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22 May, 2010 06:10

Dyslexia – changing perceptions from idleness to illness

When Russian schoolchildren struggle with reading and writing, parents and teachers often assume they are either lazy or just slow to learn, while in many other countries they would be checked for dyslexia.

Very few in Russia are aware of the problem, and although much more is now being done to change that, campaigners still face an uphill battle.

Grisha always had problems reading, writing and even understanding words.

His mother, Svetlana, who is a librarian, could not understand why.

“I used to get angry at him and lose patience,” Svetlana Dokina recalls. “And at school he felt like a loser. He had low self-esteem.”

Eventually, Grisha was diagnosed with severe dyslexia – an inherent difficulty in processing language. Now the 12-year-old is home schooled.

“I hated coming up to answer questions in front of the blackboard,” Grisha Dokin remembers. “But now that I have a one-to-one tutor, it's better.”

Grisha hopes to return to his class next year, but his story is not typical.

It is not just the children not knowing why they are not succeeding at school, but often their teachers as well.

Dyslexia does not enjoy nearly the high profile in Russia that it has in the West, meaning there might be thousands of children with undiagnosed dyslexia in the Russian educational system, who may be left with problems that last them a lifetime.

Educational psychologist Tatyana Goguadze says the problem is not just the schoolwork itself, but that dyslexic children are treated as lazy or stupid.

Clinics like hers have sprung up all over Russia, to compensate for lack of official attention.

“In Russia the problem is that dyslexic children are not identified until late, and also it's almost entirely down to the parents to deal with the problem,” Goguadze states.

At Grisha's old school, teachers say that even when they have a medically certified case of dyslexia, there is only so much they can do.

“Grisha's teachers had to dedicate extra resources to him at the expense of other children,” said Marina Volchek, the school’s headmistress. “In a class of 30, these children also drag others down.”

To solve the problem, the government must dedicate more attention to shifting the attitudes to dyslexia, as well as resources to rectifying it.

Otherwise, it risks losing a generation of children from the educational system.