Around 20% of people worldwide are affected by dyslexia, a figure that is also reflected in South African schools and work environments.
Dyslexia, a neurological disorder, acts as the invisible, often insurmountable obstacle between people and everyday reading activities, says Sandra Stark, chairman of the Red Apple Dyslexia Association (RADA) in Vereeniging, Gauteng.
Although this disorder makes it difficult for many people to take on daily tasks with ease, it is a misconception to equate it with intelligence.
“People compare intelligence with reading ability, which leads to the conclusion that dyslexic people are unintelligent. That’s simply not true,” says Stark.
Dyslexics process information in their right, more creative hemisphere of the brain, while the rest use the left hemisphere when reading.
This means that dyslexics often have to re-read something up to five times to understand what is written on the paper. Not because it is too complicated or beyond the person’s hearth, but because a dyslexic’s brain is simply wired in such a way that they do not immediately take in what they read.
“Imagine. You come to work or school and you’re faced with Chinese writing when you’re trying to read emails, trying to go about your daily tasks,” explains Stark.
Despite reading and learning obstacles, dyslexics are usually the ones who thrive in creative or entrepreneurial roles, Stark explains. Employers must therefore be determined to appoint dyslexic persons in roles where they can properly exercise this creative thinking.
An example of how a dyslexic person’s brain functions is found in the word “immediately”: “When anyone thinks of this word, they think of how many d’s are in it and how it will look written on paper. A dyslexic does not draw these conclusions, but will simply try to think of a picture to make the word make sense to them.”
Stark further explains that the Department of Social Development classifies dyslexia as a disability, although it is often overlooked, as it cannot be detected at first glance.
This also contributes to sometimes difficult, challenging and often impossible expectations being placed on dyslexics.
“You wouldn’t ask someone in a wheelchair to get up and climb stairs,” Stark puts the comparison.
Dyslexia, explains Stark, is also not a curable condition. There is not any medication that can be taken for it. Dyslexic people must learn to know and face the world as it exists, regardless of the challenges that may come with it.
Stark also emphasizes that dyslexic people do not choose to be dyslexic, and pushing them further out of society is not to anyone’s benefit.
“Dyslexic people are often also depressed due to the fact that they do not feel accepted in work or school situations. They are often lonely and live in an isolated world.
“The key to accommodating a dyslexic in any environment is empathy. Although people often do not bother to show understanding for another’s circumstances at all times, it is often necessary to put yourself in others’ shoes in order to understand the adjustments you have to make because of their disability.”
Dyslexia and children
Stark explains that dyslexia is hereditary and does not skip generations at all. This means that parents with dyslexia can almost be sure that their children will also have it.
It can be detected among children as young as two years who have underdeveloped language skills.
“This means that they have not yet started to speak in full sentences.”
They also have trouble hearing or making rhymes, and avoid any books or anything that looks like reading. RADA formally assesses and diagnoses children from the age of nine, after which the necessary school adjustments can be made to accommodate the learner.
One of the main obstacles for dyslexic children in schools is lack of information, Stark believes.
Learning and reading barriers, such as dyslexia, do not form part of many education courses. This means that many teachers have to deal with it for the first time when the learners are already sitting in front of them, something that RADA is actively trying to address.
“Teachers are the second point of identification after the parents. It is therefore important that they are trained on certain disabilities in their courses. Hopefully it will soon become part of university curricula.”
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