‘Read Me Differently’: An Interview with Sarah Entine, MSW

sarah entineWhere differences in learning styles and abilities exist within families, an opportunity also exists: the chance to understand and embrace how those differences have shaped family dynamics and interpersonal relationships. In Read Me Differently, filmmaker Sarah Entine, MSW unpacks this concept with exceptional candor, vulnerability, and even a touch of humor, exploring the effects of dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) on three generations in her family—herself included.

Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 6, it wasn’t until Sarah was in graduate school for social work, 23 years later, that she fully began to realize the scope of her condition. With compassionate curiosity, she looked closely at her family system and discovered that the story was much larger than her. What she found surprised her, but it also inspired an honest and heartfelt examination of what it means to be understood and accepted by those who matter most. This work led to the production of her 2009 documentary release.

Today, Sarah presents Read Me Differently at conferences across the country, including those for the International Dyslexia Association and the Learning Disabilities Association of America. She also facilitates workshops and has been a guest presenter for audiences including students, teachers, parents, and mental health and social service providers.

GoodTherapy.org recently spoke with Sarah about her experiences with dyslexia, learning difficulties, and the impact they have on families like hers.

1. How common is dyslexia and why should therapists care?

Over 40 million adults in the U.S. are dyslexic, but only 2 million are aware that they are. Dyslexia is not just a reading challenge where letters are reversed. Each person with dyslexia has his or her own unique profile. It’s similar to autism in that dyslexia is a spectrum that goes from mild to more severe difficulties. It is a processing difference in the brain that affects decoding letters, sequencing, verbal and written expression, and working memory.

Working memory is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of the dyslexic experience. It affects remembering what people say, sequencing events, and the ability to retell information. If someone has weak working memory, it can dramatically affect his or her social life and self-esteem. It can feel overwhelming to try to be in sync with the pace of life when your mental processing speed is slower and your working memory is weak. As a result, there can be a lot of anxiety associated with having a learning difference, especially around meeting other people’s expectations. Sometimes dyslexic people mask these challenges by withdrawing, acting out, or turning to drugs and alcohol to escape these painful feelings.

2. How are families impacted when a family member has a learning disability?

It is important for therapists to understand that learning disabilities are not just an academic experience that affects school performance, but they can significantly affect family life as well. For example, slow working memory can make it hard for a child to follow directions at home, like “go set the dinner table.”

“It is important for therapists to understand that learning disabilities are not just an academic experience that affects school performance, but they can significantly affect family life as well.”

Since families often involve more than two people, working memory and slow auditory processing is taxed even more because the person with learning differences has more verbal information to track. These challenges can make everything harder, like even answering questions about how your day is going. The challenges in these subtle interactions can really start to shape family relationships in unhealthy ways.

Another way learning differences affect families is connected to executive functioning difficulties—which can impact getting to places on time or managing time and responsibilities. As these things accumulate (or snowball), they can be misunderstood by other family members who might think, “You’re lazy. You’re not trying. You’re just a quiet kid …” But there’s more happening here.

Therapists need to have a way of evaluating learning disabilities when they meet with individual clients and also families. In my personal experience, I did therapy with my mother in my twenties trying to deal with our communication issues and the tension in our relationship. While we talked about many issues, we never addressed what needed to be talked about—namely, the dyslexia that runs in our family and how it impacted our relationship.

3. What strategies do you recommend for people to reduce the stress associated with living with a learning disability?

What works is to demystify your experience, and part of that is to really familiarize yourself with your dyslexia or learning difference. Then it’s helpful to also understand the emotional overlay or the triggers to the anxiety that come when your mental processing is working differently than other people.

I also have a meditation practice that has been helpful for me for many reasons. One is knowing and understanding the truth of impermanence—“this, too, shall pass,” as they say in the 12-step programs. Having awareness to recognize my own reactivity and to be able to notice how that feels in my body instead of adding more self-recriminations into the mix. And lastly, to develop the ability to respond compassionately to myself and other people when I experience difficulties or when feelings like anger or hurt arise from misunderstandings.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the news about dyslexia is not all “bad”! While we’ve looked at some of the challenges here, the good news is that dyslexic people are highly intelligent and often very creative. The book The Dyslexic Advantage, by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide, outlines many of the strengths associated with dyslexia.

Reference:

Austin Learning Solutions. (n.d.). Dyslexia Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.austinlearningsolutions.com/blog/38-dyslexia-facts-and-statistics.html

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by A good therapist, therapist in Olympia, Washington

  • 7 comments
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  • Ruth

    Ruth

    December 16th, 2015 at 7:33 AM

    Especially difficult when the parents and the other kids in the family have one learning style and then there is the one who does thing a little differently. There is nothing wrong with this, we have to be willing to embrace all learning styles, but it is hard when you have done things one way and then when you have to up and change things. Hopefully there is a lot of guidance and support out there available for these families.

  • lex

    lex

    December 16th, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    This spoke to me in a very powerful way- thank you for sharing

  • Jay

    Jay

    December 17th, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    A very thoughtful and honest look at what it is like to struggle with dyslexia. You feel like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole most of the time. There is really nothing out there that immediately addresses your own needs. It often feels like the world is just hard wired for something totally different from what you are, and that makes fitting in feel like a real struggle.

  • Durham

    Durham

    December 17th, 2015 at 11:23 AM

    It is frustrating how for so long the education system has been set up to reward only a certain type of skill set.

    They are unable to look beyond what they deem the perfect child and see that everyone can have success if they are only given the right setting and a chance.

  • Tim

    Tim

    December 18th, 2015 at 10:10 AM

    When you have a learning disability you have to learn the mechanisms for learning to cope in a world that is not at all geared toward you. You have to learn to discover and utilize your own personal strengths so that this will be an advantage for you.

  • Lex

    Lex

    December 21st, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    After our daughter finally got the right diagnosis then it was that much easier to treat. The hardest part was convincing the educators that there was something wrong, that she was far brighter than what her performance indicated.

  • greg

    greg

    December 26th, 2015 at 1:58 PM

    Everyone can be different and unique.

    It is up to the parents of these children to teach them that this is something that can set you apart in a good way, not in a way that you have the feel like you are ashamed of.

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