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For a society which obsesses over rearing perfect child, children faring poorly in academics are consistently shunned

Muhammad Ilyas June 21, 2024


For a society which obsesses over rearing the perfect child, children faring poorly in academics are consistently shunned for not working hard enough, irrespective of whether their under-par scholastic performance is the direct result of an irregular study routine or a congenital learning difficulty like dyslexia.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, dyslexia is a specific learning disorder which compromises language processing in a child, who will struggle to spell words, associate sounds with words, and differentiate between alphabets with similar shapes. Although dyslexia has no medicinal cure, early identification and intervention have been recommended by experts in the field, who emphasize the importance of incorporating a certified educational psychologist in schools, who can help devise a specialized assessment plan for diagnosed children.

The guidelines fail to apply in the case of Pakistan, where despite the passage of the Dyslexia Special Measures Bill in 2020, awareness on the issue and its correct management remains a challenge for parents and teachers alike, who are unable to offer the kind of support, which is required by a child trying hard to comprehend the gazillions of words regularly bombarded by textbooks.

For instance, Sadia Bibi, the mother of 9-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim, a third grader suffering from dyslexia, shared the challenges she encountered during her son’s complicated academic journey. “Ibrahim used to struggle with reading and writing as a result of which he had to repeat two classes. At first, my relatives told me that my child was affected by witchcraft. Later, when I discussed this issue with his teachers, they too were unable to help me since they had little knowledge about the condition. Finally, when I consulted a psychologist, they told me that my son has dyslexia. The admin at his school simply told me that I should move him to a public school since the studies there would be easier for Ibrahim to cover,” revealed Sadia, whose son was unable to receive the required pedagogical assistance despite studying at a costly private school.

Commenting on Ibrahim’s plight, Dr Khalid Jameel, an expert neurologist, highlighted the fact that adequate awareness among parents and educators was crucial for addressing the special needs of children suffering from dyslexia, which was a manageable condition.

“Children with dyslexia are definitely not weak minded. In fact, most of them are exceptionally intelligent. The only issue they face is with word identification, sound association and language processing. Many a times they even see the alphabet upside down. The condition can be caused by genetic factors or head injuries,” explained Dr Jameel.

Expanding on Dr Jameel’s revelations, Irum Mumtaz, Chairperson of the Institute of Dyslexia Education and Associate Studies (IDEAS) Islamabad, shared that 15 to 20 per cent of children in any given class suffer from dyslexia, but instead of providing the appropriate assistance, teachers label them as dull-minded, incompetent or useless.

“Such children are also scolded and beaten by parents at home, which has a very bad effect on their mental health and personality development. Over time such children withdraw into isolation, which aggravates their depression and suicidal ideation. Unfortunately, no certified educational specialists are available in any government or private school in Punjab to identify dyslexic children and support them in class,” claimed Mumtaz.

“Once a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, it is imperative to devise a special curriculum and make relevant accommodations to assist their learning. Such measures will allow dyslexic children to get better at academics as they grow older,” implored Fatima Tahir, a clinical psychologist.

“Even though the federal government had introduced the Dyslexia Act 2020 for devising a special curriculum and training teachers on dealing with dyslexic students across public and private schools, the pilot project continues to await implementation,” scoffed Mumtaz.

Where the lack of resources in schools acts as a major hurdle on the road to academic success for dyslexic children, parents’ attitude of dismissal only adds to the problem.

“When it is identified that a child is suffering from dyslexia, we advise the parents to get the child treated by a specialist therapist. Unfortunately, the majority of parents are dismissive of the child’s condition, which prevents him or her from receiving early intervention,” said Saira Tahir, founder of a local welfare school.

“Dyslexia is a treatable learning difficulty. Most children are diagnosed while studying in school. When parents visit us with their children, they are issued regular guidelines for managing the condition, “said Dr Nazish Imran, Head of the Department of Child Psychology at the Mayo Hospital.

(With additional reporting by Asif Mahmood)


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