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Parents Can Make Children Dyslexic — Arikpo

In this interview with Motunrayo Joel, the founder, Dyslexia Foundation, Nigeria, Ben Arikpo speaks about dyslexia and its causes.
Founder, Dyslexia Foundation, Nigeria, Ben Arikpo
Ben Arikpo

What is dyslexia?

It is a neurological learning disability or disorder that interferes with acquisition and processing of language. Put in other words, it is a brain condition that manifests in difficulty in receptive and expressive language including reading, writing, spelling, handwriting (dysgraphia), comprehension and sometimes attention. It may show up as a problem of listening (the child doesn’t listen to instructions) , thinking, (doesn’t seem to think but just acts on impulse) speaking (stutters in speech without stammering), reading (struggles to read simple text compared to his age mates), writing (writing is illegible), spelling (profound difficulty with spelling due to lack of phonemic awareness), comprehension (doesn’t seem to get it or understand what is going on therefore daydreams a lot) and computation, despite some specific and innate intelligence. These disabilities are not a lack of motivation, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities or other limiting conditions, as many parents tend to believe, but may occur with these conditions. Dyslexia is not autism, Attention Deficiency Disorder and Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder but may be an effect of these conditions. This means that one can be autistic but not dyslexic. Therefore, a proper professional diagnosis is important at an early stage.

What causes dyslexia?

There are principally two main causes of dyslexia. The first is genetic. Dyslexia is an inherited condition that is passed from one generation to another. This is why many people are in denial because they see themselves in the dyslexic and do not want the stigma associated with the condition. If one or more family members had dyslexia in your genealogy, the tendency is that you or one of your children or grand children might have dyslexia. The second cause is traumatic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is injured through an accident. While the physiological wounds might have healed, brain damage might have occurred resulting in dyslexia. In this situation, dyslexia might also result in memory loss or poor short term and long term memory which affects reading and comprehension abilities in adults and children.

How widespread is dyslexia in Nigeria?

Knowledge of dyslexia is not common in Nigeria. A 1994 research work reported dyslexia as the most common of all known learning disabilities and found dyslexia as a leading cause of school dropout and most commonly shared characteristics of juvenile justice cases worldwide. Other studies found that one in sixty children in school are autistic but one in four is dyslexic. Despite this finding, discussion of and support for autism is more common than dyslexia. It is widely known that about 10 per cent of the population is dyslexic. If we take this as given and apply it to a population of one hundred and sixty five million people, we arrive at a figure of sixteen million five hundred Nigerians directly affected by dyslexia and therefore over forty million are impacted if you add the number of parents, employers and caregivers.

This is why October has been declared dyslexia awareness month. This enables us to create awareness among educators, religious institutions, companies and organisations. We are seeking partnerships and sponsorships to continue this work and to provide assessments and training for dyslexics in Nigeria.

What are the effects of dyslexia?

Without appropriate intervention, children with dyslexia are at increased risk of substance abuse. They have a higher rate of school dropout. Little wonder that most of the ‘area boys’ and ‘political touts’ used by politicians can easily be classified as school dropouts as a results of a possible dyslexic condition. They are afraid to move forward in life and are constantly aware of their limitations. Dyslexics have a tendency to turn to crime, drug use, commercial sex and gangsterism for self actualisation and societal acceptance. Dyslexia is no respecter of age. Dyslexic adults also have fears of losing their jobs if they are found out. There are also positive effects of dyslexia. Although their unique brain architecture, unusual wiring makes reading, writing and spelling difficult, there is a genius hidden in most of them that need to be uncovered and discovered with the right intervention. Most dyslexics have gifts in areas controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain such as artistic skills, athletics, music, mechanical activities, vivid imagination, intuitive, creative global thinking, and curiosity. Dyslexics can excel anywhere but best at architecture, interior design, marketing and sales (they are excellent orators and that’s why they can easily hide their disability), culinary arts, wood working, carpentry, athletics, music, scientific research, engineering, computers, electronics, mechanics, graphic art, performing art and photograph. Dyslexics are also known to be very successful entrepreneurs.

How is this disability diagnosed?

Dyslexia can only be detected through an expert assessment and diagnosis. It is really unfortunate that this expert assessment and diagnosis doesn’t yet exist on a mass scale in Nigeria but fortunately, the Dyslexia Foundation is hoping to achieve this in the next year or two. Early diagnosis through an expert assessment is necessary without which the person is misunderstood, beaten and called names – both at home but worse in school; by school teachers and of course other children who see this person as stupid or lazy. Before it is discovered, if it ever is, damage has been done, the person is intimidated, loses self-confidence and becomes afraid of trying again, giving up on self.

As always the case, parents and guardians feel frustrated with the dyslexic. When help is sort, it is limited to getting new lesson teachers or changing schools. Many educators do not know the underlining problem of the person. The person might get so demoralised that he or she may not get to the point where the innate gifts are tapped.

What are the signs of dyslexia?

There are many signs and symptoms of dyslexia. Among the most common are; speech delay – inability to talk at the appropriate age; inability to read at a particular age compared to age mates; inability to write legibly; inability to comprehend or read a piece to answer questions – always having their exam questions read to them or written for them as they talk; taking too long on assignments and home work, including any expected academic work; taking too long to carry out or deliver a task in the workplace; and overtly active and display of an above average level of intelligence

It is important to note that not all the signs and symptoms present in any one case. Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder and therefore symptoms and condition might range from low, mild and severe. It is therefore not advisable to reach a conclusion on account of one or more of the above. It is important to seek out professional expert diagnosis.

How is this disability managed?

What can be called treatment is actually a scientifically developed and systematised process of training that develops the skills and abilities to be able to read with comprehension, spell and write with ease, than before. This process can take up to two years depending on the degree of severity observed during the initial assessment. The main aspects of the training are focused on phonemic awareness which includes reading, spelling, comprehension training, attention and concentration, short and long term memory improvement and building self-esteem.

What are the rights of a dyslexic person?

Like everyone else, dyslexics have fundamental rights to life, education and freedom of association. But because they are often misunderstood, they are denied these rights. For example, although they have a right to education, the educational system doesn’t take proper care of their learning styles and needs. They are put in large classes with pedantic teaching pedagogy that doesn’t suit their practical, and pictorial way of learning. As a result, many of them are inadvertently left behind. This is why our philosophy is, ‘no one is left behind on account of a learning disability’, and we are committed to seeing that this is indeed the case in Nigeria.

Can parents cause a child to be dyslexic?

Yes, parents can cause a child’s dyslexia through genetics and through inadvertently hitting the child’s head with an object which might result in a traumatic brain injury. This is the second cause of dyslexia. Our constant advice to parents and teachers is not to beat anyone on the head with a hard object as that might result in dyslexia.

Is dyslexia related to intelligence or motivation?

Dyslexia is surely related to intelligence and motivation. As mentioned earlier, dyslexics sometimes display a rare dose of intelligence that might be above average. They also struggle with motivation to get on with a task.

There are claims that more boys than girls have dyslexia, what is your view on this?

Recent global research shows that more boys than girls are showing tendencies of dyslexia but there is no research in Nigeria to backup this claim. However, given that there are more boys in the formal school system than girls, it goes without saying that more boys will display signs of dyslexia.

If dyslexia isn’t managed, what is the worst case scenario?

If left untreated, extreme consequences which includes criminal tendencies, drug abuse, prostitution and suicide maybe triggered.

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