Afolabi is a 10 years old primary 3 pupil, who has not been able to make progress with his
schoolwork because of his exceedingly poor reading ability. However, he is developing normally
(in terms of physical milestones) and is otherwise very intelligent. He has no problems
understanding instructions and interacting with people. He is also very good with mathematics
and his spoken language is good for his age. But the major concern is about his ability to read
and understand written texts. He is also very restless and hyperactive and is usually unable to sit
still for any appreciable length of time. The parents have been worried that something is wrong
but could not really place it. But a friend advised them to see a Child Psychiatrist. After several
rounds of assessments, they were informed that Afolabi had Dyslexia, with Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
What is Dyslexia?
This is part of a group of specific learning disorders that is characterized by a narrow
abnormality in a range of learning skills, outside which their functioning is entirely normal. So,
the child may have specific problems with reading or understanding what they read (Dyslexia);
or specific problems with mathematical calculations (Dyscalculia) etc. Children with Dyslexia
may also have trouble with spelling, comprehension, reading, and writing.
Outside of these disorders, they have normal or very high intelligence, good social skills, and
otherwise perfect functioning. It is only when they are required to perform functions that require
reading or calculations that it immediately becomes clear that they perform significantly below
expected standards/norms. It is quite common, with about 5 – 15% of the population suffering
from Dyslexia. Indeed, it is the most common of all the specific learning disorders. It is not
specific to any gender and both males and females may be equally affected.
What Causes Dyslexia?
It is a common misconception to think of dyslexia as a problem with vision or misrepresenting
alphabets and words. It is a problem with how the brain processes language (linguistic ability).
Thus, it is often a lifelong problem, once it is confirmed to be present. It is, therefore, not a
problem with poor teaching or low IQ but a minor brain (neurological) disorder. While it is not
very clear what exactly causes it, we do know that it tends to run in families, as nearly 40% of
affected individuals usually have a family history of similar difficulties.
What are the symptoms?
Children who have difficulty learning to speak, forming words, and often using similar sounding
words but with a different meaning, difficulty learning spelling and reading that is very
pronounced and occurring in the absence of any other peculiar problems may be indicative of
dyslexia. These symptoms become very acute and pronounced when they start schooling as they
really begin to struggle – but it is clear to teachers that they are intelligent and not slow
learners…just that they have peculiar problems with reading, spelling, and writing. But if you speak with them or read to them, they have no difficulties understanding and responding
appropriately. The unique challenges are with reading, which they then tend to avoid.
What other conditions may occur with Dyslexia?
In many instances, Dyslexia occurs alone and by itself. However, in some cases, it may be
combined with other childhood problems such as ADHD. In other instances, there may also be
difficulties with writing (Dysgraphia) or with arithmetic calculations (dyscalculia).
What should you do if you suspect your child has Dyslexia?
Ideally, if a child is not doing well in school, a holistic approach to understanding the problem
should be undertaken. First, it is important to confirm that the child is seeing well (visual
problems may be easily rectified with prescription glasses). It may also be important to confirm
that the child is not having a hearing impairment. Or suffering from a form of ‘silent’ epileptic
seizures that are called ‘absence seizures’ – a form of seizures that does not cause the child to fall
down, and so may not be recognized. Tests of intelligence may also be conducted to be sure the
child does not have an intellectual disability. And then dyslexia may also be considered and
specific testing by special educationists or developmental psychologists requested for.
In order to ensure a comprehensive evaluation and assessment, it is best to have an initial
evaluation with a child psychiatrist, who may then co-ordinate the other assessments as may be
required for the particular child. Furthermore, if they have other conditions such as ADHD, it can
be co-managed with the Dyslexia.
Does intervention help?
Yes, most certainly. If it is identified early and remedial interventions with psychologists and
special educationists commenced early, many of them are able to surmount it and achieve
reasonable reading ability – sufficient for day to day interactions and functioning.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 9th February 2023