It’s not just the parents who are confused but teachers too wonder what is going wrong writes Remediana Dias
It is very important that there should be an awareness of dyslexia. My own personal experience has taught me how lack of awareness can affect the one with dyslexia and the family too.
When I began my teaching career I never thought that it would be such an enriching journey that will define my life. During my teaching days at a reputed ICSE school in Goa, I encountered a lot of students who were very bright but had some kind of a learning difficulty which was a mystery to me. I noticed that some of my pupils were frustrated because they knew that they are bright but were unable to acquire skills in the 3 Rs—reading, writing and arithmetic. Some had awful spelling work. They found everything so difficult to understand. And I found it more difficult to understand them because I was not aware of dyslexia.
I noticed that because of their learning difficulties, behavioural problems like temper tantrums arose. They began to react to their failure negatively by constantly complaining of headache, stomach upset or not wanting to come to class due to fear of more failure. Parents were upset as to what was wrong with their otherwise normal child. They took them to many doctors but couldn’t find any cause for the headache or the upset tummies. I was more puzzled by the increasing aggressive behaviour of the children towards the classmates. The inability to cope with the demand and academic pressure led to low self-esteem and more poor behaviour. I needed strategies to cope with this in class and be more effective.
So I got myself registered for a workshop on handling pupils with learning difficulties. At the workshop I received very specific and specialized training to handle pupils with dyslexia. I began to look back at my brother’s childhood and his dyslexic characteristics appeared so clearly to me. I felt sorry that he had to suffer because of undiagnosed dyslexia. I realized that my brother had experienced so many of the symptoms, but had never received any kind of learning support and by the time we realized what the root cause of his behaviour was, it was too late.
I remembered my mother telling me that as a toddler he had delayed speech but was very confident and social. But all that changed when he started school. He hated school and was left behind by his peers in the classroom. He had illegible handwriting, was slow at reading and battled with spelling. These hindrances led to the deterioration of his social skills and he lost that confidence he had so enjoyed as a child.
Things got worse when my younger sister started school and was top of her class. He couldn’t understand why his sisters were doing so well and he wasn’t. His self-esteem took a knock and he sunk into depression. He took the wrong path in life, chose friends and a life with people who made him feel wanted and ultimately died very young.
After attending this workshop I became determined to do something for children who were dyslexic and save them from a similar fate to my brother’s. So I enrolled at the University of Southampton in the UK to pursue a Master’s degree in specific learning difficulties. The degree gave a new dimension and meaning to my teaching. I witnessed my struggling students becoming more motivated to use different learning strategies to overcome their learning difficulties. It gave me a great sense of fulfillment.
One evening at a get-together of friends I mentioned to our family friends that my brother had undiagnosed dyslexia. I was surprised to see a totally confused look on their face. They thought of dyslexia as a form of mental retardation. That moment I decided to write a book about dyslexia that will help parents and teachers and our society to understand dyslexia and to handle successfully the problems it might cause.
Understanding dyslexia is important because the more aware the parent or the teacher is, then the right kind of learning support can be provided to the child. At my workplace I have had many parent teacher meetings, where parents keep asking why their bright child is doing poorly at school. They think the child is dull, lazy, clumsy, and are tired of the teachers’ complaints that the child is too difficult for them to manage.
It’s not just the parents who are confused but teachers too wonder what is going wrong. They fail to understand why a smart child cannot grasp things easily like other pupils in the class. Due to lack of understanding of the child’s learning difficulty they are unable to help and end up blaming the child or the parents and the parents’ blaming the teacher and the school. Some parents keep changing schools thinking it will work for their child. They fail to understand that the child might be having dyslexia. This lack of understanding increases the already existing tensions and pressures for parents, teachers and the child.
If a teacher finds that a bright child is underachieving in class due to what may look like carelessness or lack of effort, then she should bring it to the attention of the Head of the school and it needs to be investigated before it is brought to the attention of the parents. After discussing the investigations with the parents, the parents could get the child assessed. If the school has remedial teachers then the child could get learning support in the school otherwise parents could arrange for a specialist learning support tutor at home.
Class teachers need to have an understanding of the problems that the dyslexic child may have within the classroom situation. Hopefully, with this knowledge, a great deal of misunderstanding of a child’s behaviour can be prevented. In a positive and encouraging environment, a dyslexic child will experience the feeling of success and self-value.