In Search of Words
To put it more simply, dyslexia implies a difficulty with words…
To quote a dyslexic “For me words are meaningless – just labels to be put on pictures. If the label falls off or changes, I don’t care, because I’m thinking in pictures. The challenge is in explaining it to this highly verbal world that relies solely on the language of words to define itself.”
While it is difficult to arrive at a figure of dyslexic children in India, it is widely accepted that the figure could be anywhere between 5-10 per cent of the total population. Numerous people who have been diagnosed as dyslexic have turned out to be hugely successful in their profession, Leonardo da Vinci, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise, Bill Gates and even writers like Agatha Christie, to name a few.
According to the International Dyslexia Association, “Dyslexia can be defined as specific learning difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.”
But to put it more simply, dyslexia implies a difficulty with words.
For over a century, scientists have mulled over the cause of dyslexia. Current findings show that the left hemisphere of the brain specialises in language function and the right hemisphere controls non verbal functions. However, the two hemispheres do not work independently and there are many interrelated elements and functions. Inefficient functioning of either hemisphere reduces the total effectiveness of individuals and affects their acquisition and use of language, and this dysfunction is largely believed to be the cause of dyslexia.
Dyslexia is not a disease to be cured. Although early diagnosis presents the best possibility for intervention. Knowing the signs is therefore imperative for a correct diagnosis. Dyslexia is often referred to as a “hidden handicap”.
You know a child is dyslexic if they exhibit some or all of these signs – lack of awareness of sounds in words like sound order, rhymes or sequence of syllables, difficulty in decoding words like single word identification, difficulty in encoding word spellings, problems with reading comprehension, difficulty in expressing thoughts in written form, delayed spoken language, imprecise or incomplete interpretation of language which is heard, difficulty in writing and confusion with the difference between left and right.
However, it is important to note that not all characteristics of dyslexia are negative. Dyslexics are known to be highly intuitive and insightful. They think mostly in pictures and have an avid imagination. They think and perceive multi-dimensionally, using all their senses. It is these qualities that allow some of them to be geniuses and excel in their profession.
Role of teachers
Discouraged, children with dyslexia can become introverted, self-destructive, have self-esteem and rage issues. They can develop psychological problems and split personalities as a means to deal with the perceptions of inadequacy. Identifying dyslexia and developing a strategy to deal with it will save the child, months, perhaps years of torture from parents, teachers and peers. The Sarva Shiksha Abhayan (SSA) is rather silent about identifying disabilities like dyslexia.
Dyslexic students need teachers who understand the frustration of being smart, yet unable to do what other students do so easily: read, write, spell and memorise. They need teachers who understand that these difficulties are due to a brain difference – not laziness, lack of intelligence or lack of motivation. They need teachers who will not give up on them – a teacher who is willing to learn how to teach around their disability.
They also need teachers who know that they suffer from extreme anxiety. More than anything else, dyslexic students fear that their teachers will make them look stupid in front of their classmates. The teaching fraternity must be made aware and sensitive towards dyslexia to save these students the physical and emotional violence they are subjected to, due to the widespread ignorance about their disability.
(The author is a founding member of disAbilityFirst, a disability group working on advocacy issues.)
The article above was published in the Bangalore Edition of the Deccan Herald on 21st February 2008.