Saturday, June 27, 2015

I wasn’t dumb or slow, I was dyslexic

I gave my first speech in front of more than 500 people when I was just nine-years-old.

When I was 15-years-old, I represented Pakistan in Regional UNESCO Youth forum for scouts of Asia Pacific Region. In the same year, I was awarded President’s Gold Medal award by the President of Pakistan.

However, I was never the best student academically, neither was I the worst. Teachers and fellow students considered me one of top 10 students in my class due to my active participation, but my result never reflected it. As a child, I had a lot of trouble with spellings and numbers. Some people around me thought I was too lazy to memorise spellings, but there were so many around me who never felt the need to memorise them.

When I was in grade six, I made 18 spelling mistakes out of 20. One of my friends said,

“Kazim, how can you misspell simple words like ‘two’, when you can speak better English than most of the students?”

I don’t know why, but my teachers did consider me a bright student. Thus, in order to hide or overcome my spelling dilemma, I had to develop my cramming skills to remember spellings. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. No matter what language I write in, I would always make mistakes, and hence would be punished for my spelling mistakes several times in class.

I would often write ‘tow’ instead of ‘two’, ‘dab’ instead of ‘bad’, ‘321’ instead of ‘123’.

Spellings have always been my most dreaded nightmare. Since I had problem writing, reading was equally cumbersome. Sometimes I read small words two to three times to read it properly. Because of my problem, I take more than average time to understand the text. Thus I always got less marks in languages and mathematics. My father is an English Literature professor and sometimes it further exacerbated the situation. Whenever I made mistakes, I would be told,

“Kazim I didn’t expect such mistakes in an English test from a son of an English professor.”

It wasn’t until quite recently that I discovered that there was a genuine reason behind my spelling and numbering dilemma. And that reason was dyslexia.

What is dyslexia? What happens if someone has dyslexia? Is it a mental disorder? Is it really a big problem? Is there any remedy for it? Do I need to take some medication? Do I need a help from psychotherapist? These are the few questions which were floating in my mind, but soon I realised it’s not as bad as I was thinking. In fact, it’s not bad at all, I have been like this since I was a child. So worry now?

As Sir Jim Rose defines it,

“Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.”

According to the National Institute of Health,

“It is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read, it is a learning disability characterised by trouble reading and writing despite a normal intelligence.”

The common signs of dyslexia can vary from difficulty in reading and writing, difficulty to concentrate, and poor memory. However, storytelling can be their forte but would find it too difficult to express same ideas when writing a story.

Sometimes, they see letters blur and moving, and will spell words phonetically, like ‘clasificashan’, ‘sycotherapist’, ‘speeking’ or ‘spiking’ etc. They are easily distracted by sounds and often slip into deep imagination while learning something which can lead them forget where they are and what is going on around them.

As a matter of fact, dyslexics are more intelligent than other people. Many famous dyslexics included Pierre CurieThomas EdisonAlbert Einstein and Carol Greider. So there is no reason to underestimate yourself.

So what’s the remedy if someone has dyslexia?

Practice is the key. Do things again and again to get a grip. People who were with me in school remember me as the talented speaker but the fact is that I was a dumb, shy and timid boy who practiced a lot.

Start reading what you like till you start enjoying reading. Practice writing; you will find it difficult in the beginning but start with expressing your ideas. Writing a regular dairy can be a good option.

Since dyslexics are good at imagining, memorising words as images can be helpful. That’s what I used to do when I used to memorise my long speeches. Gain your confidence, think of the things that you are strong at, like imagining, problem solving, commitment and strategic thinking.

Most importantly, never give up. Do not underestimate yourself under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, in our society, dyslexia is rarely identified and children who could have been treated in a better way are never given a chance to overcome their problems. I think there is a dire need for the respective health and education departments to take some effective measures to identify this problem in children in their early age.

If you have never experienced any such problems, then help someone who has this learning disability. Instead of bullying your friend, help them regain their confidence. If you are a teacher, try identifying the problem and discuss it with the students and parents and find a suitable teaching style. There is a lot of material on the internet on how to teach dyslexics.

I think I could have done better if my problem was identified at an early age.

For those who think life as a dyslexic is not hard, trust me, it is.

from The Express Tribune Blog

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