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Dyslexia
Contributed by Purnima Mirchandani

Amit's World

Would you expect a 10-year-old boy to keep still in his chair for more than 5 minutes? Amit, with his mischievously twinkling eyes, endearing smile and outgoing personality seemed to be an intelligent, active boy, just like any of his peers. However, he had been recommended for testing by his pediatrician since he was having difficulty in coping with his schoolwork.

He was administered a battery of tests to gauge his capabilities. These tests included tests to determine his Intelligence levels (IQ), Visual Perception, Achievements in written work as well as diagnostic tests for dyslexia.  When his results were put together, we found that his IQ was above average at 126 (An average IQ is 90-110), but there was a discrepancy between his potential as seen by his IQ and his achievements. This discrepancy along with other diagnostic tests indicated that he was dyslexic. 

Amit knew everything orally, but when it came to reading & writing he faced difficulty - a classic case of a learning disability. At the age of 10, he was still reversing some of his letters and had difficulty with directions, doing puzzles, etc.  Since he had such excellent verbal skills and seemed in every way like his classmates, his undetected dyslexia had led to his being labelled "lazy". 
 

What is Dyslexia

The term dyslexia covers a range of symptoms and learning difficulties related to the written word. As such, no single cause for dyslexia has been pinpointed. Possible hypotheses suggest a genetic predisposition, an abnormality in the corpus callosum, a faulty neurological path or a rapid-processing sensory deficit. 5-10% of the world's population, regardless of nationality, income level, sex, race or IQ have dyslexia. Dyslexic people are visual thinkers, so it's hard for them to understand letters, numbers, symbols or written words, which leads to problems with reading, writing, math and attention focus.

The dyslexic child has average or above average intelligence - in no way is he "dumb", "stupid" or "lazy" - labels that have been attached to him over the years. He genuinely has a difficulty in basic skills, and is not just playing up. Along with dyslexia, he may also have an Attention Deficit Disorder, as Amit had, which may make him seem like he is "always on the go" almost as if he is "driven by a motor".  This makes it difficult for him to attend to what is being taught in school, and thus there are gaps in his knowledge.  
 

Dyslexia is more common than you think

There are many famous people all over the world that are dyslexic.  Among them are artists like Michaelangelo and Rodin, scientists like Einstein and Edison, great orators like President Roosevelt and General Patton, and even entertainers like Tom Cruise and Cher are supposed to be dyslexic. As you may have noticed, they all excel in areas that do not involve the "written word" to a great extent.  They were all able to make the best of their skills and overcome their dyslexic problems to excel in their chosen fields.
 

Rejection by Peers

Amit had difficulty in the basic skills of reading, spelling and writing; which leads to difficulty in comprehension as well as in problem math, as they too involve the written word. These skills are required for all schoolwork so it was no wonder that he was having trouble coping. His undiagnosed learning disability led his peers to reject him because he did not do well in class. His parents and teachers did not understand his difficulty and labelled him lazy.  In a class of 40 children, the teacher could not give him the extra attention he needed. Gradually, he was relegated to the backbench, which was self-defeating as he stopped taking any interest in what was being taught.  There was just no motivation to try harder, and so he was further ridiculed. He became the "class clown" - anything to be accepted!  What a price to pay! 
 

How did Amit's Life Change

When Amit was told that he was intelligent and not "dumb" as he has privately labelled himself (he has heard that label often enough), his self-esteem got a much-desired boost.  It gave him the self-confidence to take on the world!

With the right remedial help, empathetic parents and teachers, and friends who accept him, the dyslexic child has a lot going for him.  In the present school system, the ICSE, SSC and HSC boards all give exemptions and provisions to help the dyslexic child compete on an equal footing.  They give the child more time to complete the work, marks are not cut for spelling errors so long as the content is clear, he may be given a calculator if he has dyscalculia (i.e. difficulty with computations), or a writer if he has dysgraphia (i.e. difficulty with writing).  Exemptions from 2nd language and options to take subjects other than Science and Maths are among the other facilities given to the dyslexic child.  

Amit is now a much more confident child - not just verbally but also in his work.  His parents reported that after the diagnosis of his problem, his tantrums and fits of aggression at home lessened considerably.  He started becoming more responsible in day to day activities. In addition, with the right remedial help, he is making progress by leaps and bounds. He is motivated to try to read and spell, since he can finally make sense of the jumble of letters that a page used to represent. Earlier he used to read from memory of a word pattern. He used to think, "I wish I could! I wish I could!"

There are still a lot of obstacles in Amit's way. He will always have some difficulty with the written word, but he has the will to try and try again. Like the little engine that could, you can almost hear Amit say, "I know I can! I know I can! I know I can!" as he tackles another mountain of work. Way to go Amit!  You can do it! 
 

Purnima Mirchandani is a Clinical Psychologist and Remedial teacher in Dyslexia.   She has worked for 10 years with developmentally handicapped children at Sadhana School as Special Education teacher and later as Head Psychologist.  In recent years, she has worked as a Resource person in the Special Needs Unit at Bombay International School.  She has her own clinic since the last 14 years and deals with all kinds of educational problems. For further queries, contact Purnima at purnimamirchandani@gmail.com
 

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