Breaking Through Dyslexia

Breaking Through Dyslexia



Divya Jalan is the founder of Breaking Through Dyslexia, an organisation providing scientific understanding of students with specific learning or language disabilities.




1. What exactly is dyslexia?

According to World Federation of Neurology, dyslexia has been defined as, “a disorder in children who, despite conventional classroom experience, fail to attain the language skills of reading, writing and spelling, commensurate with their intellectual abilities.”
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher-level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.  It is important to realise that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace.
Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages. Dyslexia affects language learning and acquisition.
People with learning disabilities are of average or above-average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”. The person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.
A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.
2. What inspired you to take up this initiative? How did BTD come about?
 My inspiration is my daughter Ishita, who is dyslexic and now pursuing her PhD in Chemistry, in Sweden. When she was in class 2, I found out she has learning disability. As there was very little or, in other words, no help in Kolkata, we decided to send her to a boarding school in England.  Once she was settled and on her way to becoming a confident young person, I realized how understanding and identifying the issue and providing the right help makes such a difference to the child. That's when I decided to start an organization which would address the full scope of dyslexia and related difficulties, with the objective to facilitate remedial assistance that provides hope for the child and parent to lead a productive life.  
BTD, an initiative of the Dyslexia Trust of Kolkata, is a niche non-profit educational organisation. Situated in the heart of Kolkata, BTD reaches out through group discussions, newsletters, talk shows, personal visits and counselling sessions at school. It organises workshops for parents and educators by eminent educationalists. The organisation provides psychometric evaluation and assessment of the child’s problems and give a comprehensive report. Such a report forms the base for therapy. BTD provides remedial programmes customised to individual needs.
3. How is a child with dyslexia assessed?
A psychological assessment provides a detailed and objective measurement of the child's abilities and potential. It also forms the basis of designing an appropriate programme to help the child. It helps in identifying methods of learning, intervention, short and long term objectives and the learning material to be used.
No two dyslexics are the same, so an assessment is vital to design a programme exclusively to suit the needs of each child. Children between the ages of 7.5 years can undergo the full assessment for the diagnosis for dyslexia. The gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement tells us if an individual has a learning disability, in which areas (Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and/or Dysgraphia), and to what extent. The potential is determined by an IQ test. The actual achievement or the current level at which the child is performing academically can be found using an assessment tool like the Woodcock-Johnson III.
 A comprehensive assessment is administered by Qualified Specialists and is based on:

             - Samples of the child's school work and free writing

             - Background information provided by the parents/ primary caregiver

             - Standarised IQ test 

             - Standardised test to assess the current educational level of the child
At the end of this process, a detailed report is given to the parent, an explanation of how the scores and results have been interpreted is also shared. In case the child does not have a Specific Learning Disability, the counsellor will recommend other ways to help the child at home or any other organisation whose services are more appropriate. The information in the evaluation is sufficiently detailed and comprehensive to be used by the other organisation. Accurate assessment can help aligning teaching to learning.
4. What are some social and emotional impacts of dyslexia?
Children who are dyslexic often become frustrated and ashamed at their inability to learn to read.  The feeling that they are either lazy or stupid starts to take root. This affects their self esteem adversely. Their morale and motivation are so low that they give up easily. It can also hinder a child's ability to interact with peers in a typical way, and respond appropriately in social situations. This may lead to behavioural problems like tantrums for no apparent reason.
5. How can teachers be sensitised about dyslexia?
Every child looks up to his or her teacher. A smile of encouragement can motivate the child and go a long way. It is therefore very important for teachers to be aware of their students strengths and weaknesses. Teachers need a forum to exchange ideas and air their concerns. Regular workshops on the subject along  with interactive sessions is the key to building an effective learning environment.
Be sure that appropriate accommodations are in place for the dyslexic child to help succeed in school. Although frequently misunderstood as “crutches,” accommodations, in reality, level the playing field for dyslexics. Multisensory approaches are important aspects to teaching dyslexic students. Fortunately for teachers, these techniques benefit the entire class. 
6. How can parents deal with dyslexic kids?
If your child is diagnosed as having a SLD/ dyslexia, then tell your child that there is no reason to hide it. Explain that dyslexia is a very common condition and several other people in the school, class or in the family may have it. There are also many famous people with dyslexia.
We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Identify something the child does well, whether it is sport, music, art, or hand work. It could be that the child is good with animals, generous, popular, funny, loving – whatever. Find some real strength which the child has. This is most important. Then say that the child does not find reading and spelling as easy as these other things, but that is how life is. Explain that this is not the fault of the child, the parent or the school. It is something that happens – like having fair hair, freckles or blue eyes. Let the child know that this explains why she/he is having difficulty at school. Tell him/ her that this means she/he will have to work very hard, may be harder than others in the class to succeed, but that it can be done, with proper help and support.
As a parent, be prepared to discuss the problem with your child more than once. Do not assume that she/he will take it all in the first time. You may need to return to the subject many times over the coming years. 
7.  What are some accommodations that a school can make, to make learning friendly for children with learning disabilities?
  • Boards like the ICSE and CBSE have a lot of provisions that can be passed on to the children who need it.
  • Set up resource rooms and have regular training sessions for teachers.
  • Be approachable to both students and teachers, always be positive and look for ways to move forward. 
8. A word for teachers handling dyslexic children…
  • Keep instructions simple
  • Include the child in all class activities
  • Make use of technology
  • Educate yourself
  • Adapt teaching to make learning effective
  • Lastly, smile...! Make your classroom a cheerful place where a child can may blossom.
This article was originally published in magazine in the month of September, 2018.