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Dyslexia and Presentation of Self

Within this particular post two of my greatest interests are explored and discussed together; sociology and dyslexia. As a whole sociology as a discipline studies society, how it works, changes and evolves. In this way, it provides a great platform for understanding how and why people within such society’s and groups may live and behave the way they do. One highly intriguing concept within this social world is of self-presentation.

Stemming from work by Sociologist Irving Goffman, presentation of self refers to how humans can alter what traits, characteristics and ‘parts of themselves’ they externally present and display to others. These identity changes and modifications are highly situation dependent, as people may wish to display certain parts or elements of themselves to some individuals but not others. For example, a person joining their friends for a meal out together may act, respond and behave very differently to how they would in a far more formal situation; such as attending a job interview or exam. Subsequently, one can seek to understand human actions and behaviours by viewing people as ‘actors’ who perform to an audience on a ‘social stage’ (ReviseSociology, 2016). Whereby such performances are ultimately shaped by the audience and situation. This dramatised stance emphasises that people/performers aim to maintain and create an image that their audience will remember and associate them with (E Goffman).

Furthermore, Goffman theorised that two identity stages exists for individuals within self-presentation; the front stage and back stage. The front stage is the identity and characteristics that a person chooses to openly present and show to others. This identity is unstable and ever-changing as traits, mannerisms and ones demeanour are adapted and changed to suit the audience and situation. In stark contrast, the backstage is where performers can relax. Within this more private realm the front stage performance is dropped, meaning that a person can be their ‘true self’ (ReviseSociology, 2016) without the presence or scrutiny of an audience. Within the backstage is where performances and routines are prepared, practised and perfected ready for the front stage when required.

How can this sociological identity concept be related to dyslexia? In truth, as dyslexia is a naturally occurring human neurodiversity it is easy to apply to such a theory. With regards to self-presentation, it has been established that all dyslexics are different in relation to their personalities, types and severity of dyslexic traits (Discussing The Dyslexic Brain, 2020). These variations can be extended to include as to whether, and to what extent, a dyslexic person may ‘present their dyslexia’, disclose and discuss this with others.

How a person views their dyslexia can be complex, varying and changeable. Consequently these such variations may be one factor that may impact if an individual wishes to display their dyslexia to another person or audience. Some individuals may view their dyslexic traits as merely an inconvenience, something to be embarrassed of or see it even as a barrier in life. Others may see it as a platform for creativity or even a blessing in disguise. Usually, however, individual’s views of their own dyslexia may flitter between these two extremes; depending on one’s current mood or the kind of day they are experiencing. Logically speaking, one may assume that those with a negative perception of themselves and their dyslexia may wish to hide or conceal their dyslexia away from others in the backstage realm of their identity. Alternatively, if a person is struggling, unhappy or concerned about this part of their identity they make seek to disclose or discuss this with a trusted person(s).

Building upon the above line, a second factor or influencer that may impact whether person outwardly displays and discusses their dyslexia is dependent on the relationships that they have with those around them. Some dyslexics can be very open and forthcoming to many about their dyslexia. Others, however, may be more reluctant or selective with who or the audience they reveal this to. Building trust, rapport and understanding with the desired person or persons may take time for some individuals. In addition, it must be noted that telling another person that one is dyslexic or is finding particular tasks in life challenging takes a lot of bravery and courage. Within human nature it is not always easy to disclose new information, ask for help or tell another person we are struggling.

Finally, a third feature which may impact as to whether a dyslexic individual publically presents their dyslexic traits is highly based on the situation that person is in. In this way, the visibility and observability of dyslexia can be highly situationally dependent. In certain situations dyslexic traits can be more viewable, such as during the tasks or situations a dyslexic person finds most challenging or difficult. Such situations may illicit more open signs of struggle or distress. For example, a student in class who finds reading especially difficult could ask for help, appear confused, distracted, uninterested, lost or give up or not attempt the task at all. Despite this, it is vital to note that even when confronted with challenging tasks not all dyslexics will outwardly display signs or signals of difficulty to their audience. An individual could internally be struggling with their task but not act this within the frontage of their presented identity. Potentially this could be for numerous reasons. To name a few, the individual could be managing the task successfully or they potentially could be embarrassed or reluctant to ask for assistance.

Using Goffman’s sociological concept of self-presentation this blog post has explored and discussed some reasons as to why dyslexic individual’s may or may not present, display or discuss their dyslexia with others. Within particular situations, environments and interactions dyslexic traits can be more publically and openly displayed within the social world. Although dyslexic characterises may potentially be hidden, or hard to observe or to see at times, dyslexia will remain part of that person’s identity. To sum, this post has strived to uncover how dyslexia and its visibility can be impacted by the social world and social situations. This aims to further heightened our knowledge of dyslexia as a human phenomenon and understand why dyslexia may vary in its observability.

Useful Links

Discussing The Dyslexic Brain (2020) The Dyslexic Variation

Erving Goffman The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Revise Sociology (2016) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life – A Summary

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