By Preeti Arora
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark on dyslexia, a condition which affects almost 10 per cent (approximately) of the general population, has created a major uproar, with social media warriors frothing at the mouth. More than a decade ago, thanks to Aamir Khan (Taare Zameen Par), a large cross-section of Indian parents got their first exposure to the term ‘dyslexia‘. Let’s focus on the implications of dyslexia and the uphill travails of the immediate family.
Taare Zameen Par showed us this cute child who wasn’t able to grasp the essential fundamentals of recognising letters and stringing together a coherent sentence. The entire audience rooted for him and we exited the auditorium with a wide smile on our face. The flip side? Not all learning disabilities can be identified as easily. There are so many children who seem to do alright till Class 3 or 4. Then the problems start. The issues are varied. On the surface, it’s impossible to connect these handicaps. One child just can’t remember her tables. The other one is doing alright in English but fails to get a grasp on the Devanagari script. Another cannot draw and colour an apple or a banana. Drawing is a compulsory subject in many schools and children are expected to know the basics.
The parent is called in. The school counsellor requests the parents to take the child for testing. There’s shock, anger, dismay. The blame game begins. And then there is complete DENIAL. Here are a few of the random reactions I have heard as I helped parents come to terms with a diagnosis of learning disability.
· That teacher has a major grudge against him.
· Even my husband was like that till Class 8 and then he started standing first in class. (Maybe your husband was simply lazy but this child needs help TODAY)
· It’s all my mother-in-law’s fault. She has the TV on 24/7.
· It’s his bus friend, that fat boy who failed in class 5 last year. (You may not want to believe it but dyslexia is not contagious.)
· I will simply confiscate his Ipad. Then see how he stands first in class.
The counsellor too stays quiet. She’s seen it all earlier. Seen far worse in fact! Some mums take it on themselves and beat the child black and blue. It’s a downward spiral. The situation changes only once the child has a parent’s unconditional love and support. The special educator, the counsellor and the teachers can do their work (which is often a thankless job) once the parent comes to terms with what they visualise as a calamity. The parents on the other hand are furious. Here they have been saving up for IIT and medical colleges only to be told their only child will need years of help to even pass the tenth grade.
The child meanwhile is getting majorly frustrated. They are far too young to understand the nuances of learning disabilities. All they know is the daily struggle with basic tasks which their school friends manage effortlessly. This leads to major behavioural issues. While each story is different, some general patterns can be visualised. Here are a few random examples of traits displayed by children suffering from learning disability:
The child could be angry because he or she had to miss a birthday party as they had a session with the counsellor. Or they have to stay back in the same class even though they’ve worked hard. The parent and the counsellor is always a direct recipient of the backlash. (Don’t take the anger personally. It will pass though it takes time.)
The bus bully just called your child a few undeserved adjectives. You make your child promise that he won’t retaliate till you’ve had a chance to meet with his teacher. Your child still goes ahead and beats up the bully. Now your child has been branded the bully and the other child is seen as the victim. (Explain things and then leave it. These situations will crop up again and again. Sooner or later your child will develop the patience to turn his back on the bully. It’s his struggle and you can only help him come through it. Don’t make it your battle.)
Lack of logical thinking
A 17-year-old girl convinced her boyfriend that they should elope. She felt if she got married, she could give up her studies and she wouldn’t have to do the dreaded board exams. (Don’t blame them, they find exams tough despite all the concessions. Try to work out a schedule where they can do three papers at a time.)
Absence of fear
Dyslexic children inevitably end up with more fractures or stitches than their counterparts. They fail to comprehend the rules which have been laid out by parents and teachers. So whether they are cycling in the building compound or playing basketball they tend to get carried away. (Use your own judgement. Let’s say your child has obtained a driving license; do not allow them to drive till you are confident about their abilities.)
The parents and children go through immense stress for a few years. One parent maintained it’s like being in a tunnel. You only experience darkness and pain. You don’t know if there is light at the other end and even if there is, will you get to the other side?
The age-old saying that every cloud has a silver lining could have been coined keeping in mind children afflicted with learning disability. Each child has one or often several unique gifts which can be tapped provided the parent is willing to look.
My journey with my daughter
My daughter Pranati was always hyperactive and couldn’t sit in one place. She was diagnosed as learning disabled. She started gymnastics at the age of four and her life took off. Her stack of sports certificates and her boxes filled with medals helped to build her confidence even though she barely scraped through each class. She was second-last in her school (among 300 kids) when it came to the board exams. It didn’t matter. She got admission in a college of her choice as she had been a national-level gymnast for about five years. Today she is studying visual communication and manages to hold her own even in group discussions.
Parents, special educators, counsellors have fought humungous battles with schools, some of the school boards and even filed legal petitions to ensure these kids continue studying in mainstream schools. Just when we parents believe situations have changed and the younger generation will have an easier time, we don’t want anyone mocking these beautiful souls.
My message to parents
Your child is special. Believe it. And obstacles can be overcome. Build a relationship with a parent who has been through the grind.
(Views are personal.)