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A Case Study of a Grown-Up Dyslexic

Browsing some old library books at a local library several years ago as a college sophomore, I came across one book that talks about helping people “straighten their talk. ” The author, who I realise now is a counsellor, stresses the need of some people, possibly his clients, to get somebody to listen to them in order to heal, process their thoughts, and understand their lives. Lacking in knowledge about counselling, I thought that what the book was pointing out was simply the capability to listen to people, to be a friend, or to sympathise with someone by listening to their stories with neither prejudices nor giving advice.

To me it was simply a way to provide an outlet to those who felt isolated, but now I realised it was more than that; it was the ability to lead people to listen to themselves and grow up in the same process of hearing their stories. In such a counselling situation, the counsellor serves to facilitate the process of “growing up” and making realities easier to accept. Allowing the person to talk during therapy is the main goal of Transactional Analysis (TA), an approach introduced by Eric Berne (1964), and later redeveloped by other psychologists including Tony White (1994).

In the case I handled, TA served as an ideal approach along with Carl Rogers’ Person-Centred Therapy, owing to their capacity to understand the clients in ways that do not manipulate their thoughts or affect their decisions. Teaching in a college for people with learning disabilities, I have encountered several students with varied difficulties. One of them was Jon, whom I met five years ago in a youth club I supervised. At present, Jon is taking a literacy course at the same college where I work, and is visiting me regularly as a friend.

The encounters we had allowed me to have a chance to hear his stories, which he narrated with much confidence, having considered me as a friend and mentor. Although I sometimes felt the need to counsel, I never considered him as a client in need of advice, for the talks we had were humbling on my part. I could say that while he found a friend to express all his sorrows and failures, he provided me a solid learning experience that directed me to see both teaching and counselling in different perspectives.

My memory of Jon had always been that of a boy with a glow of laughter on his face. Despite being 22, I still remember him as a boy with very simple joys and expectations. However, my encounters with him changed the way I perceived him, for during the five years that passed, he encountered many tribulations associated with his unusual condition, which slowly diminished the childish glow on his face. Like most people with learning difficulties, Jon was born to parents who neither expected nor understood their children’s situation.

Jon grew up in an environment where he needed to fulfil expectations, which for him were difficult but were common to other kids. Instead of earning attention to make him feel secure, his life’s circumstances directed him to choices he knew he never would have taken if given a better opportunity. Diagnosed earlier with learning difficulties, he was classified and forced to join others with severe learning difficulties. This limited his chance not only in education but also in establishing connection with other children.

Jon recalled the instances when he requested the school service to drop him where other normal kids would not see him get off the bus for special school. He also recalled how kids in the neighbourhood called him a window licker and other names he could not take. For many years, he bore the belief of being different and the prejudices attached to it. He went through adversities he should not have experienced only for having dyslexia. Since Jon learned the proper label for his learning difficulty, things have become a lot easier to deal with.

He felt surer of himself, more confident to face people, and more expectant of the future. Significantly, he felt that people around him also changed the way they looked at him. Mainly, his view of the world transformed anew, allowing him to see things in a different light. His new label and second chance to go to school ensure him of a more fruitful life ahead, with those who love and support him. As Jon’s mentor and friend (I was first his youth club adviser, then his friend), I found that counselling relationships vary depending on the counselee’s situation.

In Jon’s case, my role as a counsellor shifted according to TA’s ego-state model, specifically along the principles of being a child, adult and parent. Similarly, his role as the counselee shifted around those characters, resulting in quite a complex scale. For several times, I found myself as a parent who longed to understand the child in him that needed security and caring, or the adult who wanted to offer solutions, but there were also times when I marvelled as a child at the way he had dealt bravely with his situation.

For his part, Jon usually related his stories like a child in rebellion, but he also assumed the mind of an adult who viewed his life with disappointments but with some understanding of how people in his past perceived things differently, or how their behaviour and attitudes were affected by commonly organised systems that usually discriminated those who are special or different. His attitude in the past reflected what Berne proposed as Life Positions. However, like many followers of Berne claim, such life position does not stay permanent throughout one’s lifetime.

In particular, White (1994) posits that while people have character life positions, they also maintain surface positions, which hide the former underneath. In Jon’s case, the troubled phase he went through when he was younger developed in him a somewhat permanent character position of I’m not OK, You’re not OK (I-U-). At the same time, the adjustment he had to do in order to fit in also resulted in building a surface life position of I’m OK, You’re OK (I+U+). He projects this in order to win friends.

He pretends to be alright; I remember him as funny and loud five years ago, but underneath hid his insecurities and failure to please others. When Jon was tired of pleasing others, his character life position of I-U- surfaced later on, and this led him to prison. He thought that since nobody accepted him even his family, it was better to stop trying and let alone who did not value him. Later, as he found a new hope with his talent in drawing cartoons, his character life position slowly improved, giving him a better view of the world and himself, thus developing at last the I’m OK, You’re OK (I+U+) life position.

As Jon unravelled his despair from the past, I as the counsellor just listened intently, without interfering or propounding my views. I allowed him to direct and control the conversation, to narrate his story at his own pace, say things the way he wanted to, and express feelings he had. Although there were times when I felt the need to express reactions just like a parent or teacher would comfort a child, I refrained from talking, and just listened to him, clarifying his feelings from time to time.

Indeed, along with TA, I employed Carl Rogers’ (1959) Person-Centred Therapy, which promotes the person’s actualising tendency, “the most profound truth about man” (Rogers, 1965, p. 21). Learning how strong and self-directed Jon was, I knew that what he needed was an opportunity to “straighten his talk,” to affirm his realisations, and to hold on to values he had set at the moment. I knew that just by listening to him and giving him autonomy, he would be able to construct his own perspective of his situation, and arrive at ideal values he could hold on to in life.

With the way he narrated his experiences from dyslexia, which was very insightful and with less pity for himself, I knew that Jon’s self-actualising tendency had led him to a certain acceptance of his situation. All he needed was someone who could bring out that tendency, someone who would spend time to listen to his stories with neither prejudice nor judgment. Keeping a silent yet attentive attitude while he expressed himself, I was able to help Jon arrive at some conclusions about his past, which I thought had always been there but were kept unexpressed.

By keeping an open mind and not arguing or interrupting him, I led Jon to express himself openly. Meanwhile, by just listening and not expressing sympathy but nodding and keeping my eyes at his, I made him think as an adult, and lessened his tendency to pity himself or to digress with anger at those who caused him so much pain (those who called him names and made fun of him). Using the Person-Centred Therapy, I made him feel the importance of retelling his stories, and of the trust that he should give himself in overcoming struggles he had in the past and would encounter in the future.

In addition, taking more from Rogers’, I tried my best to be aware of my knowledge, feelings, and biases on issues. Having worked for several years with special children, I could claim having a good background of individuals like Jon. I could attest to their many special abilities and talents despite the learning difficulties they possess. Also, I have witnessed their ability to gain an understanding of their situation, especially those who are only dyslexic. Moreover, my knowledge of different counselling theories guided me to identify Jon’s life position in accordance to the view of transactional analysts.

Furthermore, my everyday encounters with the group have led me to develop an innate desire to understand and love them, thus making listening and playing the role of a mentor and friend to Jon a lot easier for me than for others. Despite having a well-informed background, I did not consider myself too experienced to handle Jon’s case. I always looked forward to interacting with him, recognising that every encounter was an opportunity to help, and to gain additional insight into the caring and counselling profession that I have chosen.

As Rogers recommends, I treated Jon with respect and did not limit him to certain qualities. In short, I did not label him anymore than being a dyslexic. Like every normal person with the ability to reflect on his life and think maturely, I considered Jon possessing such ability. His learning difficulty never served as a hindrance to achieving counselling dynamics. Instead, it served as a guide for me to understand him more, and gave me additional insights about individuals with dyslexia.

Also, my familiarity of Jon from the youth club I handled helped me see how he has grown up as a man. I always considered Jon to be childish and loud, but listening at the way he perceived the circumstances in his life made me realise how he has fared with difficulty in dealing with the trials and biases that most people bear about those with learning difficulties. The same realisation led me to a broader view of what my students could face later when they go out of school and face the real world.

It is worthy to mention that the openness both Jon and I exercised during counselling served as a key component to a better understanding of issues and a more open communication. Nevertheless, the counselling process that Jon and I had was not totally ideal. There were times when I could still feel his rage at those who offended or neglected him. Jon suffered a lot, enough to make him rebellious. He suppressed a lot of anger, especially about the times when he was jailed. He felt people did not give him the chance to live a normal life.

They always focused on his flaws, and did not recognise his potentials. Even his parents lacked understanding of his situation. They passed on their responsibility to teachers and professionals who, after all, only made him feel he was different from other kids. Of course, they helped him in some way, but directed him wrongly by giving him a label he did not deserve in the first place. The main trouble he found in receiving a wrong diagnosis as a child still made him disappointed with those who handled him. As Jon recalled his childhood, I could feel his need for what Berne (1964) called strokes.

Jon had learned to accept the past as part of his reality but had not been totally healed of it. As he told his experiences with his parents and the children in their neighbourhood, he projected the Type 1 character or Undersure who needed comfort and assurance. Likewise, as he expressed reasons why he was imprisoned for several times, I felt his rebellious tendency and the need for parental nurturing and security. During these times, he needed “strokes” or reassurance that his negative experiences actually served as stepping stones to a certain actualisation he so far achieved.

Jon’s voice crumbled as he controlled his emotions like a child who would complain about being bullied in school. Nevertheless, his adult character interacted with the child in him, which somehow balanced his views. Jon’s self-actualising capability and adult character position determined the boundaries of our counselling relationship. First, I considered the fact that I did not share his learning disability or had the same experiences he encountered in the past. There were times when I felt the need to fit in and to please other children of my age but not to the point of suffering the way he did.

This basically identified my limitation as the counsellor in the situation. Unlike someone who encountered loss or deprivation, he presented a situation personally different but not totally unfamiliar to me. This fact led me to decide that listening to him was the best I could do, because uttering something irrelevant could disrupt him from expressing his point or make him feel dubious of my ability to empathise. I did not want to disappoint him by making imprudent inquiries or understatements, thus I found it best to just keep an open mind about his views.

Second, I believed that Jon had already embarked on a self-transforming/actualising attitude, and I did not want to deconstruct that, for doing so would only diminish his confidence and acceptance of reality. In this view, I always played the role of an adult listening to another adult, or if I played the role of a child, I made sure not to act as an Oversure. As time went on, I noticed that Jon had gained more confidence and sureness of his disposition, which assured me that what I did was appropriate.

Also, the frequent visits he gave me and the smile he bore on his face whenever he left my office determined the caring he felt with me as a counsellor. The counselling opportunity I had with Jon allowed me to gain deeper insights about my profession. I realized that teaching people with identified learning difficulties, autism or down syndrome involves a lot of challenge and patience, but counselling them requires a different set of rules, skills and attitude. First and foremost, listening without biases is one very important skill in counselling.

It is through listening that we get to know more about others and develop trust in the process. Second, empathising with the counselee without making him/her feel pitiful is also another skill that I have further developed. Whenever Jon talked, I made it a point to look at him in the eyes, nod to express my understanding of what he says, and express how I feel on issues he consulted on. Third, I also improved my ability to reflect his emotions by clarifying/restating how he felt at certain points. I found that Jon appreciated it whenever I inquired further about the way he felt at a specific situation.

This signalled my interest and attentiveness to our conversation, and helped to motivate him further to share his thoughts. However, due to my desire to have him control the conversation, I must admit that I used controlled questioning. The questions I asked were mostly connected to what Jon related in order to make sure he elaborated on every situation he narrated. This resulted in a rather slow counselling pace, but ensured person-centeredness of the strategies employed. Moreover, the counselling I conducted with Jon suggested a number of prerequisites to therapy.

Among these is gaining enough information about the counselee’s background. Knowing the counselee personally, recalling common names and places we had been to helped win his interest and lessen inhibitions. This further resulted in informality of the counselling atmosphere, which contributed to motivating Jon to express himself more. In addition, the realisation that Jon was capable of self-actualising tendency or mature thinking also served to facilitate communication between us. Trusting Jon’s instincts and judgment of situations boosts his morale.

It makes him feel confident to make further choices in life, design future plans, and take present challenges. In the end, as my counselling with Jon unravelled, I saw the benefits of the times we spent on both of us. In his case, Jon has become more at ease with himself and more hopeful. In my case, I have become more insightful and empathising, having realised that I indeed made the right choice of becoming a teacher-counsellor to people with special needs. References Berne, B. , 1964. Games people play: the psychology of human relationships.

NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, pp. 103-104. Rogers, C. , 1959. A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch, ed. Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill, pp. 55-56. Rogers, C. , 1965. A humanistic conception of man. In R. E. Farson, ed. Science and human affairs. California: Science and Behavior Books Inc. , p. 2. White, T. , 1994. Life positions. Transactional Analysis Journal, 24(4), pp. 269-276.

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