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Rutter (1983) notes the influence of a child’s family is both important and sizeable. Thus in deconstructing the emotions of the dyslexic, family life is crucial in understanding emotions coming from the dyslexic, his/her siblings and his/her parents. All are affected but in different ways.
The diagnosis of dyslexia triggers many emotions in parents. Firstly that the child is not in fact thick or lazy, but is of average or higher intelligence than first perceived. Such a realisation can bring guilt in parents that they wrote off their child’s academic potential too soon and that they may have been unkind in thinking or punishing their child for being lazy, not trying hard enough at school/ home doing homework. Whilst the initial reaction by most parents is shock, in real terms many main carers (mostly the mother) had known for many years that something wasn’t right but couldn’t put their finger on what or why. However the actual diagnosis confirms their initial gut instinct, however in many cases this causes anger towards teachers and schools who thought they knew best and who had ignored parental questioning. Self-blame also exists that they did not believe in themselves, and that their child is many years behind in school due to their inaction or self-belief.
Secondly, the realisation that they have a child with a disability also trigger different emotions in parents. Many parents according to Scott (2004) go through a form of bereavement or morning. The bereavement comes from some parents belief that they had lost their fantasy child. This fantasy is the loss of their idyllic child who would become a doctor, lawyer or a top sportsperson. There is also a loss of play and shared interests with their idyllic child, as all time is now needed for remedial work to overcome difficulties. In over-ambitious parents, the dyslexic realises they are failing their parent and this puts more pressure on the parent-child relationship. Mourning comes that they have not produced a perfect child but one that is faulty and defective, this can turn into blame as each parent blames the other that it’s their fault the child is like this. This can affect parental relationships and cause both arguments and marriage break-ups. Sex lives can also be affected as one or both partners feels guilty about having faulty reproductive systems.
Along with the realisation of disability comes the need for greater involvement of parents and especially the mother. Such involvement can cause resentment between the dyslexic child’s siblings due to perceived favouritism causing jealously, but also the exclusion of the secondary carer (in most cases the father) as the mother normally becomes the dyslexic child’s champion to the detriment of the parent’s relationship. Scott (2004) notes that disability and specifically dyslexia can break up marriages, due to both economic pressures to care and educate a disabled child privately, but also due to the greater and exclusive care of the mother. Much of these strains can be alleviated by both educating siblings and the father to the nature of the problem and by encouraging them to assist, making it a family challenge rather than just the mother’s problem.
Many problems bringing up dyslexic or disabled children comes down to incorrect or misleading information about the nature of the disability along with the long-term prognosis and possible assistance available. Many parents of dyslexics, like the dyslexic themselves, feel isolated and this isolation reinforces the shame and embarrassment that leads to anger, hatred and resentment about the disability.
Scott (2004) talks about ‘coming out’ as an affective means for parents to not only deal with negative emotions but also access help available. The sharing and releasing of emotions not only can have a positive affect on the isolation, but can bring greater realisation that they are not alone, that other parents are going through similar issues and lastly that the long-term prognosis is better than first feared.
The best course is for parents to firstly be realistic about what will be possible for their child’s academic career and secondly to out-source localised remedial or homework help to another adult or to a sibling. Even the most skilled and educated parent is likely to cause tension, frustration and disagreement to the parent/child relationship, according to Scott (2004) and Goldup and Ostler (2000). Parents are advised to concentrate on non-academic skills to improve the child’s self-esteem and confidence.
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