Dyslexia is a disability thought to affect around 10% of the population. It is a genetic condition and one of the most common specific learning difficulties affecting children and adults. Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia does not only manifest itself in problems with literacy, but also affects people’s memory, organisational skills, and their ability to learn. The challenges and struggles this brings include potential low self-esteem, anxiety and work-related problems.
The benefits of life coaching for adults with learning difficulties are potentially significant – as they indeed are for anyone.According to David Ellis, ‘A Life Coach consistently listens, speaks, and occasionally asks questions, in a way that draws forth his client’s genius and creativity’ (2006). It is through this process that life coaches explore with clients their situation, values and beliefs, thus offering a different perspective on their life. This change in perspective is often the very first step towards success. By looking at one’s learning difficulty as merely an obstacle to be overcome, and not the issue itself, coaching can focus on defining and prioritizing goals which are based on the client’s aims and intentions for the future, then creating an action plan towards the realization of these goals with which the client can take dyslexia in their stride.
An understanding of dyslexia and the effect this has on adults can help the coach to ask the right questions when working with the client. Questions about the client’s challenges need to be asked sensitively, and dealt with realistically, so that the client can feel understood by the coach, and yet encouraged to overcome these obstacles. When talking about the client’s reality, it is essential to encourage the client to also focus on the positive aspects of the situation. These could even be positive features of the learning difficulty itself. The British Dyslexia Association outlines the strengths of individuals with dyslexia, which include lateral thinking abilities, originality and creativity. Other positive features of the client’s reality could include public awareness of the disability, and the assistance available in the form of self-help books, assessment centres and support organisations. Formulating remarks in the form of universal quantifiers, such as ‘Everyone knows that people with dyslexia are creative’ makes them sound more convincing to the client. When using rapport-building tools such as mirroring, matching and echoing, the coach should also be aware of particular difficulties with communication which dyslexic adults could have. According to the British Dyslexia Association, these could include word-finding problems and a lack of precision in speech.
Clients who have often felt a sense of failure in the past, and are held back by limiting beliefs acquired during their time at school could feel fear at failing in a perceived new position or career. Empowering questions will invite the client to examine these limitations and challenge beliefs acquired in childhood such as ‘My spelling is terrible’, ‘Reading takes ages’, ‘or ‘I’m stupid’. It is these beliefs which obstruct development and the achievement of goals, which is why the coach should be concerned with finding and exploring them (Martin, 2001). Effective tools which help the client leave their comfort zone, and deal with these fears are the Magic Wand task (whereby the client imagines that they have a magic wand and imagine what their wishes and dreams are, without focusing on their fears) and the Fear Assessment. The Fear Assessment encourages clients to analyse their fears from an external point of view, assessing each fear rationally. By rating each fear according to how realistic it is, the client gains a better understanding of which fears block development and change, and what his/her potential to achieve change really is.
According to Ellis (2006:2), ‘We succeed as life coaches when our clients feel empowered and valuable – confident, secure and filled with new options’. It is this empowerment that is a key aspect of life coaching. Etta Brown, in her explanation of available treatments for dyslexia, concludes that ‘the most important aspect of any treatment plan is attitude’. ‘Attitude’ is also an essential component of Emerson & Loehr’s ‘Recipe for Success’ (2008), which can ‘compensate for deficiencies in Aptitude or Resources’ (2008:6). When looking at the options available to achieve the set goals it is therefore important for the coach not to make suggestions but to encourage the client to seek their own options, thus gaining confidence in their abilities to move forward.
Of course, there will be times when clients feel that the obstacles caused by their disabilities are insurmountable. Coaching techniques such as prioritising, thought stopping, anchoring and reframing can all help the client to manage these situations better. When reframing or developing positive anchors with clients whose fears of failure are linked to dyslexia, a good trick is to refer to famous personalities who have also suffered from dyslexia and who became very successful none the less. Examples include Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise, Kiera Knightley, Leonardo da Vinci, Cher, John Lennon, Andy Warhol, John F. Kennedy, Henry Ford, Agatha Christie and Walt Disney – just to name a few!
Dyslexia is an obstacle which affects the lives of many. The best way to overcome this obstacle – as with most other obstacles – is to examine it and then decide upon and implement a strategy for it to be most effectively overcome. The skills and techniques prevalent in any coaching process – the importance of rapport building, questioning, listening or the GROW Model, to name but a few – when underpinned by an awareness of the issues and problems related to dyslexia, can help clients ‘overcome almost any obstacle’ (Ellis, 2006:3), thus leading a happier, more successful and fulfilling life.
Brown, E.; www.understanding-learning-disabilities.com
Downey, M.; Effective Coaching. Texere, 2003.
Ellis, D.; Life Coaching: A Guide for Helping Professionals. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing, 2006.
Martin, C.; The Life Coaching Handbook. Crown House Publishing, 2001.
The British Dyslexia Association Website: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/