Book review: ‘Dyslexia and Mental Health’ by Neil Alexander Passe

This book gave me insight into the psychological effects that dyslexia can have on an individual. It did that by explaining the difference between defence mechanisms and coping strategies.  We use defence mechanisms in response to situations to protect ourselves from anxiety.  However, instead of dealing with the difficulty, defence mechanisms actually prevent us from doing so.  For example, if we drink alcohol to escape anxiety, we are not allowing ourselves to self-help. Coping strategies, on the other hand, enable us to fulfil our potential. Here are some defence mechanisms the book discusses.
  1. Avoidance – in fact, this is termed as a ‘pre-defence mechanism’. E.g. if you really don’t want to write a report, you procrastinate writing it
  2. Denial e.g. denying that you are dyslexic even though you know you are
  3. Repression = forgetting something bad e.g. a car accident
  4. Regression = reverting back to a child-like emotional state e.g. bed-wetting, stammering, sulking
  5. Displacement (‘kicking the cat’) = taking your emotion out on someone or something other than the person you feel it about
  6. Projection e.g. if you think you’re stupid, accusing other people of thinking you’re stupid when there is no evidence to support this
  7. Reaction formation = when you are attracted to someone you know is unsuitable and you behave as though you can’t stand them
  8. Intellectualisation = thinking away an emotion that is uncomfortable for you
  9. Rationalisation = explaining away your bad behaviour
  10. Sublimation = using your emotions to produce positive results e.g. growing vegetables instead of vandalising cars
And here are some dyslexic defence mechanisms the book explores. Emotional defence mechanisms
  1. Social withdrawal e.g. daydreaming, avoiding socialising
  2. Self-blame – internalising problems and punishing yourself
  3. Hiding in class – trying to keep out of the teacher’s radar
  4. Perfectionism – paying attention to detail
  5. Hypochondria, including psychosomatic pain
  6. Blocking out – trying not to think about the thing that threatens you
  7. Depression
  8. Drug or alcohol abuse
  9. Self-harm e.g. with food or body
  10. Suicide or attempted suicide
  Behavioural defence mechanisms  
  1. Truancy
  2. Distraction e.g. misbehaving in class
  3. Frustration
  4. Bad temper e.g. blaming others for difficulties
  5. Pessimism e.g. saying ‘I’m going to fail this test’
  6. Bullying – an expression of anger and frustration and a response to hostility
  7. Shouting, biting, tantrums
  8. Attention seeking e.g. shock, anger
  9. Fantasy e.g. imagining answering someone back rather than actually doing it
  10. Violence, revenge, property damage, criminal activities
The coping strategy this book suggests is Seligman’s ABCDE technique. This is about overcoming hopelessness in a learning context. The book also identifies several different dyslexic coping profiles.  These really helped me to understand and accept myself and others. I found some of this book difficult to follow, and some of it contestable. Nevertheless, I benefited from reading it.  The groups I would recommend it to are:
  1. Dyslexic adults;
  2. Parents / carers / educators of dyslexic children / young people; and
  3. Counsellors / psychotherapists.
My top 3 tips for tackling this book are:
  1. Start with chapter 14
  2. Consider skipping chapter 1 if you are finding it hard-going (it’s summarised in chapter 14)
  3. Before reading each chapter, read the conclusions and bullet points that come at the end of it.
Dyslexia Scotland has a copy of this book in its Resource Centre. Published in the UK by Jessica Kingsley, 2015. ISBN 978-1-84905-582-6 This book review was written by a Dyslexia Scotland member.