Field report by Lars Michael Lehmann, Dyslexia expert and specialist journalist
Through my own Dyslexia and many years of working with affected adults, I have gained a lot of experience. My insight is that many emotional problems from a burdened childhood can dig themselves into our souls as „wounds“. This can be due to a problematic family setting or an unfavorable learning environment at school. If I understand it correctly today, Dyslexia does not automatically have to become a mental problem, but the social environment can promote it. Therefore, the WHO’s definition of Dyslexia as a mental disorder means only a very narrow clinical picture, which, however, cannot be applied to the majority of dyslexics. On the one hand, not all affected persons grow up in a stressed social environment. On the other hand, not all learning problems occur more frequently in families, which is the rule with Dyslexia. Instead, there are different reading and spelling problems, which should be differentiated as LRS (acquired) and Dyslexia (genetic inheritance). This more useful differentiation has been discussed in the professional community since the beginning of research on Dyslexia.
During my professional practice I have seen very different biographies of dyslexics.
Devaluation in the Family Environment
I would like to share something from my personal history. In my family Dyslexia occurs more frequently. My father is also affected by severe Dyslexia. In his childhood nobody cared about it, because he was a post-war child and the family had to survive first. He always had very great difficulties in reading and writing, which continue to this day. In night school he was able to get a 10th grade diploma. He is inquisitive and very creative. But in my childhood, he could not be a real support to me because of his problems. He could not help me in school matters. My mother, on the other hand, was an ace in German and foreign languages. She tried hard to support me in school, but she could not understand my problems and devalued me as a person without intending to do so. My mother was ashamed of me because in GDR times I had to go to a special school for the learning disabled. Again and again, I was shown very clearly that I would get nowhere in life.
Devaluation in the School Environment
It was no better at school, and, to make matters worse, I grew up in a Catholic home. In GDR times, that was not welcome in my homeland, rural Upper Lusatia (Oberlausitz). Our Special Needs School was quite loyal to the regime. I received no real help and support there. Already in the first classes it became clear that I had great difficulties in reading and writing. It was always argued that this was just a learning disability. In my private environment, acquaintances and friends of parents always noticed that I did not belong at this school. But my parents could not change that, and they had to comply. I also experienced devaluation at school. We were told that we would have no career opportunities after 8th grade. We would have to resign ourselves to becoming unskilled workers.
These are only brief excerpts from my biography. They make clear that I experienced all kinds of devaluation in my life. Certainly not all dyslexics had such a biography. But many of them will find themselves here. However, I see differences between the old and the new federal states. For me it is important that I grew up in a regime during GDR times. Many of my peers from the GDR’s turnaround generation had a similar experience. As far as I know, there are also dyslexics in the old federal states with psychological wounds from their childhood. These can be of very different nature. Those affected in the old federal states lived in a freer and more self-determined world (especially since ’68), which is why political-social life played a lesser role in their biography than it did for those who grew up in the GDR.
How can an Affected Person Cope with his Psychological Wounds?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for this. From my own experience, I can say what has helped me. The decisive factor for me was to acknowledge these breaks in my biography. This was not easy for me, because I had to work through the wounds of the past with professional help from psychologists and pastoral counselors. In addition, I succeeded in qualifying myself professionally out of my own state of affectedness, so that I could now help other affected people professionally. As a practicing Christian, I was able to learn how to forgive my parents for the wounds they caused. I was able to give these wounds to Jesus Christ, talk about them with my parents and tell them I forgave them. I had a similar experience about the time at school. I talked a lot with trusted people to work through these wounds. In contrast, it took me several years to come to terms with the traumatic experiences of the GDR system, in which I had to work for two years as a „handicapped person“ in a workshop for the disabled for political reasons. I have been able to come to terms with these mentally very stressful experiences to this day. An important support in this process were friends and other trusted people with whom I could talk about everything. These conversations (+ written expressions) triggered a very healing process in me. It was a very important experience for my professional life. Today, I can understand very well how these psychological wounds feel and how one can cope with them step by step.
I would like us dyslexics to talk more about our stories in public. That helps to cope! The wounds of our children’s souls continue to have an effect into adulthood, there is no closure. That’s why it’s so important that children with Dyslexia remain psychologically stable throughout their school years. This is an important reason why I criticize the LRS classes in Saxony – because this special school experience in the form of an LRS class can act as a discrimination experience and a psychological wound for those affected. I have already seen some adults with tears in their eyes who have experienced this wound of exclusion. These wounds also need processing and healing.
These steps are important for some dyslexics to continue to manage their weakness into adulthood. Unfortunately, professionals have not addressed this area much. In the case of anxiety and depression, it makes sense to seek psychological help. I have had good experience with this. Unfortunately, only a few psychologists and therapists are familiar with the subject of Dyslexia. Today, most professionals do not dispute the fact that people with Dyslexia have developed psychological problems due to unrecognized Dyslexia, but the definition of Dyslexia as a mental disorder or clinical diagnosis on the part of the WHO is extremely controversial. Certainly, dyslexic people can experience psychological stress due to the psychological wounds in childhood (through family and school), which then expresses itself as fear of failure, inferiority complexes or behavioral problems. From my point of view, this is often a reaction to psychological wounds, and only in rare cases do serious psychological illnesses develop from this. My conclusion is: Many more adults could overcome their Dyslexia if they are willing to work through their psychological wounds.
 German for reading and writing disability (Lese-Rechtschreib-Schwäche)