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Confidence with Dyslexia

9th April 2021

Would you describe yourself as a confident person or do you lack self assurance? I would probably say I am something in the middle of the two depending on the specific task at hand.

Imagine if, from a very early age, you feel a ‘failure’ after being continuously confronted with adverse events and negative outcomes? Which you begin to feel are uncontrollable, ‘just the way I am’, and likely to never change?

RobinStyle photos

Bleak picture and can be a slippery slope if not detected early on and supported.

Negative thoughts and unhelpful beliefs can have many roots but for now I will concentrate on children with dyslexia. Those who are struggling at school to ‘achieve’ in their eyes by comparison to their peers and the testing/graded society.

Children who may have difficulties in the educational environment may begin to feel an unwillingness to approach any new tasks with a fear of failure and may start to withdraw and may exhibit some negative behaviours due to this feeling.

When I read the life stories of dyslexics they may have many similarities but also can differ ‘like chalk and cheese’.

Why do some dyslexics consider their ‘differences’ as an advantage and others as a curse? Why do some say the daily difficulties at school have contributed to their determined character trait and why does dyslexia cause others to develop ‘Learned Helplessness’?

For more information on Learned helplessness:

What is Learned Helplessness?

The theory of Learned helplessness emerged in the 1960s with experiments and studies by Seligman and Maier. An individual who is learned helpless may consider any success to be luck and any failure to be permanent and unchangeable. In education that individual may believe they have no control therefore it doesn’t matter if they study or not, it has no relation to the failed test. They believe it is ‘just how they are’ and it will not change so might as well give up.

Then came along the ‘Attribution’ (Weiner) Theory in the 1970s looking at individuals belief into the causes of events and behaviours and how this relates to their actions. Weiner focussed his attribution theory on achievement, which links to motivation.

Attribution Theory has been used to explain the motivation between low and high achievers.

High Achiever – believe success is caused by their ability and effort which makes them approach tasks confidently. Any failures are due to external causes and not their fault so confidence not effected.

Lower Achiever – Doubt their ability and assume success not in their control. Success is either through luck or an external influence and does not increase confidence.

Sometimes the attribution may be specific to one event/ situation or it could be global and encompass an individuals whole self and being.

Your belief, that inner voice, explaining why these things happen to you effects your emotions and your behaviours. You are in control of that voice even if it doesn’t feel that way. It’s important to discuss their thoughts and beliefs with children, to get them to vocalise them so you can provide support practically and emotionally and as early as possible. Avoiding the beginnings of learned helplessness to become a disabling habit.

Carole Dweck, Stanford University Psychologist and author of book ‘Mindset’, has found the presence of possible helplessness in children as young as 4 and 5 years old.

for further information on the studies of Growth and Fixed Mindset see:

Taking into consideration whether by altering attributions (belief on causes) of failure enables learned helpless children to deal more effectively with failure. To face failure and mistakes as a learning opportunity. To praise the continued effort and also think about how you may learn from errors and try new strategies next time. Do not be afraid to ask for help when it’s needed.

Refocus views on mistakes, errors and failures. Some people can fear failure, not for the result itself (ie the ‘f’ on a test) but the shaming emotions that follow. As a parent or teacher demonstrate yourself that mistakes are okay, that if you do not ever fail you can not succeed, think like Micheal Jordan……..

There has been opposition to Dweck’s research, some say it’s focussed too much on effort. There is always debate and opinions open to different interpretation. Dweck does admit that she is also still on her ‘Growth mindset journey’.

There looks to be some studies into ‘Strategic Mindset’ which I will read with interest.

Self-efficacy in the Cambridge dictionary means – A persons belief that they can be successful when carrying out a task.

In other words having confidence and self assurance. Have a think for a moment.

Are you confident or do you lack the belief in yourself?

When you, are a person near you, needs support and encouragement to challenge the automatic negative beliefs and achieve your goals.

Setting goals can be a beneficial way of increasing motivation and changing behaviours. The SMART term has been around for a long time and has also been amended by some to SMARTER. If you look on line you may see different words for each letter, here are a few when considering what your goal could be:

  • S – Specific, Simple, Self-controlled, Strength related, Strategic
  • M – Measurable, Motivational
  • A – Achievable, Aspirational
  • R – Rewarding, Relevant
  • T – Time based, Tactical
  • E – Exciting, Enjoyable, Engaging, Energising
  • R – Real

You may be able to add some more words yourself…..

When you come up against that ‘inner critic’ who believes you are the cause of failures/mistake and that there’s nothing you can do about it just stop for a moment.

First of all there is nothing wrong with mistakes or failures its the emotions you may feel. The adverse events/failures do not cause the emotional response but your beliefs do. You may choose to accept your automatic belief or care to challenge it and consider a different outcome.

Dr Ellis and Martin Seligman devised the ABC method:

  • A – Activating; What has happened to start this inner voice? i.e. “unable to read a sentence in class’
  • B – Beliefs; How we process and evaluate what caused event. i.e “I just can’t read.”
  • C – Consequences; how does that belief make you feel and how do you react? i.e. “Makes me feel stupid and ashamed and I will make sure I avoid having to read again.”

Then comes the rethink and challenge……

  • D – Dispute your automatic beliefs i.e. “if I consider what I struggled with during that sentence and ask for help I could learn something new.”
  • E – Effective new beliefs and Emotions i.e. “feeling more hopeful, with work and help I hopefully will progress.”

Actively cultivate an optimistic style in the way you think. This will be a journey (in fact, it could be your ‘goal’ as mentioned above), and maybe not an easy one.

An Optimists view : “It can change. It is something that can be controlled, accept it will take hard work as I have a weakness in this specific area but in others I have strength.”

Not all those who wander are lost – A study into a strengths approach to dyslexia for psychological and educational research and practice.

Chathurika K, Jerome C, Sowmya P, Rosie A. Not All Those Who Wander are Lost: Examining the Character Strengths of Dyslexia. Glob J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2018; 4(5): 555648. DOI: 10.19080/GJIDD.2018.04.555648.

In the above article there is a table of Dyslexia Signature Strengths in Comparison to UK and USA Strengths Profiles of the study conducted by Park, Peterson & Seligman [60].

Perseverance and hope was one of the bottom 5 in the list, may not be one of the highest but some dyslexics do portray this trait.

Perseverance – Overcoming a difficult situation through strong steady determination. Continuing a course of action in spite of lack of success

Persistence – Continue a task despite difficulties.

The two words are very similar but delving deep into the details there is a small difference. Lack of Persistence is mentioned in learned helplessness and the positive trait of Perseverance has been attributed to some dyslexics. Persistence can be related to a single task as Perseverance can be needed over a long time to reach an ultimate goal.

The determined dyslexics with perseverance that have reached their goal seem to have a few similarities in their childhood experiences.

They were able to identify their strengths which developed their motivation and gave them an outlet to experience success and failure but in a way that they can recognise their ability and what is needed to improve. They also had the support of an adult either a Parent, Teacher or Mentor. That person believed in them, gave them hope and helped them when needed but also allowed them to fail and grow in a positive environment.

As a dyslexic you can be confident, believe in yourself and be motivated to achieve your goal whilst overcoming challenges.

RobinStyle photos

As its spring and traditionally seen as the season for new beginnings, maybe just the time for a new goal to be set. As we all emerge from our homes and lockdown; be kind to yourself, accept things that may have not gone your way this past year, learn from it and move forward.

Any comments as usual very much appreciated.


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