Stupid is as Stupid Does
by Guest Blogger
Eventually, somewhere along the way someone is going to call your dyslexic child stupid. Because eventually they children have to read out loud in the classroom. They have to show their work. They have to work in groups. As much as they might want to they cannot hide from who they are.
Socially, being dyslexic can be a nightmare. Dyslexic kids don’t look any different; they really don’t act any different. For all intents and purposes, no one really knows there is anything out of the ordinary going on until the written word gets involved. Problem is that “written word” sneaks up on them while they are just living their life.
My oldest son went to a Cub Scout camp where he was asked to paint the number of the go-cart the whole group made. Not wanting to draw attention to himself he took the paint brush and proceeded to paint 142, reversing the 4. Now, it would not have been such a big deal if that was not the car that they raced in, brought back to the pack to use for the rest of the year and basically put on display for everyone and their brother to see.
There it was a reversed 4. A “baby 4.” The “Who goofed up the number 4?” The comments were varied and loud. By the time I got there to pick him up he had denied ever painting the number. When the camp leader showed the parents the car and I saw the reversed 4, I of course knew whose work it was. Shock followed when the camp leader (an adult by the way) announced that it was a “Pretty good car, except for the goof up on the number.”
Ah, stupidity. It’s actually a bad word in our house and while I have not gone so far as to wash someone’s mouth out with soap my children know their fate can be worse if they utter that word as opposed to other bad words. Unfortunately, it’s not a bad word in other homes.
Just recently, a friend of that older son got frustrated with him and told him that “He was stupid because he’s dyslexic.” Ouch, that one hurt and sent my son into hiding. Whether it’s the word or the actions sooner or later our children are going to feel “stupid.”
As a mom I want to gather my boys up and protect them from all of these situations but I can’t. You can’t either. But what we can do is prepare them. We can take that extra step to make sure they know how to react when someone calls their intelligence into question.
The first thing we can do is teach our children confidence. All the way down to how they walk and talk confident people have a “way about them.” Pick some good role models and let your children watch them and mimic them. For example, confident people don’t walk with their head down they walk with purpose, head up, looking around at their surroundings, smiling at people. Practice the walk. Seriously, practice the walk.
Next, teach them how to reply to taunts and teasing. The wrong thing to do is to run away we all know that. But what do they do if they stay? Teach them to look people in the eye. Teach them the words to use. “No, I am not stupid, I just made a mistake.” Teach them to walk away, slowly and in control.
Walk through it, role play, get it out in the open. Play games with certain responses. Play a form of charades with “What if” questions. (See AVKO's previous blog post with resources for hypothetical questions).
“What if Tommy looks over your shoulder while you are reading and you are stuck on the word ‘again.’ Tommy says to you “Geez, Joe that word is ‘again’ are you stupid or something?” Ask your child how they would respond or give them a few choices and let them pick one. Then role play it.
Role play the wrong or not so great choices too. Let them see a behavior and how it affects the rest of their day. If they run away and hide, for example, they may miss something neat that is happening. Other people will wonder what is wrong and keep asking them about it. Help them to see the consequences of the behavior both good and bad.
Just keep in mind that all this work you do now to prepare your child will be with him for the rest of his life. Adults are not more understanding than kids are about differences. Facing up to the challenges of living an adult dyslexic life in the “real world” is just as hard as it is to grow up dyslexic, if not harder.
We would love to hear from all of you about situations your dyslexic child has faced and how they handled it or how you coached them to handle it the next time.
Also see Lee Caskey's book The Smell of Stupid, which talks about one dyslexic girl's experiences feeling stupid growing up. For more information on dyslexia, see the Dyslexia Section of the AVKO.org Website.