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The games words play

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The way an image of a letter is processed by the brain is unique; hence, we have to go into the worlds of dyslexic children and see things the way they see them

When my three-year-old nephew said “jeep” for “beach” and “kopet for pocket”, I could not help but correct him. I would not be satisfied unless he got it almost right. Beginning to practise as a dyslexia trainer, all my brain would say is “Correct him”.

My transformation into a full-fledged trainer has, however, changed my perspective. One of my adorable students, generally talkative, becomes quiet and nervous when I ask him to read out a chapter. He asks me if I will read instead (which I will when he gets restless and upset).

I once read the word ‘compartment’, and all at once he looked excited. I asked him if he knew what a compartment was. He smiled from his eyes and said, “Oh yes, they don’t have it in our place.”

Both of us live in the same small town. We have only one “toy train” in operation. I almost thought he got there... Interrupting my thoughts, he went on to say, “They have them only in cities.” A very confused me asked him if he could explain it more clearly. He said, “Those are buildings that have many, many houses, one on top of the other. Like 10 or 12 or 15 floors.”

I wanted to say, “No, no, no!” But no, I should never do that. And I would not do that.

I smiled and exclaimed, “Wow, that is a new word. That is apartment. It rhymes with compartment. Here you go.” And then we did a high five.

Choosy brain

That evening, I sat down thinking how he had heard about both words, but his brain had retained ‘apartment’ and not ‘compartment’. The same confusion arose when we read ‘jealous’ and ‘generous’. ‘Jealous’ stayed in his brain, whereas ‘generous’ did not. I understand that both words end with the same letters and sound. All of this is technical.

Another student, a cheerful girl, confuses ‘jeans’ with ‘genius’. When I read about genius, she beamed saying, “Jeans. Yes, I like to wear them.” I was startled by the way she related the two words. I thought I should have been more precise or clear about what I was saying. As an after-thought, I said, “Yes, I too like them. They are comfortable to wear.”

I continued by asking, “Do you know who Albert Einstein is?” She looked perplexed. I almost called myself a fool inside my head. Taking another chance, I asked her, “Do you know who Abdul Kalam is?” She replied, “Oh, I know. He’s a scientist. He is dead.”

Prodding on

I was close to giving up but I chose not to. I decided to get the word from her. I repeated a little differently, “What do they call people who can do extraordinary work?” I pronounced the word “extraordinary” with extra effort. She said, “Brilliant, intelligent, excellent.” I told her that we also call them “genius”. She heard me say it and repeated carefully, “Genius, okay, genius.”

And all of a sudden, she asked, “Can I be a genius?” I reassured her, saying, “Oh sure, you could, if we read a story now about how some people became geniuses.” She smiled and readily agreed.

October being the month of dyslexia awareness, I wanted to write about my experience in dealing with the disorder.

I had read many articles about how a dyslexic brain is differently wired and the various reasons why it is so, what aids teachers can give in a classroom, the statistical report of how many in 10 will be dyslexic and how boys are more prone to it. But I never had the chance to know what it felt like to handle such a brain. Now my understanding of learning disability is that it is real. The wiring in the brain is different. The way an image of a letter goes into the brain is unique. No amount of pushing and forcing will help.

We should allow dyslexic students to be themselves and help them expand their capacity by knowing our way of doing things. To be able to help them, we have to go into their worlds and see the way they see things.

A learning difficulty is not about a naughty, lazy and adamant child. It’s about being a patient, understanding, encouraging and appreciative tutor to mould a child into a person. Going back to my nephew, today I know my nephew is not dyslexic. He was just being a three-year-old.

Also, I realise it is okay to have a learning difficulty. It is okay to take time to read and write. It is okay to not be the topper of the class. It is okay not to have a great handwriting. It is okay to be confused. Please allow dyslexic children to be okay too.

sandhyasugumaran1@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 7:42:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-games-words-play/article30061225.ece

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