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Dyslexia: A Disappointment that Sneaks into Children’s Hearts

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“Sitting among his peers in the classroom, a feeling of anxiety amounts deep within little by little as his turn to read out loud approaches. As the teacher calls his name to continue reading what his colleague has read easily, his eyes devour the word right before him in a desperate attempt to read it correctly, and not blunder its letters as he did before. His lips part to spell the word, but he stops abruptly. He tries again and the sounds of some letters can barely be heard; yet, not the whole word. He doubles his effort till he can finally say it correctly, but the next word falters into stuttering and he helplessly sinks into the well of frustration.”

This is not a story of one student; it is the story of many who suffer from dyslexia, which is defined as a learning disability of a neurobiological origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, and poor spelling and decoding abilities. This can result in problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

According to the latest statistics by the international dyslexia association, one in every ten persons—that is, around 700 million persons worldwide—suffer from dyslexia. According to a random screening of 28 schools in Cairo and Alexandria, the latest statistics by the Egyptian Canadian Center for Knowledge Systems (ECCKS) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, indicate that there are around 2,000 students out of 5,247 who suffer from this learning disability, and need specialized programs.

Although a paper published by the department of pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital, indicates that there are early literacy skill deficits that represent red flags for dyslexia risk and can be measured at preschool age, there are still some difficulties in detecting them. This may divert parents from taking the right steps and early intervention to help their child.

In this light, Dr. Ahmed Fahmy, a cognitive-behavioral therapist and a lecturer at the Psychology Department, Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University, says about misdiagnosis: “There are some conditions that must be met for the correct diagnosis, including the absence of any developmental disorders, such as autism, and ensuring that the cause of dyslexia is not organic, such as visual or auditory functioning issues, or psychological caused by pressure in the family environment. After the case is diagnosed as dyslexia, the child needs specialized academic and phonological programs.”

When we talk about any disease or disorder, we often ask: is it genetic? According to the previously mentioned paper, dyslexia is strongly heritable, occurring in up to 68% of identical twins of individuals with dyslexia, and up to 50% of individuals who have a first-degree relative with dyslexia.

The Dark Side

Many diseases and disorders can cast their shadows dramatically upon the psyche of their sufferer; when linked to children though, cases may become more complicated. Children at this point, still do not have the ability to express or even fathom their feelings, so they may easily fall prey to them.

The paper shows that children who go a long time without the right intervention or are diagnosed very late can have severe implications related to mental health. Since they can be perceived as lazy or labeled as ‘stupid’, children with dyslexia may develop decreased self-esteem that can progress to anxiety and depression.

A study conducted on how Learning Disabilities (LD)—dyslexia included—can affect children’s mental health, indicates a high level of anxiety and depression for those with LD; 70% compared to their colleagues who do not suffer from the same problem. Children with LD tend to feel that things are beyond their control, and that they are less accepted by the society. The social anxiety they experience is mostly derived from negative feedbacks from teachers, parents, and classmates while reading out loud; as a result, their motivation for engagement declines.

A Noticeable Progress Led by Awareness

Suffering from dyslexia is not a dead-end; searching for a field that suits the person’s abilities, qualifications, and strengths can change the whole story, along with family awareness, which is crucial for maintaining the child’s emotional stability.

Tasneem Attia, an LD teacher at the ECCKS says: “I can understand very well the disappointment these children feel after the excessive effort and attempts they exert to read one word, while others can read it easily, for I have suffered the same during my academic years. I did not know back then that I have this disability until I graduated and completed my Master’s degree. Back in these years, I always feeling that studying was a burden without figuring out the real reason for that.”

“In the beginning, I started working with children with learning disabilities due to autism or Down syndrome; then I shifted to work with dyslexic cases because not many people know the origin of this disability and the best way to deal with it. For example, a child’s study level may change from day to another, depending on several psychological triggers. Some days, the child comes to us burdened with frustration from what s/he has suffered during the study day, so s/he listens to what I say without interest. I always advise parents to encourage and motivate their child according to the effort s/he exerts, not the outcome,” she adds.

On the importance of raising parents’ awareness about early intervention, Fahmy says, “The parent should assess the needs of the child and consult a specialist when noticing any problem. The parent has to keep the child away from any psychological pressure and avoid comparing him/her to others. If the parent detects that the child is leaning towards isolation, s/he must ensure that this does not lead to other problems.”

The paper also indicates that the gap between the time of discovering the disorder and the attempt to find a solution may prevent effective intervention, which may cause profound social and academic implications for the child. Since reading is the expected method of learning in the school system, it becomes necessary to identify children with dyslexia early and to intervene with no delay. The results also indicate that when children at risk receive intensive intervention in early reading, 56% to 92% of them achieve better results. It does not only affect the educational level of the child, it also casts a positive shadow on his psychological state.

“Sitting among his peers that day, he has greatly regained his self-confidence, because of the awareness of his family and the support of his teachers. His eyes devour words, and his lips start to pronounce better. He knows very well what distinguishes him from others and his strengths, and that he can be innovative in other unusual ways.”

*The Arabic version of this article was developed as part of the Goethe-Institut science journalism project “Science Storytelling”; the project is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.


Cover image source.

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