling of words
- Acronyms to remember processes
- Rote Memorization
- Extreme concentration
- Class clown
- Changing the subject
- Accommodations (scribes, iPads, etc.)
There can be literally THOUSANDS of coping mechanisms that any one person can incorporate into their life! Each coping strategy can evolve into becoming the only way to do something...but the problem is, you have to always remember the trick OR, as time goes by, the behavior has become so rooted in your identity, that you may react (or trigger) without even realizing it.
At New England Dyslexia Solutions, we provide clients with this understanding, but also with tools and techniques that promote REAL LEARNING in a way that fits their learning style. What we find is that, one they learn to trust their tools, they can begin to let go of the life raft and begin to swim (THRIVE)! It is an extremely empowering and exciting burden to release! When you are no longer hiding behind all of the coping strategies, you are finally FREE to be your authentic self.