Unveiling dyslexia: hidden struggles

Can you imagine a world where a child’s learning difficulties are not barriers but stepping stones to becoming a world-renowned scientist, a successful actor, director or a renowned journalist? Albert Einstein, the genius behind the theory of relativity, once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” If the remarkable minds of Einstein, Steven Spielberg and Richard Branson are any indication, dyslexia may hold the key to unlocking the boundless potential of the human imagination.

Imagine a world where reading isn’t a simple act, but a relentless puzzle. This is the daily reality for individuals with dyslexia, a condition we must all strive to understand and support. Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that primarily affects reading and writing skills. It is about information processing. People with this condition may have difficulty in processing and remembering information they see and hear, which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills. It is not a problem of intelligence, hearing or vision. Some of the brightest children struggle to read. Dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence — average, above average and highly gifted. Many gifted people who excelled in their careers are dyslexic. While people with such condition are slow readers, they are often very fast and creative thinkers.

Dyslexia is not a disease; rather, it is a genetic condition that can be primarily inherited from parents with learning difficulties. It can be identified before a child’s begins school with certain early signs like delayed speech, a slower grasp of new words and difficulty in forming words correctly. Too often, dyslexia is not recognised as a serious problem and is ignored. Indeed, dyslexia is likely a significant reason for the persistent reading achievement gap, especially children from low-income countries who receive less identification and intervention. “With dyslexia, the problem is not a knowledge gap but an action gap,” says Dr Sally Shaywitz.

Based on international statistics, dyslexia affects up to 1 in 5 children, and around 20% of the global children population are dyslexic. According to the publication “Understanding and Overcoming Dyslexia” issued by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training and written by Ideas, in Pakistan, around 12 million children are dyslexic. Understanding this prevalence identifies the need for adequate support and resources to overcome the issue and to protect the basic rights of dyslexic children.

At present, there is no known cure for dyslexia. However, with suitable interventions, care and support, individuals with dyslexia can learn to manage their challenges and achieve success in academic and professional settings. The National Assembly enacted ‘The Dyslexia Special Measures Act, 2022’ to provide special measures for the education of children suffering from dyslexia and associated disorders; their identification; appropriate instructional services to them; institutions for the therapy of such children; awareness programmes for the public and to deal with ancillary matters.

To reinforce these efforts, it is important to raise awareness, build the capacity of teachers, sensitise school management to understand the sanctity of the issue and provide support and allocate required resources to address the issue. Parents should educate themselves about their kids’ learning difficulties, recognise their child’s strengths and weaknesses, tailor support and encourage their interests. Show empathy and avoid comparing child with others, celebrate their unique qualities. Avoiding belittlement or insults, nurturing their self-esteem and boosting their confidence are important aspects of this supportive approach.

As there are very limited screening test facilities to identify such children, teachers must foster a positive and inclusive learning classroom environment where all students feel valued and supported. Offer step-by-step directions and instructions support students in breaking down assignments into smaller and manageable steps. Utilise mnemonic instructions to aid memory retention. Allow extra time for reading and writing tasks. Moreover, facilitate effective communication among teachers, parents, school staff and remedial therapists to monitor students’ progress and identify areas for improvement in the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

The school administrations should conduct identification and screening of students for learning difficulties, and raise awareness among parents and school staff. Regular capacity-building workshops should be organised for teachers and staff to effectively support students with special needs. Moreover, awareness sessions and seminars should be conducted to educate both students and parents. The use of corporal punishment must be prohibited while fostering an environment that discourages bullying and promote friendly relationships among students with diverse learning abilities. Hence, we all should contribute to celebrating diversity, nurturing inclusivity and establishing a community where every child’s potential shines, ultimately making Pakistan a more dyslexia-friendly nation. Here I conclude by quoting a dyslexic person — Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Author: Syed Raza Ali

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2023.