What you think you know, but don’t know.

KARACHI:

Sunlight streamed in through the window and on to his notebook. Everything was suddenly so quiet; he could hear the clock ticking and his own unsteady breath. He looked at his classmates busy scribbling answers in their papers. He picked up his sharpened pencil and carefully and neatly wrote his name on the top. He skimmed the question paper next and felt scared. He didn’t know, he couldn’t recognize; he couldn’t read.

“My teacher would scold me for not reading out loud in class. I used to look at the text, the words seemed alien to me. No matter how much I tried, I could not understand it,” Ryan says in a troubled voice.

Every day he saw his friends get the gold star and witnessed his twin brother ace every exam. His aggressive attitude grew deeper and stronger. For a year, his mother thought he’d grow out of it but who knew what would be in store for her. The same year, he was severely lacking in reading and writing skills. He lagged behind in every single subject in school. He was recommended a good psychiatrist by the school principal.

“It is very disheartening for a child to know that he cannot do what his classmates are doing,”  Ms. Manzoor, his Urdu remedial tutor, voices her concern, “The child becomes aggressive, angry and soon develops a low self-esteem which destroys his personality.”

Ryan Ahmed, 9, was in grade two when he was officially diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity (also known as ADHD) and dyslexia.

“It’s heartbreaking for a mother to know her child is not like the others. Ryan was young; he didn’t understand what was wrong. Mrs. Sana remembers, her voice beginning to crack, “In frustration that he couldn’t read, he used to tell himself over and over again that he can’t do anything. It killed me every time.”

He was detained in grade two for another year but with the help of remedial tutors, he started recognizing shapes and numbers, alphabets and words.

“I didn’t know why I was sent to grade two again while my twin brother, Ali went on to grade three,” Ryan recalls uneasily, “All my friends had gone to a higher grade. I had not. They laughed at me in recess and made fun of me.”

“In 2009 when Ryan started with me, he couldn’t even write his alphabets properly. Remedial tutors like me, use strategies,” Mrs. Aliya Sufyan, his English remedial tutor, points out, “Dyslexia is a condition which can’t be cured. The child has to learn how to live with this condition and use their disability as ability.”

They took him step by step, starting from the basics. They used color and phonics to make learning seem more interesting and easy. Phonics is a method taught by breaking words and using sounds so that reading and writing becomes easy to learn for a struggling child like Ryan.

A few months ago, the principal at Ryan’s school recommended a few schools that would cater to the child’s needs. Ryan’s mother, Mrs. Sana, went to every school for the admissions but none responded. Many schools didn’t have resource/remedial teachers, the special curriculum or the seats available.

“The problem is the traditional Pakistani school system. Most of the teachers are not educated enough so you can’t expect them to cater to dyslexic children,” Ms. Manzoor says with emphasis.

“Dyslexic children are not handled with care; they are badly treated in schools. In Pakistan, there are very few remedial teachers in schools; it’s not their priority,” Mrs. Aliya Sufyan, speaks in a disappointing tone.

 ADHD affects as many as one in every 20 children. Dyslexia is estimated to occur in about 4- 8% of the population.

Uncared dyslexics grow up to be underemployed, shunted into routine with a dead-end occupation for life. They have difficulties maintaining families and raising children properly. Many start abusing drugs and drift into alcohol- even crime.  In a country where at least 42% of the population lies under the age 0-14, there is shortage for skilled, trained remedial teachers.

“Another dilemma is that we have made education a source of income. We will educate the child according to what we earn. This is wrong,” Ms. Manzoor highlights, “This is what’s keeping Pakistan behind. Education is the only thing that will take us forward. If our teachers aren’t willing to do that, then I’m afraid we’ll never succeed.”

“Some schools don’t see dyslexia as a problem. They think because of the child’s disability, he’s not going to be at par with the class,” Mrs. Aliya Sufyan expresses her disbelief.

The hit Bollywood movie, Taar-e-Zameen Par, focuses primarily on Dyslexia. It’s a story about a young boy, struggling in studies at school. What he or his family doesn’t know is that he’s suffering from dyslexia. A young art teacher, who has taken a liking to his job, discovers the child’s problem. He takes up the responsibility to teach the child to read and write and proves to the entire school that the boy is indeed normal.

 “I was diagnosed when I was 8 years old. At that time I had no clue what was going on with me. Reading seemed a horrible challenge,” Marium Chhapra, 15 and dyslexic remembers, “Bullying started when I got in the third grade and I was soon depressed, gaining weight and having breathing problems.”

 Aggression, low self-esteem and no confidence are also one of the few traits the child develops if he’s not given proper attention and care. This is also ignored by the families and teachers as they don’t place this issue as being important.

“When Ryan came to me, he never would talk. If I asked him anything he’d just shake his head and that continued for almost six months,” Mrs. Aliya Sufyan remembers, “He just shook his head or nodded or blinked his eyes. He was lacking self-confidence severely. It was after another six months that he started talking.”

However, Dyslexia is given high importance abroad. But in Pakistan, not many families are aware of the problems that affect the child due to dyslexia. It’s true that dyslexia is not curable but it sure can be reduced. Dyslexic people, with the help of the right resources, can learn to read and write. All they really need is patience, love, care and time.

Dyslexia is not just a curse. It’s also a blessing in disguise. Children who have dyslexia are very talented in the arts e.g. painting, poetry, drama, music, etc.

“I don’t take my dyslexia as a bad thing. It’s a blessing, really. I took out all of my depression in painting when I was a kid, but now I have realized that’s my true potential,” Marium Chhapra enthusiastically says.

“My sister’s paintings are very gripping. She’s a remarkable artist. Dyslexic children are not dumb, they’re smarter than all of us put together,” says Ayesha Chhapra, 19, sister of Marium.

 Many of the world’s talented are dyslexic. Dyslexia is not a drawback; it’s something that grooms your senses. A child becomes creative, imaginative and original in his talents. Included are famous writers, entertainers, athletes, physicians, scientists, and political and business leaders. For example, Pablo Picasso, the world famous artist; Tom Cruise, Golden Globes winning actor; Leonardo Da Vinci, maker of Mona Lisa; Thomas Edison, the famous scientist; John Lennon, of the music group Beatles; Mohammad Ali, the boxing champ; Agatha Christie, top mystery writer; and many more.

These successful dyslexics learned to overcome their hindrances, allowing them to accomplish their dreams. At times, their disability was found to be a catalyst for success. They forced themselves to develop and make use of their hidden talents. They never gave up no matter how difficult the task appeared.

Their success is a reminder for those who think dyslexia is a curse. Miracles, such as these, can be accomplished as long as the disabled are encouraged to believe in themselves.

“If your child is dyslexic, don’t take your frustration out on him. It isn’t his fault and you should tell him/her so,” Ms. Manzoor, Ryan’s Urdu remedial tutor, says with assurance.

Although Ryan is dyslexic and his brother will always shine in class, his strengths and talents should not be kept in the dark.

 “Ryan is a bright child. He is a genius in Mathematics. He is very creative, he can think up things very quickly. Nobody can call him unintelligent,” Mrs. Aliya Sufyan, his English remedial tutor, says with a smile.

“Ryan is good at drawing and paint and he also has a very nice voice. We tell him he sings even better than Atif Aslam but then again,” Mrs. Sana says with a laugh, “it really is the truth.”

 Dyslexia is not a matter to be taken lightly. It’s hard for parents to recognize the issue but even harder for children. Parents should be educated so they don’t see it as an abnormality and help out their child before it’s too late. With a little care, love and understanding, the on-going battle against Dyslexia can be won.

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