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The writing on the wall

Saraswathy Nagarajan                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thiruvananthapuram, August 13, 2014 19:37 IST

Updated: August 13, 2014 19:37 IST

Travancore National School, the first school in the city for children with learning disabilities, is the result of a mother’s determination to help her son and other gifted students like him

                  Sandhya Prajin refused to give up. Her battle began when her lively two-and-a-half-year-old son Tejas Prajin began schooling. Although teachers dismissed him as hyperactive, Sandhya was convinced that her son had a problem that had to be solved to unlock his potential. Then came the confusion, the fears, the anxiety, the rage and the silent tears. The moving finger of Fate had written and neither tears nor anger would ensure that her son would read the writing on the wall without help.

                  “I talked about him to almost every one I met. I hoped someone would guide me or help me find a school to help Tejas. I pleaded, pulled strings and finally managed to put my son into a class that had a teacher who was well-known for her happy teaching methods. There was a marked improvement in him and then I knew I had to help him find the right school and teacher,” she says.

              A friend persuaded her to get her son checked at the Child Development Centre at the Medical College and that told her what was different about him. He was dyslexic, a problem that he shared with more than five-10 per cent of the school growing population, according to the Madras Dyslexic Association (MDA).

                 Only then was her husband, Prajin Babu, convinced that Tejas needed help. Till then he, like many parents, was in a state of denial. “In addition a friend made Prajin watch Taare Zameen Par, [Aamir’s Khan’s landmark film on dyslexia]. That was when he understood what Tejas had to tackle in school every day,” she recounts.

                     Sandhya struggled to find a school that would teach her bright child. One of the city schools did have a programme for such children but when it decided to integrate it to make way for inclusive education, Sandhya did not throw up her hands in despair.

                   She and her husband decided to open a school for children with learning disabilities, perhaps the first such school in the city. Travancore National School, which now functions out of a rented building in Maruthankuzhy, is the result of her determination to help her son and other children like him.

                   Specially trained teachers and a child psychologist help the children comprehend the subjects. “All four teachers were trained at the MDA. Many such children have excellent memory and quick grasping power. The only time they stumble is when they have to read or write,” says Preetha Ayyappan, one of the teachers. The seven students in the school have different levels of grasping. So they are taught individually. One-to-one teaching and special teaching methods help them make sense of languages and numbers.

                   “Teachers in primary school will have to be sensitised and made aware of dyslexia. If she is trained to spot such students, intervention can be early and effective, much before the child is labelled lazy or hyperactive. In fact, the CBSE permits such children to have scribes or writers to help them read and write the examinations. What is distressing is the lack of awareness among teachers. We hope to bring experts from Chennai and Kochi to conduct workshops for teachers and parents,” says coordinator Meenakshi Mahadevan.

                     The teachers point out that none of the students is autistic or mentally challenged. But many parents fear that their children would be stigmatised if they were to go to a school that is meant for those diagnosed with learning disabilities.

                     She adds that instead of forcing such children to take the Board exams, parents should be opting for the National Institute of Open Schooling. The teachers have also devised a programme wherein a student of any school can utilise the services of the trained teachers for two hours on specific days of the week to improve their cognition levels.

               Dr. Sreejith N. Kumar, chairman of the Indian Medical Association’s research cell (IMA), says: “Our aim is three-fold. Help raise awareness about learning disabilities among parents, relatives and teachers and medical professionals. Two, lobby the government to train teachers to spot and help such children and set up affordable facilities in government schools to help children and parents. Three, support schools like Travancore National School with workshops and other professional help.

               Sandhya hopes to build the school into a nodal centre for children with learning difficulties. “We have classes from kindergarten to Class 12. With the support of the IMA and Travancore Dyslexic Association, we want to turn it into a centre with facilities for training teachers and parents to help their children become greats like Einstein, Agatha Christie, Leonardo da Vinci, Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg in the future.” These legends were/are dyslexic. Contact: 2313121, 9846823231

Fact file

  • In Greek, ‘Dys’ means a difficulty and ‘lexia’ means with language. It is also given the name Specific Learning Disabilities today.
  • Call the doctor
  • He may read, write or spell poorly.
  • Difficulty in retention of numbers and mathematical operations.
  • Easily distracted and fidgety.
  • A child who sometimes has more strengths in non-academic areas than academic areas. Poor comprehension and expression of languages.

(Courtesy: Travancore Dyslexic Association)

Filling a Gap in Special Education

The frantic efforts to know more about their child’s problem led Sandhya and Prajin Babu to come up with a school for dyslexic children.

Published: 21st July 2015 04:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st July 2015 04:12 AM   

By Shalet Jimmy | ENS

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Seven-year-old Tejas was confused when his father told him that an infinite number cannot be pinpointed. Nonetheless, he persisted with the question, but got the same answer. Finally, he relented, saying, “Fine, if the infinite number cannot be pointed out, tell me the number just before that.” A logical question indeed!

Once, Tejas had written a mirror image of ‘6’ instead of six. Obviously, he did not get the expected ‘stars’ from his teachers. He was sad and couldn’t understand where he had gone wrong. When his parents pointed out to him that he had written the mirror image, he asked, “Why can’t the teacher hold the book upside down, then she could have read it as six.’’ The little boy, of course, sounded logical. But his mother had a gut feeling that something was wrong.