Interview Decoding dsylexia

Interview

Interview Decoding dsylexia


Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology, J P DasThe Aamir Khan-starrer film Tare Zameen Par might have made people aware of a problem called ‘dyslexia’ but when it comes to actually handling the problem, parents and teachers are still groping in the dark. J P Das, Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada has given many such common tips in his recent book Reading Difficulties and Dyslexia, brought out by Sage Publications. He speaks to Deccan Herald on his major findings on the issue. Excerpts:

DH: How common is dyslexia in India?

A: You may think that everyone can read if properly instructed, provided of course he or she is not mentally retarded. This is not at all true, because some children cannot read printed or written words, in spite of the best instruction, in spite of a good motivation to read and in spite of normal intelligence in some cases. In fact, dyslexia or specific reading disability as we sometimes call it, is much less common than poor reading ability.

Dyslexics make up about two per cent of school children; poor readers may be found in 15 to 20 per cent of children.

DH: Is it true that more boys than girls have this problem? What’s the reason for this?

A: Quite often, teachers mix up the two groups (boys and girls) as both have difficulty in reading.

But more boys than girls are found to be dyslexics or poor readers. Dyslexia is found in 18 percent to about 22 percent of the boys, compared with 8 percent to 13 percent of the girls according to a British study. However an American study found an almost equal number of boys and girls among dyslexics. Most probably the majority opinion is that sex differences exist in the prevalence of dyslexia as well as in overall verbal ability.

The cause? Research shows that it may reflect sex differences in right brain-left brain specialisation: males show a strong left brain specialisation for processing language and right brain specialisation for processing figures and patterns. Females show that both the left and the right brains are engaged equally well in both verbal and spatial processing. This may explain why more boys have dyslexia and language difficulties.

If the left brain functions become weak, the boys will suffer more than girls!

In India as everywhere else, the percentage of school going children, who are poor readers in spite of reasonably good instruction, should be 15 to 20 in 100. But remember, a large number of school-age children in India may not have any educational facilities, and could be chronically poor. Poverty causes stress that destroys both physical and mental abilities.

DH: Is it hereditary? What are the causes?

A: Let me step back and tell you what exactly is wrong with dyslexics. And how generally poor readers are different from dyslexics. True dyslexia occurs in two out of 100 school children. Poor readers number 15 to 20.True dyslexia is distinctly associated with speech processing – a weakness in translating spelling to speech. Psychologists call it a phonological deficit. Usually it is associated with the child’s inability to sequence words and events correctly and to detect rhymes. Both are located in the left brain.

Whereas poor readers can have many other difficulties in addition to this, such as in visual and spatial abilities, making plans and even paying attention. Poor reading can be helped with special programmes, but dyslexia is a life-long condition although many dyslexics develop means of coping with their handicap and learn to read without complete awareness of how the words sound! Now, is it hereditary? Most probably dyslexia is hereditary.

DH: How to recognise a dyslexic child?

A: Look, it is expensive to search for a defect in chromosomes everytime we suspect that the child is truly dyslexic. Instead we have some simple psychological tests that tell us about the special weakness of children in processing information-sequencing words, remembering a succession of words or even a sequence of different sounds.

DH: Are there any simple tips parents can follow to help a dyslexic child? Or is special training required for it?

A: Here again, let us separate the truly dyslexic from generally poor reader. The poor readers may be created by poor instruction, poor motivation and a lack of home literacy!

Encourage your child to listen to stories and make up stories. When children are a bit older and about to enter kindergarten, breaking down the sounds of words, and words in speech, are important.

Children who have reading difficulties can be helped by special programmes. One important tip: Do not frighten the child who is unable to read. Put simply, no physical punishment or verbal abuse. Can you learn anything when you are fearful, except learning to avoid the learning situation?

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