The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Disorder, not a disease
- Talking heads raise awareness on illnesses with a stigma

Score the child’s work, categorise the errors, give positive feedback. Set goals, prompt goal-writing and check to see if it’s happening…

A child with a learning disorder is not mentally handicapped, nor is he suffering from a mental illness. Such children have average or above-average IQs, but face difficulties when it comes to reading or writing.

This was the subject of a four-day workshop last week on learning disorders, organised by Jyotirmai Club and conducted by Lalitha Ramanujan, from the organisation Alpha to Omega in Chennai.

“We had no idea” was the response from attending parents and teachers. “We had sent out circulars to schools, asking them to attend the workshop,” explained Vandana Kanoria, one of the organisers. “The response was phenomenal. Most sent a representative. They felt it was important.”

Children with dyslexia can have trouble tying shoelaces to grasping numbers. Estimates suggest that about 10 per cent of Indian children are dyslexic, and the ratio of boy:girl is 4:1. But awareness about the problem, especially in Calcutta, is almost nil. The children are often seen as “dull, lazy, disobedient, obstinate or late developers”.

“With coping mechanisms, 99 per cent of such children can be integrated into the mainstream schools,” observed Ramanujan.

“Their strengths and weaknesses have to be assessed, they need to be accepted as who they are and they need methods to help them deal with the learning problems. Although it’s not curable — no medication is needed— with coping skills, dyslexia can be brought under control. The key is to make the kids independent, build self-esteem and motivation. Dyslexia is not a disease,” stressed Ramanujan, working in the field since 1988.

“It was very informative, especially for parents like me, who thought our children were being naughty,” felt Shahina Daniyal, a teacher at Loreto Elliot Road. “Lots of things fell into place, including symptoms and how to deal with children in school and their parents.”

“There is no such awareness in Calcutta. I had a very vague idea of what dyslexia is,” added Paromita Pragya Singh, kindergarten teacher of La Martiniere for Boys. For Montessori teacher Somini Sengupta, it was “a beginning. I didn’t know how to deal with the daily problems of learning disorders. But now I can help the children. Our school has ordered the aiding tools, and when I go back, I will conduct a similar exercise for other teachers.”

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