By Chris Cole, Learning Differences Specialist 2nd December 2019
Chris set up five headings
Awareness of difference
The labelling event
Understanding and negotiating the label
Chris gave some background information of what each stage meant as identified from a 20-year study, released in 2002.
Stage 1: Awareness of difference All participants described a time when, although the problem had not yet been pinpointed, they were aware of being different from other children (both academically and socially).
With this stage there is a type of isolation – of knowing you are different but not the why.
Stage 2: The labelling event This is finding out the “why” you are different. There is usually a sense of relief especially if the person is still at school at the time. As an adult there can be a longer time period of acceptance of the label due to more time having passed trying to “hide” the difference and difficulties.
The process of labelling can be long and include many misdiagnosis of other issues, eg poor eyesight, lazy, poor behaviour, anxiety disorder etc
Stage 3: Understanding and negotiating the label
Following the labelling event participants struggled with two issues:
To understand exactly what having a learning difficulty means (what the person can and can’t do)
To resolve confusion as to what kind of help would be needed, especially as it related to workplace and in social or relationships situations.
Stage 4: Compartmentalisation This is when the person starts to gain understanding of their learning difference and start to see it as a difference rather than a disability. They start to see what they can do well and when they are faced with areas that are difficult they can implement strategies to help themselves.
They are starting to learn to advocate for themselves. They may still have feelings of anxiety in certain situations but are starting to develop an awareness of why they feel that way in certain situations.
Stage 5: Transformation They fully accept their learning difference. They are able to advocate for themselves from a positive place of acceptance.
From the study they found getting to self-acceptance isn’t always easy. The participants report having to negotiate stigma while being expected to achieve the same results as their non-dyslexic peer group with little/no support. So that’s something like this: “There’s something wrong with you, but we expect you to be like everyone else.”
Chris asked the following questions for discussion.
Where does feeling angry sit in the five stages? Discussed most likely to happen in Stages 2 and 3. There can be a lot of anger that it was never identified while the adult had been at school resulting in feeling a lot of anxiety and shame since that time. Being angry is also a coping strategy for when the task to complete is difficult so can be a pattern that has been developed.
What impact does the age at the labelling make? Later in life means it is much more difficult to move through these stages. There is a lifetime of patterns developed for coping emotionally that must be understood and managed before fully accepting the label.
What do you need to get from one stage to the next? Chris mentioned that she can move between Stages 3, 4 and 5 depending on what the situation is, her level of understanding and how she is managing her coping patterns.
All agreed that increasing awareness of the learning difference and the emotional impact that has resulted are fundamental to being able to move forward.
What stage do you need to be to be open about it say in the workplace? Discussed this can depend on the workplace. Also tricky because employment legislation does not support being open about having a learning difference. You would have to be in Stages 4-5 to feel okay to open about it.
What is the impact of other people’s views on your stages through the process? If you do not have the support of others around you, you will still feel isolated and have feelings of frustration that others don’t understand. You can still move through the stages however it can be easier if those around you are aware, they understand and can therefore support you.
Finally, Chris mentioned that while these stages of self-acceptance have a physical journey, it is the emotional journey that can be more difficult to accept. Being together in a group that understands and supports you through this journey is an important part of moving through the stages.