When Anxiety Isn’t Really Anxiety

Sam, aged 10, works hard in school. Yet her teachers know there’s an undercurrent of anxiety that bubbles up during tests. And her mom sees it in the form of migraines and stomach pains.

Until Sam came to see me, she did not realize that her symptoms can be related to how her brain processed language. Our brains are generally supposed to process language rapidly, automatically, and subconsciously. But when some brain processes are not running efficiently, they consume more than their fair share of energy and resources. This leaves less for other brain functions, like remembering and problem-solving. In turn, this sets off a chain reaction, where subsequent processes get shortchanged.

On the surface, Sam may still seem to be managing. But to keep her head above water, she has to tread water furiously under the surface—much harder than her peers need to. Sam’s anxiety comes from feeling that she can get overwhelmed at any moment and go under.

As a Clinical Linguist, the children I see with language processing issues often show anxiety and physical symptoms to varying degrees. Their anxiety is not psychological in origin, but when left unaddressed, it often leaves psychological effects. Affected children may start to question their own ability and self-worth and avoid new challenges.

So how many children are affected? The percentage of children with reading disabilities (dyslexia), speech/language impairment, or anxiety disorders is 20% for each condition. These 3 conditions often co-occur in the same children. Under stress, a fraction of them will also show pronounced stuttering.

Inefficient language processes can be made efficient with the right kind of training. The reward is a general sense of ease in dealing with language—which is much of schoolwork and daily interaction.

That change occurred for Sam when she completed her Dysolve program. She said, “Gee, I never knew things could be this easy!” Children who are affected cannot tell us what’s wrong. After all, their brains have always been operating this way. It takes us adults to recognize their problem and help them improve.