Understanding Dyslexia: The Need To Go Beyond Taare Zameen Par

By Arunima Gururani

In school, there are many children who are labeled as “idiots”, “duffers”, “lazy” and they don’t seem to be trying “hard enough” to understand what is being taught to them. Reading, spelling and writing is a struggle among some children, and this reading and writing disorder is called dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a reading disability due to which an individual has difficult time decoding written language because their mind is wired differently. It is very common for an individual to be diagnosed with dyslexia along with some other learning disability like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dysgraphia which effects writing, or dyscalculia effects math.

Sadly, the awareness levels regarding dyslexia are poor all over the world. There are organizations working hard to provide information, do diagnosis and provide tutoring to individuals with dyslexia. Yet, there are also organizations which are taking advantage of the lack of awareness.

A major problem in figuring out how to deal with dyslexia in India is because of the fact that there are not enough training programs for teachers nor any realistic statistics. Founder President of the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association (MDA), Kate Currawalla, has contributed a lot to understanding dyslexia whether it is through her work at the MDA or as a researcher for Taare Zameen Par, a blockbuster hit that raised the issue of dyslexia in India for the first time. She emphasized that there is a dire need for training of teachers on dealing with children with dyslexia. She added that a half hour chapter or clubbing various disorders under the banner of teaching them how to handle ‘children with special needs’ is not the solution and that even after twenty years of trying to make this happen, talks have not yet moved forth.

Sushant Singh is a student who always knew he had dyslexia. He said, “I was in class 8th and Taare Zameen Par had just come out and that had given my whole family a hint.”

On talking about the success of the movie and discussing its impact, Currawalla said, “That was eight years ago. It is a wonderful movie and it has helped people understand dyslexia better. However, to say that it has increased the number of people coming in at the MDA is not exactly true. The movie did have a powerful impact, but it was short lived. Such is the nature of the movie business.”

In a society dominated by academic grades, the acknowledgement of a disability which can affect them seems to be almost nonexistent. Before Taare Zameen Par, a majority of people had not even heard of dyslexia. It is now time that the understanding of the issue goes beyond the movie.

Sushant’s parents felt that he had a few symptoms but he had recovered. However, they and many others fail to realize that dyslexia doesn’t have a cure. Dyslexia is something which one learns to live with. Parents find it difficult to accept that their child could have it and are unsure of telling their child about why he/she is struggling.

Meanwhile, there are organizations which seem to be taking advantage of poor awareness levels among people when it comes to providing information or diagnosing dyslexia. The Dyslexia Association of India said that they would charge Rs 4000 per hour to give any information on their organization’s working and how they help increase dyslexia awareness. For an organization with an About page on their website reading, “Having a social objective that firmly stands for helping children achieve, the Association strives to provide essential information to parents, teachers, students, professionals and individuals with learning disabilities”, it is indeed ironic for them to behave this way and then refuse to take any calls thereafter.

Sushant had never been diagnosed as a dyslexic so he went to the Dyslexia Association of India and his experience wasn’t pocket friendly as well. He said, “The basic tests he suggested me would burn a hole in my pocket. He wanted to charge Rs. 19,000 from me.  From my observations I have seen that affordable facilities for diagnosis of cognitive problems are scarcely available in the country.”

However, Currawalla explainedthat the basic tests which they conduct at the MDA, is on an ability to pay basis as they are a charitable trust. But, for those who can pay, the cost for the tests is Rs. 7000.  Only the tests which are required by say, an international education board is expensive. Currawalla also said, “Unfortunately, many organizations claim to take these tests, but when the certificate is shown it is holds no value.”

As long as such organizations would want to use dyslexia as a business, the ones with dyslexia would keep on suffering. A majority of people cannot afford expensive tests and because of the lack of knowledge on the issue, people are taken advantage of.

“We need to figure out a way of cheaper diagnosis that can be made available to all the classes of society. Teachers, parents and the press need to be educated about the same”, said Sushant.

Dyslexics are often ostracized by peers, educators and even families, so it is important to address their issues and help them be at par with others. They too have extraordinary abilities which can shine.

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