‘Learning disability screening needed’

KUALA LUMPUR: There is an urgent need to have a screening system in schools to identify children with special learning needs like dyslexia.

Stating this, retired associate professor Dr Mullai Ramaiah noted that the current system not only lacks early screening, but also teachers who are equipped to teach and handle children with special needs.

What's worse is that children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dispraxia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) and even autism are all "ostracised" and categorised as slow learners, and placed in one class when all of them require different ways of teaching.

"In Malaysia, because it is not visible like autism or Down Syndrome for example, a lot of parents don't even know their children have dyslexia. It takes a very long time for them to realise that their children cannot read and write because it is a kind of a disorder or neurological condition which can be rectified.

"And teachers too segregate these children from the mainstream and put them in one class or at the back of the class. They think they are either stupid or nothing can be done.

"But in actual fact there are very few slow learners in those classes, it is mainly dyslexia," she told theSun.

Mullai said although some national schools have one or two special teachers who cater for these kind of children, it is not sufficient to handle one full classroom of children with different needs.

Having done extensive research on teaching methodologies for dyslexic children, she has developed a teaching tool kit for English, Malay and Tamil languages, which comprises a teachers' guide, workbooks, games, audio tapes, flash cards and rhymes.

"I worked with a lot of schools to get the materials done; not just pluck something out of the West and put it here because the needs of our children are different, our environment is different, so I have customised the tools for our environment and culture.

"There are many techniques and I have taken from many places and also developed my own. In fact this kit is being used in Tamil Nadu, India. The Madras Dyslexia Association and many other schools in Tamil Nadu are using our kit, it is the first of its kind – the phonic method," she said.

With the cooperation of a local school principal, Mullai conducted the research and tested the tools on the students in that school and has seen them to be effective.

"The government must pay a lot of attention to this, it is a very serious problem. We need to have a screening system," she said.

Mullai also noted that studies have shown that dyslexia leads to school dropouts, which opens the children to be at risk of being involved in social problems and even crime.

"Why are kids dropping out of school? We usually say poverty, broken family, government marginalising them, environment etc. But one main reason, which people forget or educators forget, could be that they are not able to read and write and therefore lose self-esteem. Losing self-esteem is like a slippery slope, you don't know where it will end.

"Statistics show that about 600 Indian children drop out of primary school and 2,000 drop out from secondary schools every year. Looking at the crime rates involving Indians, it is worrying because crime and dyslexia are closely correlated," she said, referring to a book authored by Stephen MacDonald.

The author had said in his book that juvenile delinquents are assessed in jail and it was found that impulsive crimes were committed by dyslexic children.

"However, we don't have such studies here in Malaysia. When these children lose self-respect, nobody bothers about them, they are marginalised in school and the gangs are there to pick them up just outside the compound. The gangs give them a sense of identity and at that adolescent age that's what they want most," Mullai stressed.

She has also opened a centre in Bangsar, providing individual attention for dyslexic children and can be contacted at 012-318 0874.