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How this 24-year-old made dyslexia her superpower

How this 24-year-old made dyslexia her superpower

Understanding the challenges, strengths and coping techniques of a person with dyslexia
It was only during college that I realised that not knowing to spell and making mistakes while writing are issues that can be resolved | Photo by Anantha Subramanium

24-year-old Shubhashree Rajendran remembers going numb when trying to solve her high-school math paper. Even now, she dreads the idea of going back to school. “The numbers seemed jumbled and none of the questions made any sense,” she tells Happiest Health. Rajendran, a business development professional living with dyslexia, describes her early education as tough. She was constantly asked to work hard since she would struggle to complete her assignments. But nobody understood the condition that was making her life so challenging.

Only this year, at the age of 24, was Rajendran diagnosed with dyslexia –  a condition where children develop learning challenges like difficulty in reading and writing. Dyslexic children often struggle with sequencing and visualization of letters and words on account of the abnormal development of their visual magnocellular cells.

“I wish I had known about it during my childhood, it would have made a huge difference to my life,” she says.

Growing up with dyslexia

Rajendran struggled with all her subjects throughout her formative years. But her teachers did not try to understand why she was facing difficulties, opting instead of label her “lazy”.

Her inability to spell words led to the fear of being judged which led to social isolation. She struggled both academically and socially. But the refrain she got from both teachers and friends was unhelpful: “You need to improve.”

Nurturing a support system

Thankfully, this changed for her during college, where a strong community of allies comprising of friends and supportive teachers helped Rajendran break the walls of isolation. “It was only during college that I realised that not knowing to spell and making mistakes while writing are issues that can be resolved and I should not worry about it,” she says.

She started by creating templates for different types of writing formats like essays, emails, research papers and others.

Also, her friends motivated her to focus on her strengths rather than her weaknesses. She then blossomed as a speaker and orator, which helped her channel her creativity and become more confident.

Writing still posed a challenge, for which she took the support of online writing tools while working on her research paper and thesis during graduation and master’s.

Self-acceptance and spreading awareness

One thing that Rajendran feels that people diagnosed with dyslexia should remember is the need to overcome self-inflicted judgment. She was diagnosed with a learning disability by a psychologist after taking the dyslexia screening test which helped her understand the reason behind the learning challenges. In the process, she became more patient with herself. On the professional front, the diagnosis helped her communicate to her manager and office management about her challenges and she gained the required support.

She took a long time to overcome the self-doubts internalised over the years and learned to assimilate the positivity prevalent around her.

Dyslexia, she says, is just a ‘neurodivergent difference’ requiring an attitude shift in society. A lot can change, she says, if the individual receives the help needed in the early years along with a strong support system for the neuro-divergent individuals.

Dr H. Chandrashekar, professor, and HOD, East Point College of Medical Sciences and former professor and HOD, Department of Psychiatry, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI) shares that “Children diagnosed with a learning disability are labelled as dull and treated badly in the classroom as well as in the competitive world.”

This learning difficulty is usually prevalent in children who struggle learning nursery rhymes, reciting alphabets and have a history of speech delay. “Dyslexia should not be diagnosed before three years of age, because some children can be late bloomers,” says Dr Chandrashekar. He further adds that since 2-3% of children globally tend to have learning challenges and difficulties, teachers in schools should be provided with simple screening tools like the Behavioural Checklist for Screening the Learning Disabled (BCSLD) to provide special attention to children with learning disabilities.

BCSLD’s 10 signs for parents and teachers to identify dyslexia

  • The child has difficulty in reading alphabets, reciting poems and other reading challenges.
  • The child forgets easily on account of poor memory
  • Encounters writing challenges
  • Suffers from poor self-image
  • Tendency to be clumsy and to keep dropping things
  • Always requiring help with daily tasks like tying the shoelace.
  • Trouble discriminating between right and left
  • Cannot stop activities like playing on the swing, even after it ends
  • Reversing letters – ‘b’ as ‘d’, ‘p’ as ‘q’, ‘e’ as ‘a’, ‘f’ as ‘g’, ‘m’ as ‘w’ and others
  • Difficulty copying from the teacher’s board

Making her weakness her superpower

Living with dyslexia, made Rajendran focus on her strong points. She relied on her communication skills to forge strong friendships at college and later at her workplace. Assessing her strong points, she later chose a career as a business development executive. She says that working on her core strengths helped her grow professionally.

Similarly, Dr Chandrashekar advises teachers to encourage students with learning disabilities to focus on strengths and talents, and give exemptions as mentioned in the disability act 2016. For example, he said that a child with language difficulty will be given language exemption and one facing issues with numbers is exempted from mathematics exams.

Workplace challenges

One of the problems, Rajendran encountered at her workplace was revealing her condition to her colleagues and her team lead. She found it extremely difficult at her first job, where she did not tell them about it, fearing professional repercussions which resulted in an increase in her stress levels. For her second job, she made a conscious decision to confide in her colleagues and also the management. Expressing her concerns to them helped her immensely as they offered her support and encouragement. “They were empathetic, not sympathetic,” says Rajendran, which made her stronger. “Express your challenges at your workplace,” is her advice to others, “as your colleagues will always support you”.

Don’t be ashamed of being known as a neuro-divergent person 

Being dyslexic is not something to be looked down upon, and Rajendran speaks about the power of acceptance from society, urging neurotypicals not to ridicule people who have difficulty spelling words or reading. Her message for people diagnosed with dyslexia is to not give up and appeals to their inner strength and creativity, asking them to be proud and not ashamed of being known as a neuro-divergent person.

Globally 2%-3% of children, tend to have learning challenges. Dr. H Chandrashekar advises teachers in schools to be helped with simple screening tools to provide special attention to children with learning disabilities. He also advises teachers to encourage students who are slow readers and help them to focus on strengths and talents, giving them exemptions as mentioned in The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

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