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Morgan’s (1997) study of delinquent/criminal dyslexics found that, when dyslexic children fail to keep up at school, their self-esteem drops as they begin to question their academic abilities (developing inferiority complexes).


There are suggestions that both unrecognised and recognised dyslexics receiving insufficient or inappropriate support can feel devalued at school and turn to deviant behaviour. This is a response to their sense of low self-esteem induced by school and deviant behaviour is a way of gaining recognition from their peers (Kirk & Reid, 2001 & Scott, 2004). Riddick, Sterling, Farmer and Morgan (1999) and Peer & Reid (2001, p. 5) agrees that ‘frustration leads very often to antisocial or deviant behaviour’ amongst dyslexics, especially those with low self-esteem.


Some pupils might disrupt a class because they interpret the class work as threatening, and use attention seeking to protect self-esteem, according to Molnar and Lindquist (1989). They suggest that if the teacher, in class with pupils, can re-interpret the nature and purpose of class work (keeping the child’s self-esteem), the child’s long-term behaviour will change. But most teachers, as Molnar and Lindquist found, hand out reprimands, as this is the only skill they know that quickly influences a child’s present behaviour – a fire-fighting technique. Low self-esteem will also mean the development of a poor or negative self-image. With such beliefs becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of expection to fail (Riddick, 1996). Morgan and Klein (2001) note that childhood experiences of being labelled ‘thick’ and public humiliation caused by failing often results in choices which reinforce low self-esteem.


Studies of dyslexics suggest that low or poor self-esteem is commonly encountered (Hales, 1994, Riddick, 1996; Humphrey, 2002; Alexander-Passe, 2004a, b, 2008a, b). As Barret and Jones (1996) note ‘it would be naive to assume that dyslexics would have good self-esteem given their learning difficulties’ As dyslexics are often bullied, there are strong correlations between bullying and poor self-esteem, with particular strong


 relationships with special educational needs children (O’Moore and Hillery, 1992, p. 64). Specialist schools for dyslexics have been found to improve self-esteem, especially social and academic self-esteem (Thomson and Hartley, 1980), and Scott (2004) suggests the best improvements in self-esteem comes from literacy, and the improvement of literacy breaks the difference between them and their peers, as ‘difference’ is the core problem.

Empirical studies note correlations between low self-esteem/anxiety and academic failure (Burns, 1979), more so with dyslexics, as Humphrey and Mullins (2002, p. 199) notes ‘the experience of dyslexics at school has clear and demonstrable negative effects on the self-concept and self-esteem of children’. Riddick et al. (1999, p. 241) indicated ‘the powerful meditating effect of literacy performance on how individuals perceive themselves and are perceived by others’, suggesting literacy failure can distort the dyslexic’s self-perception.


As Thomson and Hartley (1980) and Humphrey and Mullins (2002) note, dyslexics acquire a belief that being a good reader is significantly correlated with both happiness and intelligence, with the implication that as they are not good readers they are unhappy and unintelligent. Which leads dyslexics to believe they are out of control in their own learning and destiny, which Burns (1982) found to be the single biggest factor a child needs to progress at school (above that of good teachers, facilities and curriculum). Suggesting the lack of control can be seen as a predictor of academic success, with striking parallels found between learned helplessness and children with reading difficulties (Butkowsky and Willows, 1980, p. 410) with Hiebert, Winograd and Danner (1984, p. 1139) finding that dyslexic children ‘attribute[d] their success to factors beyond their control’. Pumfrey and Reason (1991) agree that there are many correlations between learned helplessness and how dyslexics cope at school.


Gilroy (1995, p. 66) notes ‘it is obvious that past experiences [of failure] leave a deep scar and that many [adult] dyslexic students have a poor self-concept and suffer from low self-esteem’. Gilroy also details an interesting observation that in a spontaneous, undirected, general conversation lasting 20 minutes between five adult dyslexic students, the following words and phases were observed: hopeless at (seven times); useless at (five times); could never (three times); mess (twice); typical me (twice); never been any good at (twice). She points to ‘typical’ and ‘never’ suggesting deep-rooted poor self-image stretching back to childhood. Post-observation conversation noted four out of the five students ‘often felt that they were thick’.


The failing reader must deal with self doubt which becomes far from being a secret shame, often becomes a public failure (Gaines, 1989). Osmond (1994, p. 31) found one boy saying ‘I know inside I’m not stupid, but I look stupid to everyone else because all the things that I can’t do are the things that you have to do at school’. Another young adult dyslexic noted ‘the last person to be convinced I was dyslexic was me. I just thought I was thick at school and that it was my fault. I can remember the anger and frustration I felt, especially earlier on, and I still do I suppose, though not as much. I just felt uptight all the time’. This person had grown up thinking he was thick and stupid!


Riddick (1996, p. 32) notes one mother about her dyslexic son ‘it was traumatic for him, incredibly traumatic, every morning I had to pull him up screaming ‘I don’t want to go to school’ and then I had to pull him all the way down to school’. Riddick (1996) indicates there is general empirical consensus that children with reading difficulties are more likely to have behavioural and emotional difficulties (Tansley & Panckhurst, 1981; Gentile & Macmillan, 1987; Hinshaw, 1992). Brinckerhoff, Shaw & McGuire (1993) identified the lack of positive self-concept as being the one consistent counselling issue that presents itself in people with learning difficulties, with Morgan & Klein (2001) suggesting this is the case amongst dyslexics. Battle (1992) claims that once an individual’s level of self-esteem is well established, it becomes difficult to alter and remains relatively stable over time.


Dyslexic children with high self-esteem display more confidence and will volunteer answers or try out new subjects/tasks than lower self-esteem children. These high self-esteem children expect to succeed and attribute success to their skill/ability, according to Riddick et al. (1999) and Burden (2005). Coopersmith (1967) also found that dyslexic teenagers with high self-esteem were usually more successful in both academic and social environments compared to teenagers with low self-esteem. Wszeborowska-Lipinska (1997) investigated successful dyslexics who reached university education in Poland. To reach this level, she found that successful dyslexics had higher self-esteem than their peers.

Dyslexia and Self-Esteem