Do you want the good or the not so good news first? Well, the good news is that many dyslexics are brilliant and hugely gifted people. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic fame, Steve Jobs of Apple, Lewis Hamilton of Formula One racing and of course Hollywood’s most decorated film director, Stephen Spielberg are just a few of the numerous known dyslexics who literally changed the course of time. The world as we know it, would not have been the same without them. The less palatable news is that because dyslexia remains largely unknown in the Nigerian and African context, most dyslexics are beaten, called names, bullied and jeered at for being lazy or stupid in school. Unfortunately, they do not fare any better at home, where they should receive the most support. Sadly, this often results in them developing an inferiority complex and perhaps worse still, they recoil from trying anything out of fear of mockery and just give up on themselves.
Dyslexia is a neurologically based condition or disorder which interferes with acquisition and processing of language but it varies in severity. It manifests in difficulty in reading, writing, spelling, comprehension and can sometimes be accompanied by Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Individuals are not dyslexic due to lack of motivation or laziness, like most parents tend to assume. This erroneous belief, seemingly evidenced by poor school results, usually leads parents to hire home tutors or repeatedly change the child’s school, desperately hoping to see an improvement in academic results. Unfortunately, like most parents, educators are equally ignorant of this learning condition and the lack of improvement causes frustration on all sides – the parents, the educators and of course the individual who remains ignorant of his or her condition. According to studies carried out, 90% of school teachers in Nigeria have never heard of dyslexia, not to talk of knowing how to identify it.
Warning signs that an individual may be dyslexic are:
- Speech delay
- Inability to read at the expected age – unlike his classmates
- Inability to write legibly
- Inability to comprehend a read piece and to answer questions on it
- Taking too long on homework and other academic assignments
- Taking too long to carry out a task in the workplace.
A 1994 research identified dyslexia as the most common Learning Disability and found it to be a leading cause of dropping out of school and delinquency. Research carried out in various states in the United States showed that a much larger percentage of prisoners, adults and even juveniles, are dyslexic.
This is by no means a coincidence. A National Adult Literacy Survey, showed that 70% of all adult prisoners are unable to read at fourth-grade level.
Similarly, a 2000 survey of Texas prisoners discovered that about 50% of them are likely dyslexics and two-thirds struggled to read simple comprehension. Furthermore, according to a 2014 study by the Education Department, a third of incarcerated individuals at 98 prisons failed to pick out basic information while reading the most basic text.
Some dyslexics are lucky to discover their condition on time. Lucky because early detection provides the individual a better chance to manage it, as dyslexia does not have a cure. Early detection saves them from a lifetime of feeling stupid and inadequate. Knowledge of their condition means they can seek help before irreparable damage has been done and self-esteem is totally lost. It is this feeling of hopelessness that usually pushes sufferers into a life of crime and drug abuse. Lack of timely and appropriate intervention also puts sufferers at an increased risk of substance abuse as they try to “escape” their unpleasant reality.
Furthermore, dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence either as most dyslexics are actually brilliant people who, with the right support and understanding are able to discover their God-given gift. Most have gifts in areas controlled by the right side of the brain which makes them very creative. Dyslexics are gifted problem solvers as they are renowned for their ability to think out of the box.
Dyslexic people need to be treated with patience. They need “accommodation” like being placed in smaller classes and being given extra time for school work, tests and exams. The ideal training method for them is a “one on one” paced training by qualified trainers for one or two years which will enable them to acquire the necessary skills to catch up with their peers. Most of all, parents, educators and caregivers must do their best to encourage dyslexics to hone any skill they discover they show interest in, as most dyslexics are hidden geniuses waiting to be discovered.
There is one more good news. The Dyslexia Foundation is now in Nigeria to provide professional support to those who need it. We currently have two centres in Lagos, one in Calabar, one in Abuja and the recently opened centre in Port Harcourt.
This learning disability which has remained under the radar partly due to being less obvious than physical disability has caused sufferers to remain hidden in plain sight. According to the European Dyslexia Association, dyslexics make up 9% – 12% of every country’s population which means that even here in Nigeria and on the African continent, we have dyslexics all around us.