Children with Dyslexia should not be defined only by their specific, inherited weaknesses in written language acquisition. Rather, the strengths of these children must be recognized in the first years of elementary school and supported accordingly. This can be an important prevention against potential mental illness.
In the German-speaking world, professionals mostly focus on the deficits of dyslexic children. Their individual strengths are often pushed into the background. Parents can have a positive influence here if they do not compare the children with their own school and professional history. Even if children have inherited good learning abilities, they are still, starting at birth, independent personalities who need to be encouraged and supported.
Parents who are aware of Dyslexia in their own backgrounds can often respond to their children with understanding and empathy. The past of those affected plays an important role here, because dyslexic parents have dealt with their situation in different ways. Some were able to successfully compensate for their Dyslexia, while others never overcame their difficulties. This is also reflected in the upbringing of their own children.
When learning problems are identified in children, an individual and scientifically based determination of Dyslexia is very important. Only then is there a real chance that dyslexic children will manage their difficulties well. This should already be done during the primary school years. The earlier the problems are recognized and overcome, the more one can avoid psychological burdens on the children. A stable family and school environment plays a decisive role here, which promotes the children’s existing strengths. This can be, for example, various sports activities, the children’s university for scientifically gifted children, a musical education, or creative associations. Dyslexic children are often gifted in many ways. This needs to be focused on and encouraged. Only then will these children grow up to be mentally healthy individuals.
If, on the other hand, the problems are not recognized – or even ignored – emotional difficulties can result for the children. These difficulties can then affect their self-image and motivation to learn. It is therefore important that parents not neglect or ignore their children’s learning problems. Undetected Dyslexia can have an unfavorable impact on the mental health of those affected, well into adulthood.
Our conclusion is: early identification of Dyslexia, and support of children by means of individual learning therapy, have a favorable effect on the development of their existing talents and resources.
Today we write in the month of April 2021 and look back on one year of the Corona Pandemic. In this report, we would like to reflect on the experiences and observations we have gathered while working at our Institute.
Who would have thought that after one year of the pandemic, things have not gotten much better? If you trust the statements of some researchers, this phase will continue for some time. Soberly speaking, 2021 will not be much different from 2020. Further forecasts are pure guesswork. We will have to come to terms with the conditions of this pandemic, even if we long for a return to normality. Whether it will ever return, we do not know, but post-Corona normality will probably look different.
We keep asking ourselves these questions: How will the lockdowns affect the psycho-social development of those under our charge? How will the school closures affect the children’s acquisition of written language? Will this increase the percentage of children with reading and spelling disabilities? As an educational and research institution, we face these questions because they affect our field. There is no denying that the Corona pandemic fosters mental health problems. Very likely, many children are developing learning difficulties because of the school closures. We cannot provide generalized answers to this, but we will report the snapshots of this year.
It becomes very clear that the differences between educationally advantaged and disadvantaged families are even more visible as a result of the crisis. Children in socially weaker families experience such times of crisis as more threatening and insecure than middle-class children in which both parents can work. Therefore, it can be assumed that educationally disadvantaged children may develop increased behavioral problems and significant learning regressions as a result of the lockdowns and school closures. On the other hand, families advantaged in terms of education also have to bear a significantly higher burden under the pandemic conditions. However, this can usually be well compensated for by a stable family structure. It will probably only be possible to realistically observe and evaluate the effects of the current crisis on our field in the coming years.
We are seeing early indicators that school closures are having an unfavorable impact, particularly on children with learning difficulties. Many children experience anxiety and significant learning delays in reading and writing. These differences were not as great before the Corona crisis. It is conceivable that the current crisis, with its lockdowns and school back and forth, will favor the acquisition of LRS. Children with predisposed Dyslexia will also have greater problems as a result of the crisis. In summary, the longer this crisis continues, the greater the deficits will become for children with learning disabilities. In homeschooling, it is almost impossible for younger children to compensate for learning deficits in the acquisition of written language, because they lack professional school supervision. Thus, there will be an increase in Dyslexia among students.
These are our initial observations. But there are also positive developments to report, where children with clear reading problems have benefited from homeschooling. This is because they had to read and understand significantly more texts. We also saw good progress among secondary students. Some children have also benefited from individual help with learning from parents and grandparents.
A very large percentage of children clearly struggle with school lockdowns. Most of the children long for a normal school routine. Especially the back and forth between school opening and closing creates uncertainty for the children. Time and time again, we have seen children crying because they were overwhelmed with homeschooling. Parents have also told us of a significant extra burden. Of course, the situation is experienced differently in individual families. Nevertheless, policymakers should draft a clear plan on how to better organize schools under pandemic conditions.
How the situation will develop in the near future, we will continue to monitor and then report.
 German for reading and writing disability (Lese-Rechtschreib-Schwäche)
Our education dictates who we become and what we do (Parens, 2017). This is the title of an essay by Prof. Henri Parens, MD of Thomas Jefferson University, published in the book „Bindung und emotionale Gewalt“ („Binding and Emotional Violence“) by the well-known researcher Karl Heinz Brisch. Parent-child bonding is an important basis for the upbringing and emotional development of children. It forms the basis for how the self and in the long run the self-image of the child will develop. These findings are important for dyslexia research, because a good upbringing is an important basis for children with reading and spelling difficulties, to develop well into adulthood in the long term. Or the children have a lower bonding ability due to unfavourable environmental conditions and bonding patterns, which can result in psycho-social behavioural disorders or even mental disabilities.
Therefore, the definition of this reading and spelling disorder as a generalized clinical picture must also withstand criticism. Here we must ask ourselves the questions: Are children with a reading, spelling or writing disability born with a disease? Or do they become conspicuous children only through their environment, through their education, the school system and society?
A „medical malfunction“ – reading /spelling disorder definition, prevents holistic case understanding and neglects education and training.The medical-psychological world often regards the reading and spelling disorder as a pathological construct. One measures the abnormalities in reading and writing, in many cases also the intelligence + concentrations and then compares them with the corresponding age group. From a statistical point of view, this may be used to discover conspicuous children. Often, however, they are not discovered because the measured results can vary depending on the performance of the day.
But much more important is contained the question: How did the child develop psycho-emotionally in the course of its life? Education, which is based on the child’s ability to bind to its parents, plays an important role in the extent to which long-term reading and spelling weaknesses are compensated for and overcome, by a more precise knowledge of the developmental history. One aspect of this is that there must be indicators as to why mental violence or even neglect, as well as a low ability to bind can lead to learning difficulties in reading and writing. So far, these dimensions have been given little consideration in dyslexia research.
From this point of view it becomes clear that the diagnosis of a reading and spelling disorder is not sufficient for sustainable help. This requires a holistic understanding of the case, which takes into account the entire development of those affected. Therefore, the family background study is inevitable and an obligation to educating institutions, for the understanding of the individual cases. This is why a described developmental disorder of school abilities as a medical disturbance (Krollner, 2018) does not go far enough. This definition labels and stigmatises those affected. From an ethical and human rights perspective, this definition should be deleted from the ICD-10-GM.
Institutional imprints influence and shape upbringing and education
Families educate their children from the beginning under the pressure of the ideas and conceptions prevailing in the respective society. These institutional influences, impact and shape the respective education and thus the psycho-emotional development of the children. Therefore the education plays an important role for the cognitive learning ability and maturation of the children. If children experience love and acceptance, they will be able to develop a healthy bonding ability, which makes them psycho-emotionally resilient children. The more stable the children with learning disabilities can grow up, the better they can cope with their dyslexia. Other children, on the other hand, will not acquire these learning reading/spelling difficulties if their environment, family and school system, offers the best possible conditions.
On the other hand, it may be due to the parenting style and the family background and history of the family, that children may not develop, or that the child‘s life does succeed in its development. Social and public educational institutions seem to play a role in the dynamic development process through a pre-determined group identity. The nuclear family probably plays a greater role, as we are shaped in it, and what the children can become later. The more favourable the conditions, the better those with reading and spelling difficulties will be able to pass through school and later adult life. Therefore, the family lays an important foundation for learning in general and the upbringing of children (Lehmann, 2018).
Krollner, D. B. (2018). F81.-Umschriebene Entwicklungsstörungen schulischer Fertigkeiten. http://www.icd-code.de. ICD-10-GM, Version 2018, Systematisches Verzeichnis: Internationale statistische Klassifikation der Krankheiten und verwandter Gesundheitsprobleme, 10. Revision, Zugriff am 5.5.2018. Verfügbar unter: http://www.icd-code.de/icd/code/F81.0.html
Parens, H. (2017). Bindung und emotionale Gewalt (Fachbuch Klett-Cotta). Das bösartige Vorurteil – Ein Weg zur Entladung emotionaler Gewalt (Band Bindung und emotionale Gewalt, S. 145–178). Klett-Cotta.