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Dyslexia and Resilience

by Cheryl Chase, PhD., Clinical Psychologist


Smooth seas don’t make for skillful sailors.
~ Author Unknown


One undeniable fact is that, in most cases, having dyslexia makes life more difficult.

During the school-age years, students with dyslexia generally

  • have to work harder to be successful
  • struggle with self-esteem
  • tend to be seen by their teachers as less cooperative and less attentive than their classmates

In adulthood, those with dyslexia often

  • underachieve relative to their abilities and
  • report feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and frustrated.

It is no wonder that there is increasing interest in the social-emotional difficulties associated with dyslexia, since these related effects can, themselves, have strong negative impacts on the person and make a tough situation worse. But, many individuals with dyslexia cope effectively with their difficulties and go on to enjoy successful adult lives. How, you ask?


Resilience is a term used to describe a person’s ability to adapt in the face of adversity. It is a person’s ability to “bounce back” after a difficult situation. Sadness, hardship, and set backs are part of the human experience, and fortunately, resilience appears to be a common human trait. Resilience is not something people are simply born with (or not); it can be learned and developed over time in any person. Fostering resilience in children with dyslexia has been addressed in a wonderful article published by IDA, but learning to develop and strengthen one’s resilience in adulthood is a key component to occupational, social, and personal success.

Researchers have identified several key factors that can foster resilience and help people become more capable of adapting when facing various difficulties. According to the American Psychological Association, there are 10 ways to build resilience. Not all strategies are for everyone; what works for one may not work for another, but here are some things to keep and mind and put into action when facing adversity and contending with dyslexia on a daily basis:

  1. Make connections – develop solid relationships with family and friends, and ask for /accept help and support from that network. For some, being active in church or community groups can provide the support they need. For others, joining a support group or getting involved in local or national organizations that stand for their cause (e.g., IDA) are most helpful. Giving and receiving help and encouragement, and making social connections appear to be key across the lifespan, regardless of the stressors. We are social beings; people need people.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems –it is important to understand that although stressful events happen, we can change how we interpret and respond to these events. Keeping the events in perspective and not letting them get bigger and more powerful than they really are is important. In some cases, a trained therapist might be needed to help with this; don’t be too ashamed or too proud to reach out and ask for the help.
  3. Accept that change is a part of life – certain goals might have to be modified and things might not go the way we had planned. Life can still be ok, or even better than ok. And accepting things as they are doesn’t necessarily mean we give up trying to change things; it is possible to simultaneously accept a situation while working to change it. But acceptance brings emotional peace while we are working to change it. And who doesn’t want emotional peace?
  4. Move toward our goals –Instead of focusing on tasks and goals that seem too big or unrealistic, break larger goals into smaller, intermediate goals and work towards those. Do one thing, big or small, each day to move you closer to your goals. Even if it is just making your bed each morning, do some action that moves you closer to your ideal self.
  5. Take decisive actions – we tend to avoid what is causing us stress. Although there may be times we have to “put it away” for a while in order to function, in the long term, we can’t continue to avoid the stressor forever. Don’t detach. Face it and act on it. Get help if it is needed, but don’t sit passively, hoping it will go away. Avoidance just prolongs the pain.
  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery – people often learn something about themselves and experience personal growth as a result of struggling with adversity. A wise teacher once reminded me, “For the high-jumper to reach her personal best, she must first crouch down and get very low.” Our lowest lows can fuel our highest highs. The key is recognizing this challenge as our curriculum to personal growth right then and there, while we are enduring it, rather than waiting for the wisdom of hindsight. If we can do that, the pain will be less overwhelming and overpowering.
  7. Nurture a positive view of self – make it a point to notice and celebrate our strengths, and work to develop confidence in our ability to solve problems. Talk kindly to ourselves and avoid being overly critical of our behaviors and choices. If we wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to ourselves. Be our own best friends.
  8. Keep things in perspective – try to consider this event or series of events in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Ask ourselves, “What about this will matter in 5 or 10 years?” The answers to that question will help us gauge if our reactions are appropriate to the situation.
  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook – keeping an optimistic outlook allows us to expect that good things will happen in our lives, which can keep us from sinking into depression. Focus on what we want and visualize ourselves getting it; fight the urge to catastrophize or develop a negative pattern of thinking. And avoid spending time with people or engaging with media that are overly pessimistic. Happiness is a choice, so choose it.
  10. Take care of ourselves – pay attention to our needs and feelings and engage in activities we enjoy. Rest, reenergize, meditate, exercise regularly, participate in our hobbies (even if we don’t feel like it), visit with friends, and eat healthy foods. Avoid alcohol; it makes a bad situation worse. If you are a spiritual person, plug into your spirituality even more during stressful times. If you are not, stressful times might be an opportunity for you to consider finding a spiritual life that feels right for you.

Yes, having dyslexia makes life more difficult. What is easy for others is hard for dyslexics, and it is a lifelong condition that doesn’t easily remedy with a pill or surgery. But, having dyslexia does not necessarily mean one is destined to spend adulthood unhappy, anxious, and always struggling. There are things that can be done, and habits that can be made that will strengthen one’s ability to “bounce back” and tolerate, or even thrive, in the face of the ebbs and flows of life.

Yes, life can be tough. But we can be tougher.

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