Chennai: “Dyslexia is only a learning disability which can be corrected with proper education, and not a shackle on achieving your dreams,” says D. Chandrasekhar, founder of Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA), who has been working with dyslexic kids for more than 25 years.
Explaining the triggering factor to start the non-profit organisation, he said it happened over a special dinner with Hazel Mackay, former vice president of British Dyslexia Association who advised him to start a platform for dyslexic kids as not many were aware of the disorder and would tag the child as “dumb”.
A group of parents, a few special educators and philanthropists joined hands with Chandrasekhar to start MDA in 1992. From then, it has been churning out confident professionals and entrepreneurs who have been successful in their field.
Each year, a huge number of kids are “thrown” out of schools because of their learning disabilities and even parents fail in early intervention. To provide a light at the end of the dark tunnel, Ananya, a full time remediation centre was formed by MDA.
“Through the centre, we took up problems faced by dyslexic children in examinations with various boards and this resulted in special provisions like exemption from attempting second and third languages, music instead of math, extra time, provision of scribe and a calculator,” explained Chandrasekhar, who is aiming to reach out to all the five lakh dyslexic children in Tamil Nadu.
To address the issue of lack of special teachers, MDA set up resource rooms in numerous schools across the city. After sensitising the entire teaching community, two teachers are picked from each school to identify the dyslexic kids.
Also, MDA, through Ananya, picks out children in primary classes who are unable to cope up with studies of their class and bridge the gap within a couple of years and send them on to mainstream education.
Using Ananya as a research centre to study the behavioural pattern of dyslexic kids, Chandrasekhar realised high IQ levels of dyslexic kids and their ability to excel in other fields. So, he started Hydra, multiple intelligences centre to identify the talent buried deep within.
Shwetha Krishna, head of Hydra said she was amazed at the talent of dyslexic kids. “Eight-year-old Kaushik (name changed) could not read and write. One day he came to me with a pictorial story that blew our minds. Another girl with severe dyslexia and sensory integration issues was inclined towards cooking. After we started showing her tutorials, she responded better and today she can read a recipe book by herself,” she said.
To spread their wings to all the needy people in the country, MDA, in association with IIT Madras, is digitising their training programme. “It will be done in such a way that a dyslexic kid need not stare at the screen for more than 15 minutes. Moreover, it is free of cost,” said Chandrasekhar.
MDA is also conducting a research with the help of neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran to know the cause of dyslexia.
Tapping into autistic talent for gainful employment
Gone are the days when special kids were confined to making candles and paper bags. Today, they are exploring new horizons and breaking stereotypes by choosing fields which were way out of reach for them just a few years ago.
One of the breakthroughs was seen at V-Excel, a trust for autistic kids, which has an ongoing training to make sanitary napkins. "There are various methods involved in it and the kids have excelled in all of them. The children might also bag a tender for the supply of sanitary napkins to corporation schools," said Usha Rajagopal, head of vocational training, V-Excel.
The trust was the first to communicate with kids through a typewriter. "Through the machine, they would tell us their areas of interest and express their concerns," added Usha.
One of the most revered skill of autistic kids is baking. Through there are few sensory challenges faced in the cooking realm like aversions to certain textures like a slimy texture - the feeling of raw meat or a peeled hard-boiled egg, there are a lot of autistic kids preparing yummy delicacies at bakeries and restaurants. Educators claim they are great at vegetable cutting too.
"I do not feel uneasy when I cook, in fact the rest of the day I feel more energetic and experience less seizures. Last month, I was awarded the best chef of my bakery," said H. Tanmayi working at a bakery in Mylapore.
Carpentry and farming are other fields in which autistic kids have set their foot into. The Theosophical Society witnesses at least 20 kids every month who come there to pick weeds, plant crops and chop wooden logs.