According to the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, the incidence of dyslexia is estimated to be 10%, and nearly 35 million students in the country are thought to have this learning disability. It was the year 2007 that Aamir Khan starrer Taare Zameen Par created widespread awareness of dyslexia among the general public, and many sceptical parents – who were earlier hesitant to take action – went ahead to get their kids assessed for the disability.
Patriot interacts with Rama Tandon, Founder of the Centre for Dyslexia, to understand various therapies that are used and the effects the pandemic had on dyslexic people.
Tandon has 22 years of experience in the field and currently works with Vasant Valley School as a dyslexia therapist. Apart from her in-person sessions, Tandon also shares information on her YouTube channel. She deals with students of various ages, from 5-year-old children to 29-year-old adults.
“I start with an informal assessment of the child; in school, we do it as class observation for a week or more. I look at the child’s behaviour not only in classes but also in other activities”, she says. “The therapy starts once an educational psychologist forwards the report to us.”
“I employ multi-sensory therapy, and the program that I follow is sound and syllables. I start from the basics, it doesn’t matter if it’s a child or an adult”, she adds.
In multi-sensory therapy, all three channels — visual, auditory and kinesthetic tactile motor — are engaged and the whole body is used to read, listen, comprehend and learn.
The severity of the condition differs from person to person; it may take six months or six years to polish their language skills.
A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology finds that dyslexia is not a neurological disorder but rather a concession in having cognitive strengths in exploration, creativity and problem-solving.
Tandon agrees with this and says, “These kids are immensely talented and creative. They might take time to read and write but there are other fields in which they excel better than others.”
Sharing her experiences, she says that the pandemic had positive effects on these individuals. “During the pandemic, the sessions were conducted online, which helped many people to seek help and undergo therapy.”
Through online sessions, the relationship between the individual and the therapist grew stronger as more people availed the services because they could avoid the stigma around the disability.
“Many people are afraid of being judged. During the lockdown, they could seek therapies from the comfort of their homes. For students who are bullied at school, the last two years were relatively easy as they could do all the work at their own pace without pressure”, she explains.
For 22-year-old Sagar*, joining online language therapy during the pandemic was a great experience. He joined Tandon’s therapy sessions in 2021 on his sister’s suggestion. The therapy started with the basics: sounds of each alphabet and their pronunciations.
“Though the education system has several provisions for us, it is better to join these sessions. Believe in yourself, and everything will work out”, he remarks. Sagar is an aspiring chef and is currently interning at a reputed hotel. He was found to be dyslexic in class 5.
“It is good that my son had a good time during the therapies, but being glued to the phone or gadget is not good”, says Ritika Anand, whose son was diagnosed with autism and dyslexia. She is a Vice Principal at St Mark’s Senior Secondary Public School.
Taking account of her 12-year-old son, she thinks the pandemic had both positive and negative effects. As a parent, she wanted her kid to have more social interaction, which was lacking during the last two years.
“I felt like he was lonely, and making friends was a big challenge as his interactions were limited only to the family”, she says.
However, it was okay for him to be socially inactive after the pandemic, she reasons, as one can’t just rush into things.
“Although it was challenging, he had a great bond with the therapist, and digitalization also helped us (parents) to have a better idea about the situation”, she adds.
Asked about the sudden shift from online to offline classes, she says, “At first, there was a lot of anxiety and resistance but with the right nudging, he is able to do things. He’s part of a theatre workshop and has also delivered a performance – which is a great achievement!”
As far as parents and teachers are concerned, it is about creating a platform and providing opportunities for the kid to mingle with others.
“Early intervention is the best way as it helps the individual to develop the skills”, says Tandon. Though the government has provisions for the students to use calculators, providing dyslexic people with extra time during an exam is also needed. Teachers, too, should be aware of their special needs.
Talking about the academic atmosphere of these students, Tandon adds, “The structure of giving homeworks should change. Suppose if a neurotypical kid finishes a task in an hour, a kid with a learning disability might take five hours to complete the same.”
“It is better to give chunks of work rather than putting it all together, and the concept of Monday tests should be changed. The kids need some time to chill and enjoy other things”, says Tandon while talking about the required reforms in the education system.
She further says, “I believe it has a lot to do with awareness and having good parental and teacher workshops. I think there is a huge lacuna when it comes to the adults in the society and that’s where we are lagging.”
“How do I expect other children to be empathetic towards these students when adults around them aren’t emotionally mature?”, she asks.
*Name changed to protect the identity