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Let's talk about dyslexia

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurates the three-day conference on dyslexia. (Sayantan Ghosh)

One in every 10 kids suffers from dyslexia, a learning disorder, and 80 per cent among them go undiagnosed, medical surveys say.

In an effort to spread awareness about early intervention, NGO Breaking Through Dyslexia (BTD) organised a three-day international conference - D.A.R.E (Dyslexia, Awareness, Remedy, Effort) to win - at the International Management Institute.

Day I, Friday, saw at least 200 participants, including teachers, special educators and principals from across the country and Singapore, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The focus was on maths and calculating difficulties (dyscalculia) faced by dyslexic kids.

Geetha Shantha Ram of the Dyslexia Association Of Singapore (DAS) highlighted how her team has been helping dyslexic children join the mainstream "through a circle of patience and encouragement involving parents, teachers, special educators and mentors".

"Research has shown that children with learning difficulties have higher self-confidence," she said. "The finding was a surprise. Early intervention gets kids help, encouragement and appreciation at every step. This automatically boosts their confidence - sometimes much more than normal kids."

Shantha Ram will also hold talks with Divya Jalan, the president of BTD, to set up a training institute for special educators and teachers and pave the way for a more inclusive education in city schools.

A dyslexic child can face difficulties in calculating, reading or writing. "But only 1 per cent of schools are equipped to identify the problem in a child," psychiatrist J.R. Ram said. "The state board doesn't give dyslexic kids any extra time during exams unlike the CBSE and a few other boards. There is urgent need for more awareness."

Jalan whose daughter Ishita is dyslexic spoke of her initial years of schooling when her grades were poor. "But we had the awareness to intervene and get her the desired help."

Ishita is now doing her master's in chemistry from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She said dyslexic kids often get tagged as inattentive. "Not all special educators are equipped to handle a dyslexic child. With help from DAS, I plan to take the training to various schools."

Teachers and principals were given a tour of a dyslexic child's world, his trauma and insecurities through audio-visual presentations and lectures by educationists and doctors.

Some principals shared their experiences. Rupa Sanyal Bhattacharjee, the principal of South Point High School, told the gathering that she knew little about dyslexia when she started teaching. "Now, I realise how tough it is for these kids. My first learning from the experience is to accept dyslexia."

She spoke of her talented dyslexic students. "In the past, they would have been eliminated early. Now, thanks to inclusive education, our approach has changed. But it's still a challenge to identify a dyslexic kid as they are often mistaken as inattentive or lazy." She ended by saying she had a problem remembering names. "Maybe I am an undiagnosed dyslexic... like many others."

Chief guest Mamata Banerjee said: "We need to assess a child's problem before writing him/her off. If there is a problem there will be a solution. The state government will extend its support. Let's use social networking to create awareness about dyslexia."

Representatives of Birla High, Sree Shikshayatan, La Martiniere for Boys and Girls, Calcutta International School and South City International were present at the event, which saw speakers from Columbia University, Jamia Milia Islamia University, Einstein College of Medicine, New York, sharing their views.


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