The Stigmas behind dyslexia and how that affects mental health amongst youth

Often people ask, what is dyslexia? Well dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. In short, dyslexia is an imperfection in the brain which leads to a child or adult often having difficulty to grasp, articulate, analyse and evaluate information presented to them. Simply put- such people requiring more time to complete assessments than a ‘normal’ person would require- that’s all.

In today’s competitive society, the quest for perfection is endless. Consequently, the imperfect and disabled are often side-lined and/or ridiculed, usually by fellow students, and sometimes even by parents and teachers, thereby making them feel like outcasts and unwanted by society as a whole.

My story with dyslexia began during my school life. I was an average student who worked really hard and had little to show for it. Although in my mind, I would know the answers, I could never appropriately put them on paper. Despite taking various tuitions for a plethora of different subjects, I would still just about manage to get average marks in my examinations. In school, amongst my peers, I then became the laughing stock as the boy who takes 6 tuitions and just about passes his examinations. The constant humiliation and struggles made me very depressed and helpless.

Unfortunately, a school child’s life is determined by his/her marks as they make him/her in the eyes of his teachers, parents and peers.

This often left me feeling worthless and a loser as I was putting in so much time, energy and effort into a cause for which I was getting absolutely no reward. This left me feeling a void in me which I could not understand or comprehend and I chose not to share it with anyone at that time. I luckily did not succumb to any pressure of addictions and/or any other abuses to my body

Fortunately, when I was 14, my mother, realised that despite studying very hard, I was still unable to score well and that there had to be some lacuna. Then started the endless tests, first with Zirak Marker, the result of which was rejected by school, followed by the Maharastra Dyselxia Society, and then the Sion hospital. All these were undertaken whilst I was in my 9th and 10th Grades.

I was then diagnosed of having Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder and dysgraphia, all of which affirmed the fact that I was not imperfect and not ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’. Just because I was imperfect that did not make me incompetent. This new revelation fuelled my drive to succeed infinitely. However the societal stigmas in school continued to haunt me , from being the stupid and dumb kid to “the dyslexic kid”. Needless to add that such bullying and name calling made me feel very isolated and depressed and practically friendless. Both teachers and students would continue to treat me differently when all I wanted to try and do was ‘fit in’. Trust me, this puts a lot of pressure on any child who is grappling with a changing mind and body at that age. It is often found through research that dyslexic students are the most emotionally vulnerable and this is only because we are different and not because we are dumb or stupid or have a mental affliction. With very little help and lack of awareness, a child in such a position can feel extremely isolated, lacking in motivation and constrained, causing an immense hopelessness in their being.

Though I fought my isolation and depression by speaking to myself and vociferously writing what I felt, in the hindsight I believe that confiding in someone really helps. I thereafter decided to speak with my mom and a few friends who were supportive. I also realised that the only person who could help me was me. I then took it upon me to work hard, and to discipline myself and was then driven to succeed largely to prove to the society that their discrimination stemming from their own lack of information causing societal prejudices is wrong and needs immense improvement.

It does not matter to me that I have to read any material twice or maybe thrice as compared to the “normal person” as in the end it’s the result and success which matters.

It took me a fairly long time to accept my shortcomings but now I consider myself proud to be different for I wear my imperfections on my sleeve, not afraid of others’ opinions of me. I have learnt that only you can help yourself when everything is against you and that the strongest feeling in the world is the feeling of hope, because when you are pushed all the way back to the wall, the only way is forward.

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Rehaan Engineer

Mental health champion