Living with Dyslexia in Malaysia

STAR article 7 July 2005

Deciphering the written word may not be their strength, but with the right support, dyslexics can excel. CHO SUET SEN, a mother to a child participating in the National Dyslexia Programme, writes.

DEFINING DYSLEXIA

THE word “DYSLEXIA” derives from the Greek language. DYS means ‘difficulty’ while LEXIA means “written words”. About five to 10 per cent of the population or 1 in 20 are dyslexics. That is, they find it hard to learn to read and write, even though their level of intelligence is ‘normal’ with an average IQ of 100. In fact, some are very bright with IQ exceeding 100.

Other than the fact they have difficulty in decoding written words, dyslexics do not have apparent deficits in the areas of speech and social interaction which are prevalent in varying degrees among those who fall under the category of “learning disabled”(LD).

In developed countries, dyslexia is defined as a Specific Learning Disability. But in Malaysia, dyslexia is still listed under the LD category that includes persons with autism (which in itself has a broad spectrum), Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and mental retardation. The current LD classification is for persons with IQ less than 70. To put dyslexics under the LD category would mean they are slow learners. But they are not.

To cater to their needs, a different assessment for exams should be implemented just like their Western counterparts. For example, instead of having to sit for five subjects in UPSR, dyslexics need to take only three. Further, readmasters and writers should be provided for dyslexics during examinations to enable them answer the questions orally and that they be given extra 50 per cent of the test time.

Since language is an issue with persons with learning difficulties, they should be exempted from having to cope with more than one language in school. There should be an option to have the entire lessons taught either in Bahasa Malaysia or English but not both together. By concentrating solely on one language, it would reduce stress not only for the students but also for the teachers and anxious parents. 

      There is also need to review the teachers’ training curriculum to include a chapter on dyslexia to create awareness and to better prepare teachers when dealing with students who show signs of dyslexia.

      Researches in America and the United Kingdom show that out of every two prisoners, one is a dyslexic. But with the right support and appropriate early intervention many dyslexics could be spared from the consequences of self-condemnation for not being able to read and write.     

My Son and the National Dyslexia Programme

LAUNCHED last year, there are to date 30 schools across the country which had been earmarked for the National Dyslexia programme. In Kuala Lumpur, there are three schools  participating in the programme, namely Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Tun Dr Ismail (SK TTDI), SK Taman Maluri, Cheras and SK Air Panas, Setapak. Parents elsewhere are also pushing for a similar mandate and they include those in Subang Jaya as there are at least 30 students there who had been diagnosed with dyslexia but have yet to receive assistance.

In order for students to qualify for the programme, they have to be officially diagnosed as dyslexics. The mild and moderate dyslexics are put in the mainstream classes. They are only withdrawn for subjects that they are weak in which currently are Bahasa Malaysia and Mathematics. They are allowed to sit for UPSR at the age of 14 instead of 12.

      While I am glad that finally there is programme for the dyslexic students, the Education Ministry should introduce a feedback system to continuously improve upon it.

I have been told that the Ministry is considering the move to allow dyslexics students to have additional 25 per cent of the exam time and to introduce a gadget which allows the students to have questions repeated at the press of a button and that enables them to change the questions’ font size. While all this sounds promising, the timing to implement it is equally pertinent because in the year 2007, the pioneers in the National Dyslexics Programme will be sitting for their UPSR. 

      At present, my son attends SK TTDI(2) which is the pilot school for the programme. He has been there since March last year. For my son, it was rather a ‘culture shock’ for him initially.  He was teased at as the ‘new’ student and for being ethnically different from the rest of his classmates. It didn’t help that he wore specially made blue-grey tinted spectacles with a‘crew-cut’ hairstyle to boot.

      Like other dyslexics who are very conscious of their condition which causes some of them to develop an inferiority complex, my son is exceptionally “sensitive”. Besides reading problems, they are easily distracted and thus, appear to have short attention span. All they need is just a slight movement to steal their focus. They do not have ‘filters’ to screen off unwanted sounds or distractions and they get carried away.  They are then penalised for things beyond their control. That’s when misunderstandings take place.

      Therefore, such students need to be reminded constantly to focus on the work given. It is always better for them to be placed in the front row of a class so that the teacher can keep an eye on them.

      Thankfully, we have very caring teachers in the Special Education section       headed by Datin Zahrah Abdullah. She is the co-ordinator who liaises with the       parents and the normal class teachers. Teething problems had been ‘ironed-out’ peacefully with her understanding and gentle ways. She has been instrumental in helping the dyslexic students to adjust, staying firmly on course with the main objective of the programme, that is, to ‘NORMALISE’ them as much as possible into the mainstream school.

      Since the launch of the programme, the Dyslexia Association (Wilayah Persekutuan) of which I am a member, had organised talks to share with teachers about dyslexia. As it turned out, such talk had been fruitful as my son’s English teacher brought out the fact that misinformation on dyslexia would have been avoided altogether had they been briefed much earlier on. She is now enlightened and supportive of the programme.

      To me, the journey to understanding dyslexia continues. I am still learning about it even though I started my research on the subject n October 2001.

      On the whole, my son has settled comfortably in school, having made friends with the other 22 dyslexic students. There is much solidarity among themselves. All of them game fully took part in the concert when the programme was officially launched. Their good performance gave them the much-needed boost in their self-confidence.

For most part, my son is coping well with most core subjects with the additional tuition and home coaching. But he still struggles with Bahasa Malaysia. Nevertheless, he is generally happy in school and he has excelled in most of the exams he took thus far. My son is now given the normal/standard report card like the rest of his friends in class. He is in his Year Two class photo shoot and is looking forward to participating in the schools’ sports day.

      My only wish is that more information should be disseminated to all involved in the programme so that they will be empowered. Once it is understood that dyslexics’ brain works differently from non-dyslexics, perhaps teachers will stop regarding them as misfits but instead work towards helping them realise their full potential.

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July 13, 2007 Posted by | Dyslexia | Leave a comment

Program Outreach – Tasik Cini

 Program Outreach Pendidikan Khas & Lawatan Kerja Menangani Isu Pendidikan Anak-anak Orang Asli di Chini, Pekan, Pahang  (18 -23 September 2006)The Dyslexia Association together with National Autism Society of Malaysia and the Association  for Down Syndrome were the 3 NGOs invited for this Outreach Program.  Basically, we are requested to assist the Pendidikan Khas by screening the Anak-anak Orang Asli for Learning  Disabilities. All in all there were more than 80 personnel involved in this exercise.

Pn Sariah and I stayed one week at the Kuarters Institut Pendidikan (KIP) Chini.  After breakfast each day, we travelled another 45 minutes to SK Runcang (Orang Asli school) to do the Screening.

We would wrap up each day at around 6.30pm and head on back to the Quarters  for dinner.  After dinner every night up, there would be meetings held at 9pm (up till midnight on one night)  to sum up the events for the day. 

There were 151 children from 3 schools who were brought in by military trucks for their screening. There were also a few walk-ins from different schools who heard about this program.  There were local visitors to the exhibition hall where we had our Display. Thankfully, we had Encik Nawi (President of Pahang Dyslexia Foundation)  and his daughter , Intan who assisted us in the Exhibition Hall by manning our counter and answering the enquiries.  They assisted us also in getting all the daily reports typed out for submission to the Pendidikan Khas Co-ordinators.

The 151 children brought in were screened by the Pendidikan Khas using their Screening Tests. Out of this 151, 32 were handed over to us for the Dyslexia Screening.  26 were screened to be showing symptoms of Dyslexia, 3 were slow learners, one non-dyslexic and 2 were not screened due to insufficient time. It was a real experience screening these children as they were all rather puny for their age and Bahasa Malaysia is not their mother tongue . It was also noted that some of these children could well do with a bath to reduce their native body odour.

Once confirmed by us, these children were sent for diagnosis to the Medical doctor for certification. Once certified, the Welfare personnel  were there to register them for their Welfare Cards (or OKU – Orang Kurang Upaya). Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) was also there to assist the Orang Asli to open their Bank accounts so that they can get their RM25 monthly allowance.  Birth Registration was also done for the Orang Asli as there were a couple of Orang Asli who had no identities.  There was one man over 40 registering for his identity card. There were also children who never had birth certificates.

The closing ceremony was officiated by our Deputy Prime Minister, YAB Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak.  The Minister of Education YB Dato’ Sri Hishamuddin bin Tun Hussein  could not attend the closing ceremony and Dato Komala Devi represented him. There was a big crowd of about 1,000 people who attended this closing ceremony, which started at 9.30am with the crowd ‘pouring’ in. Our Deputy Minister flew in by helicopter at 10am.  After mingling with the crowd, the Deputy Minister made his speech to officiate the closing, after which lunch was served. 

This trip has been very enlightening,(though hectic and very  tiring, not enough  sleep), we were glad that we were able to contribute our help in assisting the Orang Asli.  I believe this small town have never seen so much excitement before this.

Let’s hope that these special children identified by us will get the necessary help required.  Hopefully, there will be a Dyslexia Program started in this area soon.

Report by : Cho Suet Sen

July 13, 2007 Posted by | Dyslexia | Leave a comment