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Simple accommodations that can make school less stressful for kids with dyslexia

For some of us reading is as natural as breathing, but that is not the case for people with dyslexia who find reading is a challenging task, one that is full of academic and emotional struggles.

Since dyslexia occurs on a spectrum, some students can show mild symptoms, while others are significantly affected. It can also occur alongside other learning difficulties like dysgraphia, which is difficulty in writing coherently, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, which is difficulty in coordination, and dyscalculia, or difficulty in doing math.

Dyslexia is not linked in any way to intelligence, and this is backed by research and by the long list of successful innovators with dyslexia around us. People like Apple, founder, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and filmmaker Steven Spielberg, to name a few.

There is growing awareness in India that students with dyslexia can be helped out with quality interventions and classroom accommodations that factor in their specific processing challenges.

The Maharashtra government, for instance, has recently brought in classroom accommodations for students from the age of eight years. Like extra time to finish exam papers, use of computers, mandatory special educators in schools, as well as the option of dropping a second language. All welcome steps, say experts.

Children who are mildly dyslexic can be integrated back in the classroom if given early intervention. Through such accommodations, they can be tested for knowledge and not how they read and write. - Dr Nandini C Singh, National Brain Research Centre

The larger issue is that classroom accommodations in India tend to be inconsistent and vary across schools, says Koyeli Sengupta, a developmental paediatrician, with Ummeed Child Development Centre.

"The ideal is that schools are inclusive and take in all kinds of children, with and without disabilities", says Dr Sengupta. "Schools should be able and willing to work with children across the board and individualize what each child needs. This could be additional sessions where extra remedial support is provided. " In the United States, children with disabilities have individualized education plans which look at each child's specific needs and offer extra help. But in India, most schools tend to offer classroom accommodations during board exams.

"Accommodations are not consistent and vary across schools. They are mostly offered during exams", points out Dr Sengupta. "The reality is that children who cannot copy fast enough when the teacher is dictating lectures are kept back, or their mothers are asking others for notes".

So, what are some of the accommodations that schools can easily make to support students with dyslexia?:

  • Record instructions and lectures - Long verbal instructions involving multiple steps is hard for students with dyslexia. Allow them to record important assignment instructions and lectures.
  • Access to audiobooks - Children with dyslexia often have an intellectual ability higher than the academic reading level. By allowing them to listen to audiobooks, their vocabulary skills and critical thinking faculties can be improved.
  • Use of apps for note-taking - Taking down teacher's lectures can be hard for students with dyslexia. Allowing them to use apps like Evernote to take pictures of lecture notes can help. They can look at them later and study.
  • Reduce homework load - Homework can take much longer for students with dyslexia compared to other kids. Reducing the problems to the extent that they demonstrate they have understood the content will make it easier.

Given how textbook-heavy the Indian education system is, these are baby steps. But they can go a long way in making a child feel supported in the school system.

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