Dealing with dyslexia

Dealing with dyslexia

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Dealing with dyslexia

Three years ago, 21-year-old Shwetabh Nagar jumped to his death from an apartment building in Mumbai. His death, for more reasons than one, caused widespread public outrage.

A student who long struggled with Dyslexia, Shwetabh had a history of struggling with school work since childhood. The challenges only worsened as a student in a prestigious college in Mumbai, where he was pitted against hundreds of other regular students.

Although he was not academically capable of keeping up, Shwetabh had a natural talent for photography and graphic design. Unfortunately, this went unnoticed until his death. Shwetabh’s story reminds us that there are over a million students who are simply failing to work around a rigid education system that relies heavily on textbook knowledge.

Every year, towards the month of May, children sit up and wait anxiously for their results. Parents, on the other hand, hastily pray that they are not disappointed. Those who score high, they know, will get into the best colleges in the country. Those who don’t have their lives nipped instantly; low scores often mean no admission to India’s top institutions and worse, that the student is incapable of succeeding in a competitive environment.  

The startling truth is that many people prefer to disregard their child’s learning disability, mistaking it for a form of mental retardation. Most feel that an alternate education is unconventional, and therefore involves a huge risk. Learning disabilities (LDs) like dyslexia, and dyscalculia, often go unnoticed although nearly 13 to 14 per cent of school-going children in India suffer from it.

Chetana Keni, a psychologist and educator who runs the Aurinko Academy to provide remedial education for children with learning disabilities, says: “Parents are often misled by students, relatives, teachers and friends that the children will overcome the problems with age. This is delaying the identification of the problem. By the time the parents come to know and seek help, the child has already grown up.”

A learning disability is not a disease or a symptom of mental retardation. It is a developmental disorder that commonly affects a person’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. In a majority of cases, it can be overcome with enough help and support if identified early on.

Today, it is estimated that around 30 million children suffer from dyslexia in India, but there are very few facilities or alternative measures taken at regular schools to help them (The Hindu, 2002). There is a pressing need to overcome this common misconception that a child is unfit for school simply because he/she shows signs of struggle with a regular education.

Education reform, albeit a complex issue, can be brought about by a simple change of attitude. Be it an educator, a parent, a brother or a friend, if you are supportive of a person suffering from a learning disability, you might be helping in many ways. Chetana believes that the trend for alternative education is slowly being accepted in schools across cities and this is definitely a positive change.

As a mother with a dyslexic child, she says she understands the fears that parents have when they approach alternative schools. “I’ve seen very supportive and encouraging parents. The others who are not so at the beginning generally change after we counsel them. Since I am a parent of a Dyslexic child myself, parents usually come to me to just talk to me about how they feel. Primary educators should be trained to identify a child with learning disability at an early age”

A little support can go a long way too. The heartening story of Kunal Dhir and Nivedita Nath, two dyslexic students who recently made the news all over Mumbai for scoring a distinction of 73 and 90 percent in the CBSE exam, only proves this (TOI, May 2011).

When teachers help the student learn, and not just study, children develop an independent way of thinking and become more self-confident. For many parents, it is a major decision to put their child in an alternative school, but a lot of schools are seamlessly weaving together remedial education along with a regular education so that dyslexic students do not have to go to a different school and feel that they are “different”. One such example is the Zee School in Bangalore, where Chetana teaches.

“Regular schools can place a child with LD and give the remedial services too. Our experience shows that children cope better and learn faster when the aim is not to rush to catch up with school syllabus. Hence a specialised setup works better for them.” All it takes to make a change is a good heart, and perhaps a listening ear.

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