Dyslexia, Shame, and PTSD?

“…the risk of persistent hassles that are endlessly present in the sufferers life are a powerful predictor of psychological distress and has been likened to ‘living permanently in a cloud of small, biting mosquitoes’ “(as cited in Alexander-Passe, 2015).

Persistent hassles…that’s an interesting phrase. What is a persistent hassle? Imagine showing up to school day after day, year after year, and being asked to retrieve information, and demonstrate your understanding of information, in a way that is incredibly difficult for you. Too often this is what students with dyslexia experience on a regular basis. This is a persistent hassle.

In 2015, Neil Alexander-Passe, from London, UK, wrote a paper titled Investigating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Triggered by the Experience of Dyslexia in Mainstream School Education. As cited by Alexander-Passe, “There is strong evidence to suggest that dyslexics suffer from low self-esteem when they fail consistently at school…” He goes on to state, “The failing reader must deal with self-doubt which becomes far from being a secret shame, and often becomes a public failure.”

This week I’ve been revisiting the book The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss. Foss states, “One dyslexic friend of mine described his shame as ‘slow-drip trauma.’ He felt unworthy and ‘not normal’ every day. As an adult, he was treated for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that was caused by his experiences in school” (2013, xxii).

Scars from childhood can stick with us. In his research, Alexander-Passe discovered, “…65.4% of the [adult] sample suffered from PTSD (school avoidance) symptoms in relation to re-entering school as parents, resulting in anxiety with many feeling powerless like a child…” He goes on to state, “Normally PTSD is caused from short-term abuse or effects of a battlefield, but in the case of dyslexics, it is the result [of] 10 years of legally enforced mandatory education. The embarrassment and humiliation in the classroom by peers and authoritative figures such as teachers are strong experiences, which stay with people for the rest of their lives.”

Not only does school failure impact students as they move through their years in school, but struggles in school can have an ongoing impact on one’s life. However, we can make a difference. In the words of Liz Huntley, we can be a “game changer.” As educators we can acknowledge what we don’t know, we can continue to learn, and we can provide evidence-based instruction. We can listen to parents as they voice concerns and advocate for the needs of their child. We can know the signs of dyslexia. As a community of people that care, we can share our stories, we can advocate for change, and we can support efforts in our local area. If you would like more ideas on how you can make a difference, check out the resources listed below or contact us here at Shine Learning Services.

Decoding Dyslexia


Headstrong Nation


Dyslexic Advantage



Alexander-Passe N. (2015). Investigating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggered by the experience of dyslexia in mainstream school education? Journal of Psychology and          Psychotherapy, 5 (6). http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2161-0487.1000215

Foss, B. (2013). The dyslexia empowerment plan: A blueprint for renewing your child’s confidence  and love of learning. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.


Tamera Boring