Dyslexia will push us back if we let it

Who knows what kind of a world we would be living in had Einstein not found a way around his dyslexia?

Aisha Sarwari July 02, 2017
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. She blogs at www.aishasarwari.wordpress.com. She can be followed on Twitter @AishaFsarwari

I grew up in a school where corporal punishment was the norm. For me, another norm was being on the receiving end of it. Teachers were almost always displeased at my reading and writing ability.

It took me longer than my classmates to read a passage. Words seemed so altered that they spelled differently in my head. I remember being made fun of frequently by peers and teachers. I remember the humiliating label of being called lazy. I thought perhaps it was my eyesight that was weak but even after I wore glasses, things made little sense cognitively on the blackboard.

Finding my way home from school felt like a maze because I had difficulties in differentiating left from right. Added to this confusion was a feeling of shame.

I had what experts call a specific learning disability (SLD) that makes the Broca’s area in my brain process what I see, differently from a more healthy brain. Specifically, my SLD was dyslexia. As more awareness grows about dyslexia, young girls are finding a word that provides an explanation for their unwarranted sense of inadequacy. As will young boys.

It took me a US college education to be assessed as dyslexic after my English paper was returned to me underlined in red throughout. The professor insisted I get tested for dyslexia because my spellings were horrendous.

Now for young girls like my former self there is a whole month dedicated to learning about and understanding dyslexia — October. There may not be brown poster girls yet, but there are white ones such as Erin Brocovich and Keira Knightley to look up to. There are popular Bollywood movies like Tare Zameen Pey by Aamir Khan that humanised the story from the angle of the sufferer.

Growing up dyslexic is like having a disability but without the pity. In its invisibility lies its greatest harm. I felt threatened by anything remotely academic. Getting a passable grade in calculus, statistics or philosophy for that matter, meant it would take twice as long and thrice as hard because I’d have to repeat things over and over.

In my research, I have come across a new programme to be launched by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to help an estimated 178,972 dyslexic children across the province. This education intervention aided by DFID, the UK’s aid agency, is to first help with early detection via screening assessments. In a study conducted in 15 government schools, results showed that 7.8% of students had a strong likelihood of being dyslexic.

Realising the importance of addressing this invisible disability, the K-P elementary and secondary education department will be initiating the first phase of its programme for mainstreaming dyslexic children in government schools. Under this first phase, 16 of its best government teachers will be trained. These master trainers in turn will carry out an intensive training course for 272 teachers from 136 schools across four districts. A mass awareness campaign on dyslexia will also be carried out.

However this alone cannot be enough. I doubt that someone would have intervened in my case with only these aids. This is perhaps why there is an equally intensive push in K-P to bring about changes at the policy level — to make dyslexia screening compulsory upon each child’s entry into the formal education system; to allow for MSLE multisensory teaching techniques especially for dyslexic kids; to allow them extra time during assessments and also to have a vigilant system that monitors their academic progress.

We need teachers who understand dyslexia. We need them to put in the extra hours on the children who struggle the most. The whole country needs to have such programmes. Who knows what kind of a world we would be living in had Einstein not found a way around his dyslexia?

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2017.

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Sam | 6 years ago | Reply Thanks for this article. Indeed more needs to be done to address this problem.
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