Early childhood researchers from multiple disciplines have generated numerous studies that underscore the importance of early intervention in the assessment and treatment of infant and toddler development. Whether the concerns are physical or emotional, children who are provided a head start sooner rather than later experience tremendous gains.
The importance of these early intervention strategies came to mind while I was working with a female identical twin pair in their twenties living abroad who have suffered immensely due to a lack of services. Although the twins themselves as well as their family appear to have had some knowledge about the girls’ dyslexia, the condition was either minimized, masked, or dissociated. Interventions were either unavailable or minimal, at best. The girls remember being called out of their classroom for some remedial help at ages seven or eight. They recall feeling marginalized and stigmatized. One of the twins told me that she felt bad about disappointing the person attempting to help her because she could not perform the tasks assigned.
Naturally, as the girls got older, they felt increasingly ashamed and embarrassed. They could not keep up with age-appropriate reading assignments. If required to participate in a group situation where they were asked to read aloud with “passion” and stage presence, both became paralyzed. They recognized that the other children were making fun of them, exacerbating their humiliation and social anxiety. As time went on, both attempted to handle this shame in their particular way. One twin did not attend school for much of the school year. The other sister attempted to soldier on by herself, but her efforts to stay engaged were hampered by her own social uneasiness and her need to cover up and substantiate her twin’s absence. Her efforts to fit in and do well academically were sorely undermined by her learning disability as well as her caretaking twin role.
As might be expected, the untreated dyslexia led to all sorts of emotional difficulties. The more academically challenged the girls felt, the more socially and emotionally isolated they became. Sadly, they blamed themselves for their poor adjustment and performance because they believed that they were responsible for their failures. They had heard about other children with dyslexia who seemed to do just fine. Both girls relied on their artistic talents to feel some modicum of success and self-worth.
Bravely, with much trepidation, they made the decision to go to a university about two hours away from their home. While both were terrified, they hoped that this opportunity to finally be on their own together would afford them the social exposure they had missed. Sadly, they discovered that their lack of experience with and knowledge about working with computers put them at an extreme disadvantage. A few of the classes required group work, which traumatized both of them. Both became overwhelmed and depressed and stopped going to class.
Eventually they dropped out of university and returned home. Yet the silver lining in this story is that now—finally—their severe dyslexia has been diagnosed. At least at this point they don’t have to feel shame about a condition that is not their fault. Of course, they regret this was not recognized sooner; nevertheless, it has helped both women appreciate the bigger picture. They understand that not getting help at a younger age sorely impacted their socioemotional development. Feeling embarrassed and incompetent, naturally they took refuge in their twinship to weather these shared indignities and criticisms. The future plan is to treat the dyslexia, which may eventually enable both women to feel more independent, successful, and hopeful about a brighter future.
Photo by Josue Michel on Unsplash