Darsheel Safary’s character as a dyslexic child in Taare Zameen Par left a deep impact in most of our hearts. More than being a good film, it was one of the first popular initiatives to educate masses on the learning disorder—dyslexia. Much before the movie was made, there are individuals who have been working on sensitising the issue in their respective capacities. One such soul is socialite and home-maker Divya Jalan and founder of Dyslexia Trust of Kolkata. In India, at least 10 per cent of schoolchildren have dyslexia. That is an estimated 30 million children.
The trust recently came out with a simple, comprehensive and colourful book full of pictures and illustrations called a Handbook of Dyslexia. Easy to read and go through, the book is meant for one and all—teachers, trainers, educators, counsellors, parents, children and anyone interested in understanding about dyslexia.
Divya had a flourishing catering business in Kolkata with more than 200 staff, and a middle child Ishita, who was dyslexic. Inspired by her child, she established the trust almost eight years ago but found that progress was not up to the mark. She chucked up the business and got down to devoting her time and energy developing the Breaking Through Dyslexia Centre, a remedial education centre that she set up three years ago.
“I want to devote my time, spreading awareness about dyslexia, and this is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to God for helping our family to recognise that Ishita is dyslexic and get her the best possible help available, at an early age. Today she has done Masters in Chemistry from the University of Manchester and is planning to pursue a PhD in Pure Chemistry,” says Divya, a proud mother.
The centre has been doing its bit to promote awareness by holding free presentations in schools and at other suitable forums. She aims to open a training institute at affordable fees for teachers by next year and believes that if every school has a resource unit that is equipped to recognise and deal with dyslexia, a lot can be achieved in making the lives of these children happier and more productive. “Dyslexic children often have high IQs and are not mentally retarded in any way,” says Divya.
“Any disability is a taboo and becomes a hush-hush subject for discussion. I want conversations about dyslexia to come out in the open and even become a cocktail party conversation ice breaker,” says Divya. Society has to become supportive and learn to come out of a sense of denial about all sorts of mental and learning disabilities.” Dyslexia is genetically passed on. Divya was herself mildly dyslexic, but says she got away with it as she did not have to face much academic pressure during her growing up years. She points out that the media has a pivotal role to play in demystifying dyslexia so does cinema. “The film Taare Zameen Par, starring Aamir Khan, has had the most positive impact on understanding this disability,” she says.
While there is no cure or one-stop solution for dyslexia, children can be taught how to cope with it and cross hurdles. Low grades mean low self-esteem. No wonder these children do not want to try and feel useless. “They will begin to make an attempt only if they experience success. We need to equip them with skills to face these situations. Motivation becomes internalised and dependency on evasive tactics reduces drastically,” says Divya. As mentioned in Taare Zameen Par, geniuses like Steven Spielberg, John Lennon, Steve Jobs, Richard
Branson, Salma Hayek, Bill Gates, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Einstein, Picasso, Tom Cruise, among many, were dyslexic as a child, but once they overcame the disorder there was no looking back.
One can read about the popular myths and misconceptions in her website www.breakingthroughdyslexia.com
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language.