Transforming dyslexics one word at a time

THE National Organisation for Dyslexia Malaysia (NOD) marks World Dyslexia Awareness Week with today being World Dyslexia Day.

The theme of NOD’s World Dyslexia Awareness Week is “Need for Transformation”.

NOD has been creating awareness of dyslexia among Malaysians through the media since the organisation’s inception three years ago.

It has also been training teachers to teach language through the phonetic approach, assessing and teaching children who are dyslexic, and counselling parents.

“Dyslexia is a state in which one finds it extremely challenging to bring a sound to the written letter. One has difficulty in reading, writing and spelling.

“Therefore, sounds of the language or phonics is taught and not the letter names as in the traditional method.

“Where phonics does not work all the way, as in teaching English, the whole word approach is used,” said NOD president Dr Mullai A. Ramaiah.

Dr Mullai said dyslexia was often diagnosed as a disorder.

“NOD believes that children with dyslexia learn differently and need a different approach from the traditional one used in our schools to teach language.

“We have seen from experience that children do respond to multi-sensory, systematic and structured phonetic approach no matter how serious the condition.

“Children with dyslexia have, by definition, an average or high IQ. They are not slow learners as they are mislabelled in schools, whereas slow learners have less than average IQ.

“Dyslexic students understand and grasp concepts faster than slow learners if taught in an appropriate way and show remarkable progress,” she said.

She added that parents need to under-stand that when their children fail to pick up languages like an average student, it may not be their laziness, attitude or even poor teaching in the classroom.

Dyslexia might be the problem.

“Dyslexia can be tormenting for children. They need support both in school and at home. Teachers and parents need to understand the child’s condition and cooperate to help the child overcome the condition. The emotional climate for the child is important,” said Dr Mullai.

She said Malaysia was in dire need of transforming the teaching conditions, especially in primary schools.

“Some selected schools have classrooms for children with special needs. But even there, often a mixed bag of children with various challenges are grouped together in one classroom.

“Autistic, dyslexic, slow-learning and sometimes children with Down Syndrome, children with attention deficits, and hyperactive children are found in the same classroom.

“Each of them need different kinds of attention and instructional approach,” she said.

NOD believes in inclusive education where a child who has dyslexia is part of mainstream education, but they need special time – about 50 minutes a day – during school hours, to be educated according to their needs.

“Teachers trained in handling dyslexia should be in place. In Western countries where this is done, results have been very encouraging. The child is singled out just for 50 minutes and goes back to his/her grade classroom for all other activities.

“Parents too are comfortable with this arrangement because there is no social stigma attached to it. The child preserves his/her self-esteem and tries to use what is learnt in the special classroom in the regular classroom, which ensures continuity and stability in the learning process,” she said. 

Dr Mullai said dyslexia could not be ignored because reading and writing were basic needs for anyone.

As one in six children are affected by some reading problem across the world, where it is generally said 20% of any classroom that is not streamed according to ability has children with some reading problem, it is critical that the Education Ministry takes action as early as possible.

“It is time that Malaysia realises the child could become a problem to himself because of the social pressures within school, the family and outside.

“Having lost confidence in being able to perform the basic skills of reading and writing like most others in school do, he/she loses self-esteem and may wish to drop out of the tormenting environment.

“It is time we took charge of our children and nip the problem in the bud by offering the right kind of education.

“It is the schools’ duty to ensure no dyslexic child leaves school without knowing how to read and write,” Dr Mullai said.

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