Anxiety & Dyslexia
A Childs academic performance can be strongly linked with anxiety. In fact if a child is constantly in a high state of anxiety performs worse in the classroom as compared to his peers.

Even general day to day symptoms of anxiety that your child demonstrates, and not just the anxiety you observe on the day of a class test can influence performance on measures of academic achievement and we are now unraveling the predictive role of anxiety, specifically suggesting that anxiety may lead to lowered achievement.

Anxiety can be a combination of avoidance along with heightened arousal and this will manifest in physical signs of anxious arousal. This combination has been proven to influence children’s achievement at learning in an academic environment.

The most common misinterpretation of physical signs of anxiety are - stomach or headaches, shaking hands or wanting to vomit just before going to school. All these lead to the child taking an off from school and in turn missing academic lessons taught on that day, which may be quite important.

If the child is sent to school by the parents and has heightened anxiety the child who is preoccupied with his anxious thoughts and is worried may miss crucial information presented by the or fail to complete his questions during a test or exam.

When we are anxious, we can feel threatened and in a child - his or her attention will shift towards the perceived threatening stimuli. This can be as straightforward a heightened degree of anxiety of what the parents will say when the child reaches home. The moment and this happens, attention will move away from the task on hand and move towards what is going to happen again the child reaches home. Most often than not this results in spelling errors, poor handwriting and a complete shutdown of the cognitive system, which is responsible for, recall of learned material.

If anxiety is not correctly identified, and tested to assess what exactly is going on in the child's brain, this avoidance will have a direct effect on the ability to learn, as well as the academic achievement. Once a child learns to escape anxious feelings, he will likely continue to try and do so.

The most common examples of this what we have seen are children who continue to miss school on a regular basis, because they feel much more secure at home.

The problem in this approach however is that this avoidant behaviour is going to indirectly influence this particular child's academic achievement via an association with different variables, primarily the variable of inattention.

Anxiety and inattention will have at hand at creating the base for future academic deficits with learning to read and write appropriately and correctly. In fact anxiety and not attending school or anxiety in a classroom and a shut down of receptive language ability is a cause for not learning the basics of the alphabet and the structure of the language being taught.

The overlap of anxiety and learning disabilities can appear very early and in children as young as 4–6 years and parents will notice that they are observing significantly more symptoms of anxiety and avoidance and depression. Like adults, constant anxiety can also cause depression in children.

Avoidance and inability to comprehend in class normally leads to inattention from the teacher and eventually the child will perform more poorly on reading and math achievement tests both concurrently and over time, even after taking in account that he or she might be of superior intelligence.

Anxiety and internalizing symptoms are predictive of poorer achievement scores in learning to read and math skills and over a 5-year period are evident in lower grades when the child enters middle school.

Eventually the outcome is a form of acquired ‘Dyslexia’ where the child is not able to read for meaning and comprehension and the majority are stuck in the low average grade level.

Obtaining low grades and distress serve as a moderator of the relation of anxiety and achievement, with anxiety more strongly relating to achievement performance among children who are unable to read and write as well as their peers and persist over time and this combination of In fact students who have problems with academics and who also have difficulties with depression or anxiety may develop severe difficulties in attending to and participating fully in the schooling process thereby experiencing early deficits that continue anxiety and delayed or inability to read and write at grade level or appropriate class level may be particularly detrimental.

So for those parents who are faced with the prospect of their children showing symptoms of separation anxiety our personal opinion is that these children and students who display more of these symptoms at the end of class 1 also tended to have lower reading achievement scores at that time.

Parents may not realise but separation anxiety symptoms have been reported to increase or are triggered in children who are experiencing transitions or coping with stressors.

Transitions that occur could in the first year be that the student has to attend school for a full-day, academic demands increase, and a higher level of accountability has to be shouldered by the students who then start experiencing difficulties with learning to read.

Parents may want to understand that it is neither physical nor social anxiety symptoms, which predict achievement. Anxiety can speak in a different manner and is often expressed by children as separation anxiety, which we notice in younger aged children, while social anxiety concerns typically develop later in early adolescence.

Younger aged children may not readily recognize the physical signs of anxiety and/or may lack the understanding that these symptoms are internally caused by anxiety leading to greater levels of harm avoidance which are associated with higher fluency scores if the child is attentive, but with poorer fluency scores for children who are inattentive. And most children, we would say almost 99% are lagging in learning to read due to the high levels of anxiety.

The unfortunate part is that with our current schooling system and parental pressure, children who report wanting to do well and please their parents and teachers but who struggle to pay attention may have their focus especially impaired, resulting in slower reading rates as discrepancies in their goal striving and actual performance tend to evidence greater psychopathology which leads to even worse performance.

Such children distracted by stimuli in the environment and their anxious thoughts and in a class of 40 children the teacher may be unaware that the child is anxious and distracted by his anxious thoughts and feelings but because they observe the child’s being quiet, they think he or she is understanding everything.

It is our experience that, with heightened anxiety, children are not able to hear what the teacher is speaking. As once child who was highly Dyslexic mentioned to us. “When she speaks, it is like a buzzing sound in my ear, and my heart pounds so hard that I put my head down and sleep, so that she does not ask me any question”. No guess then that this child has just been marked to repeat class V as he is not able to even read his textbook correctly and remember it accurately.

We have also observed that a negative mediating influence of inattention emerges later in children’s schooling as task demands increase and children transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

So do children have anxiety or is it an adult specific phenomenon?

Children face anxiety as much or even more than adults as they move from a secure home environment to a confusing school environment and how they cope is directly correlated to how they learn in school and what they learn in school.

Besides the obvious onset of Acquired Dyslexia the likelihood of experiencing high levels of internalizing symptoms, which sometimes persist over time, is associated with the number of negative events. Associations between negative events and persistently high vs. high decreasing internalizing symptoms are comparable, suggesting that negative events primarily play a role in the onset of psychological difficulties.

In fact in children with a high sensitivity to stress and those with a genetic predisposition or an unstable, highly emotional, temperament - even minor anxiety and negative events can trigger the onset of problems at school.

With childhood anxiety comes negative childhood events like school difficulties, parental stress, childhood illness, and social isolation and these are associated with persistent high trajectories of internalizing symptoms. All of these experiences are stressful for children and their parents, and the ensuing school difficulties and potential social isolation could also partly reflect a temperamental predisposition to psychological difficulties – either through externalizing behaviors, or lack of concentration and high emotionality.

Parental stress may also co-occur with parents' symptoms of depression and anxiety, which increase the likelihood of harsh and overprotective parenting, and could also exert an influence on their Childs psychological well being and school performance.

SO - Can a normal child become a Dyslexic child in this process? .

Yes a normal child with everything in place cal also become a Dyslexic child if the underlying anxiety and internalizing symptoms are not addressed very early on in life and at the beginning of the schooling system.

Will children grow out of it in the normal course of development?

Now that is the greatest myth on which rests the Indian psychosocial thinking process. Children do not outgrow anxiety and acquired Dyslexia. Once the Neural wiring of the brain is changed, it is extremely difficult to rewire the brain without very specialised intervention.

Our advise to parents is, any change in behaviour, any differences in the way the child responds to school and academics are areas of concern and must be addressed immediately.

Why push our children from normal to becoming Dyslexic just because we took it easy in the early developmental years. Parents need to ask this question of themselves honestly and clearly.

To understand whether your son or daughter are suffering silently from anxiety and a feeling of being lost in their world - make an appointment with the DAI™ please call us on +91 – 8826022886 or e mail us for an appointment on info@dyslexiaindia.org.in as at the Dyslexia Association of India™ we have a strict policy to comprehensively check and diagnose only one child per day.

Any payment that is made for your appointment at the DAI™ qualifies for exemption from Income Tax (IT) and parents are provided a Section 80G receipt so that they can use it when filing their Income Tax Returns.

* Opinions and information expressed by the DAI™ are equivocal and personal to the researchers and specific to the organization.