It is not a condition many parents are aware of; some term their children slow learners, while others blame schools for the seemingly slow development.
What would you do if your child spells the word ‘boy’ as ‘doy’, even after a thorough lesson on the topic? Many parents would panic, not knowing what to do, while others would be quick to blame teachers and the schools the children go to.
In the classroom setting, teachers sometimes come across students who find it tough to read and spell some words. Such students work very hard at reading, but it just never gets easier.
Surprisingly, these students may come across as intelligent people who would be expected to not only answer questions correctly, but also read and spell all words as required. However, for some reason, they just cannot do it.
Physically and intellectually, the child has no problem. But when the teacher poses a question, the child cannot recall the answer, even when it is something they obviously know.
Such students are often ridiculed and labelled ‘lazy’ and ‘slow learners’.
However, the real problem could be a disorder called dyslexia.
George and Liz Kinuthia are parents to a dyslexic child, Ryan, who is almost ten.
Their son’s condition has seen them grapple with emotional turmoil, hopping from one school to another in search of help.
Liz says Ryan was born healthy and normal, or so it appeared. However, three years later, they realised something was amiss when he could not utter a word.
They discovered their son had dyslexia through a friend who was also a doctor.
“He used to drool a lot, so we visited a paediatrician and were told that Ryan had delayed speech, mild autism and was hyperactive. Apart from these, he was normal and could play with other children,” Liz recalls.
They were advised to take him for therapy, which they could not afford.
Instead, they enrolled him in school to see if he would learn to speak, but after some time, they realised he was not improving. He could not even handle small things like a pencil.
They transferred him to another school but the situation remained the same.
“I watched a TV feature on autism and a centre that was helping such children. Since Ryan had been said to have mild autism, I decided to take him there, and with the help of therapists, we realised he could learn but his understanding was different from others,” Liz says.
Even though she did not give up, her son’s condition was frustrating her. His condition did not change even after they enrolled him at a school recommended by the Ministry of Education.
“After two terms, I was growing more desperate as the days went by. I resorted to looking for schools for such children on the Internet,” she remembers.
The long search finally bore fruits when they came across a school in Kitengela that caters for children with dyslexia.
“We found teachers who understood his condition and were ready to support him. He has been there for a year and is in Class Three. His condition is slowly improving,” says George.
George and Liz admit that coping with their son’s condition has not been easy.
“It has taken the grace of God to be where we are; things are looking bright now,” is how George sums it up.
Liz says a lot needs to be done to educate the public on dyslexia: “If we had known what was affecting our son earlier, we would have done many things differently.
“Dyslexic children are usually talented in various ways and it’s important to nurture these talents. Ryan loves singing and modelling, and I believe there is a lot he can do. My prayer is that the Government builds more schools and trains more teachers to handle children like him.”
Phyllis Kariuki has faced similar challenges. She discovered her 14-year-old son, Felix, was dyslexic when he was in Standard Two.
“He had difficulty reading some words and was lagging behind his classmates. He would interchange letters ‘b’ and ‘d’, and could not figure out what some words meant,” she says.
Like Liz, Phyllis, too, got help from a newspaper article, which tried to explain what dyslexia is, and how to determine if a child is suffering from the condition.
After enrolling for several courses and doing online consultations, she learned how to help her son, whom she now describes as an average performer. He is in Form One and scored 310 marks out of 500 in his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams.
“The secret was to discover his condition early and seek help,” she says.
Phyllis co-founded Dyslexia Kenya, a non-governmental organisation whose aim is to teach individuals with learning difficulties, their families, the public and the Government about dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
Martin Mbugua Kimani, 26, also discovered he was dyslexic while in primary school. He says his condition got worse when he joined a boarding school.
“I had difficulties reading. The teachers were not concerned, apart from one who summoned my parents. She advised them to take me to a special school, where she felt I could get the help and attention I needed. I went there and started afresh on basic learning skills,” says Martin.
The school was exclusively for the dyslexic, and every student received adequate attention.
“Though it took me a while to adjust to the new environment, my learning abilities improved since, unlike in the other school, we were provided with a platform to face and overcome our challenges,” he says.
Martin later joined another school, where he was at par with other students. He could now read and write like his classmates. He credits his success to his parents, who provided him with the support he needed.
After high school, Martin studied 3D animation. He helps his parents run their own school, and is also a passionate farmer.
“Parents need to understand that a child who is dyslexic is not doomed. They need to nurture the child’s talents and know that with some help and a lot of hard work, he or she can learn to read and spell,” he says.
Dyslexics are usually talented in art, drama, music, mechanics, story telling, sales, business, building and designing. The problems that prevent learning can be corrected, not through drilling, but by establishing a mental focusing tool that helps to bring their minds back on track when disorientation occurs.