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Relationships: do dyslexic children need a therapist, and which type?

Does my dyslexic daughter need a therapist, and which type?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 9:42am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 9:42am

My daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in Britain at the age of seven. After her school gave her extra time for tests and assignments, she seemed to be better but could get frustrated easily. When we relocated to Hong Kong last year she found it difficult to adjust and make new friends. She didn't want to let the teacher know that she has dyslexia because she thinks it will mark her out as "dumb". I am thinking of taking her to see a therapist, but with the different therapeutic models, how do I know what is best for her?

As the saying goes, what we give to our children are "roots to grow and wings to fly". We can't buy real friends for our children, but we can teach them the social skills to negotiate and how to accept the give and take in relationships.

We can't change our children's temperaments, but we can help them learn self-control and self-motivation.

What if your daughter is able to see dyslexia as being a different learning style instead of a disability? It is still possible to change her pattern of thinking, and focus her on positive feelings.

The age-old debate in child psychotherapy has always been whether therapeutic intervention works, or whether the child simply grows out of their problem.

Evaluating the effectiveness of therapy also depends on the problem, the functioning of the family and the developmental stage of the child.

Most therapeutic intervention is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different therapeutic tools are used depending on the practitioner's orientation, the needs of the child and their developmental stage and the specific challenges the child is presenting.

Get your GP or school counsellor to recommend a number of therapists and talk to them all.

Most adolescent therapists have a background in child psychology, developmental or neuropsychology and/or abnormal psychology. They should have clinical training in working with children in settings such as a hospital, school, hospice or the social service.

Don't be reluctant to ask for the credentials and training of the therapist. Check whether the therapist is registered with any recognised associations. You want to be sure your daughter is in safe hands.

It is best to be upfront and tell the therapist what you want to focus on. Provide a history of your daughter's problems and her strengths. Parental involvement is the key to the success of any therapeutic work.

Therapists typically use a combination of approaches, but often this includes music, art or toys as a way to communicate with children.

Your therapist's job is to listen to your daughter's concerns and help her understand her feelings and build on her strengths. The therapist should also be working closely with you. After all, you spend a lot more time with your daughter than he or she does.

Normally, the therapist meets the parents first, has four or five sessions with the child to build up a rapport and then decides on a treatment plan.

The short-term treatment plan is usually 15 to 20 sessions, in which the therapist will meet the parents every four sessions to give updates, provide feedback and tell them what they can do at home to facilitate change and improvement in the child.

Trust your gut feelings. Are you comfortable with the therapist? After a few sessions, check if your daughter is happy or reluctant to go back. That is usually a tell-tale sign if the chemistry between child and therapist is right. Children are usually quite blunt - if they don't feel comfortable with someone, they will say it.

I don't use music therapy, and only try art when the child feels more comfortable expressing their feelings that way.

Similarly, I can only tell you what therapeutic play entails. Play therapy sessions allow the child to manipulate or reproduce the world on a smaller and safer scale, something that cannot be done in the child's everyday environment. By playing with selected materials (medical toys or dressing up) with the guidance of a trained therapist, your daughter can play out her feelings, and bring hidden emotions to the surface.

Then she can discuss them with the therapist and find solutions for the issues.

A therapist might seem like a friend to your daughter, but she will know the professional also provides a safe space where she can share her feelings.

The therapist will accept her feelings, but not necessarily agree with the way she expresses them in her behaviour.

After all, your daughter is there to grow into her fullest potential. She needs to widen her repertoire in dealing with difficult emotions or her specific difficulties, and build on virtues, such as persistence, patience and self-control, so she is equipped to enjoy life to the fullest.

A question you should ask yourself is, what would you like your daughter to get out of her therapeutic sessions?

To be happier is the most common answer I get from parents, but what is your definition of happiness? In our busy and often confusing world, what can you do to help her when she becomes an independent woman?

You might want her to respect the rules, but have your rules been consistent and easy for her to follow?

Be clear on what you want at the initial consultation, so the therapist has a good idea how to help your daughter. Children don't come with instructions. Sometimes it is easier for someone outside the family to see objectively, with trained eyes, what is needed for you to enjoy motherhood.

Also check with your school counsellor. Some schools have social skills programmes after school to help children manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviour. They also encourage children (especially those new to Hong Kong) to form strong bonds as they are learning and sharing feelings in a small group.

Lora Lee is a child therapist and parenting counsellor with a background in developmental psychology, play therapy and post-separation counselling

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