A tale of living with dyslexia and succeeding

A young Chennai-based entrepreneur writes on challenges that people with dyslexia face and what it takes to succeed in the wake of PM Modi's recent controversial remarks on the subject

Arun Fernandez
Highlights: 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to make an indirect reference to his political rival, Rahul Gandhi, during a digital interaction with engineering students.
The PM’s statements were widely criticised for being insensitive towards the challenges faced by those with dyslexia

I was diagnosed as having dyslexia at the late age of 13 years. By that time, I had lost a big chunk of my childhood. Till the age of 13, it was always people calling me stupid and useless and chiding me for not being able to read. This was my childhood.

I would have gone to four new schools at least by the time I was 13. My mother was my only support. If I can highlight someone in my life, it has to be my mother. I can also say that my life shows how the innocent faith a mother has in her child can influence a child's life. A person need not be highly educated to encourage their children. They only need to have faith that their children will do well. I have not seen many parents having this confidence. Even though my mother did not understand what dyslexia was, though she did not understand why I was not writing or scoring marks, she understood my difficulties. My father believed me to be ‘normal’ (since I was able to walk, talk and do well at sports) and so was reluctant to put me in a special school. My mother, however, felt I should go to a special school which had remedial education. After many quarrels, I did go to a remedial school.

The teachers there were very understanding and kind, but I didn't like the school campus since it did not have a big playground. I felt low and believed that given my capacities, I would not be able to go to a bigger school. This was a kind of denial. However, I believe every child should continue to stay within the mainstream education system since going to school not only gives education, it also gives a sense of social belonging.

After that, for my 12th standard, I happened to go to another school since my present school did not have the provision. Though I had a scribe in my 10th standard exams and got 78 %, this new school admitted me on the condition that I would write my exams myself. The principal at that time was Jayashree Ashok. Under her guidance I finished my 12th exams by writing myself. That was a big challenge to me because, in my academic history, I had never passed by writing. I got only 54% marks which were a pretty decent deal for passing, but now I understand that if not for her push I would not have got the confidence that I could write and pass exams.

After that, I finished my college. I got a B Com degree just to prove to my father that I can also do something worthwhile in life. I applied to Loyola College, Chennai. I did my under graduation, post graduation and my MBA at the same Campus with the help of a scribe. Later on, I was a lecturer at the same college for a short time.

Now I am being supported by NSRCEL (the startup incubation centre at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore) and the Mphasis foundation. Five hundred people applied for this grant given to early-stage social ventures; only five were chosen after many, many rounds of shortlisting.

We have been funded by an angel investor, Prem Kumar, of Uniworld Logistics to develop an app-based learning module for kids with learning difficulties. With the help of Jayashree Ashok, Renu Nayar and Pushpa Nandakumar, who is part of Centre for Holistic Integrated Learning and Development, we are building this app. Through this app kids will be able to learn a word in 12 different ways. We call it VAKT learning --visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile learning. This will help children learn words in the same way that we learn walking, swimming or driving. The app is now in the beta stage. By 2020, we will have a solution and this solution will not be a company’s solution but will be the dream of one boy who has suffered all sorts of ridicule.

In India, dyslexia is a predominant, prevalent problem which affects about 35 million children or about 10 per cent of the kids. We call dyslexia or any form of learning disability an invisible disability because no one can understand what problems the child is facing. Now after the movie, Tare Zameen Par, there might be some awareness, but apart from that there is not much awareness or sensitivity, our prime minister’s statement also reflects this.

Moreover, children with dyslexia are termed as dyslexic children. If someone has a cold or a fever we will only say that they have a cold or a fever. We will not say that they are feverish all through their life. But children with dyslexia are called dyslexic as though it were a permanent disorder. I differ on that. It is not a permanent disorder. If there is the right remedial care, it can change.

In a nutshell, dyslexia or any learning disability is challenging to understand because it is an invisible disability. This problem is not understood by anyone whether parents, teachers or schools. And finally, there is no easy access to remedial systems. We are hoping to make some difference to this situation through our 3R App.

(As told to Aarthi Ramachandran)

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