Dyslexia is not simply a mental health problem, it is a social problem: Madras Dyslexia Association Founder, D Chandrasekhar

D Chandrasekhar of the Madras Dyslexia Association, speaks about the need to understand dyslexia in the Indian context and support students in coping with it
D Chandrasekhar, President, Madras Dyslexia Association| Pic: Jawahar P
D Chandrasekhar, President, Madras Dyslexia Association| Pic: Jawahar P

According to a study based in prisons in the United States, one-third of social delinquents have learning disabilities. The founder of the Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA), D Chandrasekhar, points out that no such research has been done on the implications of conditions like dyslexia, its identification or the lack of appropriate treatment in India. In Tamil Nadu alone, 2 million children have been diagnosed with the condition.  

According to Chandrashekhar, on an average, dyslexia does not have any apparent manifestation in a child. Most often, parents do not know that their children might have the condition until problems start to arise in their academic performance, making it a tasking responsibility to walk their children through it. On January 8, Chandrashekhar spoke to the audience gathered at The New Indian Express' ThinkEdu Conclave 2020 about how dyslexia and the stigma that surrounds it impacts the life of an ordinary child. 

"Dyslexia is a neuro-developmental condition," explains Chandrasekhar, "The most common way a child shows symptoms of it is through a glaring disparity between their potential and their performance. Oftentimes, dyslexic children are labelled as lazy or disinterested in their own homes." 15 per cent of school-going children in India are recorded to be dyslexic. Children who are affected by the dysfunction have an above-average IQ of at least 115.

Chandrasekhar used a simulated example to demonstrate how words appear to a dyslexic child. To them, letters appear to change shape and colour, making it difficult for them to read or write. He says, "Dyslexia is not a disease that has a cure. It is a condition that you learn to cope with through specialised teaching and training. The earlier it is identified, the easier it is to treat the child and help them adapt to a learning method that is suited to their condition."

Using footage of dyslexic students that the MDA has worked with, he went on to explain that dyslexia is not simply a mental health problem, it is a social problem. Young children with dyslexia and adults who grew up with it spoke about the stigma they faced from their teachers and classmates due to the condition. Chandrashekhar elaborates, "These children are under a lot of performance pressure, which results in pure stress and anxiety. Teachers label them inattentive, they are socially isolated and face difficulties in relating to their peers. This could lead to anything from substance abuse to violence."

The session was summed up by focusing on the fact that dyslexia needs to be understood in order to navigate it. The association's research has been able to infer that these students can adapt to a learning process and that they need help to cope with the condition. Chandrasekhar concluded, "So many children experience social neglect in addition to their condition. They yearn to learn and want an opportunity to be accepted. This can only come with proper research and training methods."

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