Early identification key to dyslexia management— Rosalin Kyere-Nartey
Do you have a child who is constantly performing below average in school? Does he or she also have difficulty memorising things?
Does he or she have a poor handwriting and have a slow labour and intensive reading difficulty? Have you had this child assessed? If not, do you know that your child’s under-performance could not be intentional but that a condition called dyslexia could be responsible for it? By now you might be asking what is dyslexia.
Often, children who have this condition are teased as blockheads and unintelligent because of their poor academic performance. Research shows that worldwide, dyslexia is found in at least one in every five people you meet and they could be children or adults. Unfortunately, many people in Ghana know little about the condition.
Following her own personal bitter experiences with the condition, the fact that people around her did not understand her continuous poor performance in school and the later realisation that there was a lack of awareness of the condition, Rosalin A Kyere-Nartey (RAKN), Founder of Africa Dyslexia Organisation, has taken it upon herself to create awareness of the condition here in Ghana and in Africa. Daily Graphic’s Augustina Tawiah (AT) interviewed her about the condition and her plans in creating awareness of the condition. Excerpts of the interview are captured below.
A ugustina Tawiah (AT): What problems does being dyslexic pose to the individual?
Rosalin A Kyere-Nartey (RAKN): Because dyslexia is a language-based disability, there is a developmental delay in speech, difficulty identifying specific sound, difficulty following instruction, omitting certain words when reading or speaking, difficulty spelling words, difficulty learning the alphabets, poor handwriting, slow labour and intensive reading difficulty, and missing everyday words.
Additionally, there are certain words dyslexic persons may find difficult to pronounce even though they might have been taught how to do so countless times. It is the reason why if care is not taken, they are labelled as very stupid. The dyslexic brain is wired differently. As a result, it processes information differently and encoding and decoding of words are also different from somebody who does not suffer the condition.
In adults, you will find out that at the workplace, such people run away from report writing and don’t want to engage in things like that.
It is important to note that when it comes to dyslexia, you will find different kinds of it. If you put four people here who are dyslexic, the probability that you will see different signs in them is possible — they are all not going to be the same.
You will notice different symptoms in them. For instance, my dyslexia makes me a very organised person. If something is facing this way, I expect that I should see it in that position always.
AT: What should one do after seeing the signs above in somebody?
(RAKN): There are so many things to do when you see the signs above. You can do screening to determine. For children, you will have to check whether the child is properly being taught at school by utilising the tactile style of learning which includes kinaesthetic, auditory and visual style of learning, in a multi-sensory approach.
If these things are ticked and you still see the child having difficulty learning alphabets, difficulty learning sounds, losing pages when reading, showing a lack of attention and difficulty identifying specific instruction in reading, then that’s when as a parent you have to raise concern to somebody in the school who is an expert in learning disability to pay attention to the child.
If the school doesn’t have, then you need to find someone who does assessment to help the child. We have certified assessors in the country, usually, educational psychologists or clinical psychologists who will take the child through different sequence of instructions to be able to determine whether there is a learning difficulty before they can come to a conclusion and say that this child has dyslexia or not.
AT: At what age should one get screened for dyslexia?
(RAKN):For children, research over time has shown that you can get accurate screening or assessment for the child from the age of six years. We believe that from five-and-half-years old, the child starts picking up words and at six years, they should be at the reading level. So, if your child is six years old and cannot read two, three or four-letter words and you are seeing the symptoms mentioned above in them, this should be a wake-up call.
As parents, you should be very close to the school your child is attending because they are spending eight hours every weekday there except on vacation. They are able to determine your child’s level in school more than you, the parent. Have one-on-one conversations with them, especially about your child that you feel is behind in their learning.
Ask questions — how is my child doing? Is she reading normally, memorising things and recognising things? Once you are very interested, the teachers will open up to you about the child. It is important to point out that early identification is key with dyslexia, especially if you really want to make a change in a child whose learning is slow.
AT: How is dyslexia acquired?
(RAKN): Dyslexia is not an illness, sickness or disease. It is genetic. You get it from birth and it stays with you forever. The world has classified it under disability because of the word the name was derived from. In Ghana, there are so many adult dyslexics here but people do not know because awareness of the condition has not been created for them to know.
Whoopi Goldberg, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci are also dyslexic. Even though all these people are dyslexics, they possess unique talent that we in this part of the world have not been able to groom or support for our dyslexic learners to be able to reach their calibre.
AT: How do we manage dyslexia in people?
(RAKN): Dyslexia is not an illness so no medication is needed to manage it. You don’t also need to take a child who is dyslexic to see a paediatrician or go for check-ups. In situations whereby in addition to the dyslexia, a child has co-mobility issues such as autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), medications could be provided. But it is to treat the autism and ADHD, not the dyslexia.
For dyslexia, managing it requires encouragement, being extremely patient with the child and the right form of learning instruction.
AT: Do we have a lot of children in Ghana who have dyslexia?
(RAKN): In Ghana and Africa as a whole, we don’t have data on dyslexia. That is why we are currently about to launch our research into that. Globally, there is so much data when it comes to dyslexia. They are stating that one in every five children is likely to be dyslexic. If we bring that ratio to Ghana and go to school to conduct studies, we might find out that everybody in Ghana is probably dyslexic.
Why am I saying that? Our curricula and the form of instruction we use put a lot of children at a disadvantage already, so the child right now will be exhibiting the signs of dyslexia but may not be because they are not taught properly.
AT: Do we have programmes or interventions in the country for children with dyslexia?
(RAKN): Not that I know of. However, I got to be part of the technical working group reviewing Ghana’s inclusive education policy and in that policy, it has been highlighted among the things we can do for children in this situation. But until that policy gets approved and all the resources are given to make sure action is taken, such as teachers being trained and a couple of assessment centres around, then the answer is no.
Currently, in the whole country we have only one national assessment centre. We have calls from all over the country, calling for support there but we don’t have. So, for me, if you ask me, we don’t have any support that is going on.
This has given room to private practitioners who are doing assessment but affordability is the issue. We have $200, being the least charge for now. We have people charging GH¢1,200 for assessment.
We have people charging $500 just to do assessment for all learning disabilities. So how many people will be able to afford? That is why we are saying that the government has an upper hand to do something by having our schools resourced to support all learners.