Kate Currawalla an extraordinary human being, teacher, mother, social worker and the founder of Maharashtra Dyslexia Association (MDA) has devoted her life to the cause of demystifying Dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty causing problems with reading, writing and spelling. Currawalla explains her journey and what could be done in future to Vedika Karnani of The Free Press Journal.
FPJ: What is Dyslexia?
Kate Currawalla: Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. And yet the most obvious manifestation is that the child struggles with just very basic learning. It’s something that a child experiences right from the beginning. While the child is able to do most things, he/she struggles with reading, writing, spelling, maths, classroom activities – the basic learning. So here you have kids who are able to do most things and may even show a talent for it, so you know that they are normal. It’s not that they are lacking in intelligence or IQ, but at the same are not able to do certain things.
FPJ: How did you find about Dyslexia?
Kate Currawalla I’ll just refer to a case of my elder son Moran. From a very young age, he was very fond of Lego, of constructing things. From the beginning, he would just make a beeline – even from the age of two. So we had very high expectations from him. But as he grew older, when it came to reading, he simply couldn’t read. Within a week of school starting, his teacher called me, and said Moran is just not able to read. But fortunately she was a wonderful teacher who took extra efforts to teach him. Just then we also discovered that some of his cousins in different parts of the world had the same problem. This made it easier for us to understand why Moran was going through this. Later, I found a book on teaching children with reading disabilities at Smokers Corner. I started teaching him from that. So it was good luck all around, a good teacher who was patient, a good school which was very supportive.
FPJ: How common is Dyslexia in India?
Kate Currawalla: Seven percent of population has Dyslexia, that’s a very, very high number.
FPJ: You are the Founder President of Maharashtra Dyslexia Association (MDA). How has MDA addressed the issue?
Kate Currawalla: In 1995, around the time we started, a group of parents had already approached the Maharashtra Education Board and the SSC Board who encompassed this issue. We were fortunate to have certain people who were in positions of power and understood the problem. This gave us a little bit push, which earlier was lacking. Finally, the Education Department and the SSC Board accepted it. At the beginning we saw hysterical parents who only tried to cover-up for their own kids. But gradually, I think with a lot of dialogue, seminars, and press articles they become more aware and accepting. While it has been a long journey, it has definitely been a fruitful one.
FPJ: Are Doctors now able to diagnose Dyslexia? How does MDA handle it?
Kate Currawalla: Today some pediatricians have established clinics but their diagnosis are based on one person who has been trained either as a pediatrician or as a physiologist. And it rewards on that one person’s lectures, knowledge base or preferences. Whereas at MDA, we are trying to cater to the needs of the child. We don’t say, we have remedial and diagnostic services. We say, we have family services. It’s important for us to work with the parents in order to work with the child. Parents need to understand and acknowledge their journey as well. This empowers them to understand exactly what the child’s difficulties are, what the child is capable of, what kind of support the child needs.
FPJ: How can schools support Dyslexic students?
Kate Currawalla: There are levels of supports that the child needs institutionally. Firstly, the school needs to accept that there are kids in every class who will struggle with basic reading and writing activities. Those kids need to be identified and helped. It is up to the school to decide on whether to give that extra help in school or advices the parents to seek it outside. Even by just identifying the children they have made a start.
The next level is to understand that every child is not going to score of 90% and 100%. Very often the child who is failing in class maybe very good at play or even if he doesn’t, he would benefit in terms of confidence and self-esteem. Rejection itself plays a very powerful part in this child’s development. And whether this kid is going to be able to overcome his difficulties or he is going to just go under is the last level.
FPJ: What advice would you give to parents whose child is diagnosed with Dyslexia?
Kate Currawalla: I would say be patient, be sensitive and be a parent first. I think the biggest mistake I made was trying to teach my children, when I didn’t know anything about teaching. And I think we lost out a little bit then. But my children tell me that the biggest thing that their father and I did right was encourage them to do other things beyond academics. There is always this temptation that if a child is not performing well in school he should not be allowed to do extracurricular activities, and focus on tuition after tuition. This doesn’t work. Kids need to develop other activity, and other interests. They need a break from the things that they are struggling with to grow as people.