Phyllis Munyi was happy to grow her family to two children. Her first child being easy to handle, nothing out of the ordinary occurred.
So, when it was time for Felix, her second son, to go to school, Phyillis expected a similar pattern as her eldest son, Christopher who had gone through nursery school.
The first two years passed without anything suspicious.
“Felix was going through the normal learning difficulties that children his age faced. However, he couldn’t repeat the songs he’d learnt in school as the neighbours’ children did,” Phyllis recalls.
At Standard Two, she began to notice something strange with Felix’s reading and writing.
“As I helped him with homework, I noticed he read ‘b’ and ‘d’ the same, and always wrote ‘boy’ as ‘doy’,” said Phyllis.
This got her overly upset with Felix, thinking that he was just being lazy.
“I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t spell a three-letter word such as boy,” she points out.
Another parent, Lydia Amondi, also noticed her son could not read at all.
“My son, Trevor, was in Standard One, and would literally get stuck with his home-work. He had not interest in studying and preferred outdoor activities.
“I was always infuriated in his outdoor interests, especially coming from a background of a highly educated family. I felt Trevor should naturally follow suit. I did not understand his inability to read or even recognise letters,” Lydia says.
Lydia and Phyllis employed corporal punishment on their children, in the hope that it would undo the ‘lazy’ nature in thier children at an early age.
One day, while Phyllis was at the university waiting to take her exam, she came across a newspaper with a story titled ‘Children who write doy for boy’.
She was hooked. As she read it, she began to realise that the description given in the article was pinpointing at her son’s condition, in its exact intensity.
Phyllis, her burden finally lifted, started by sharing her new found information with her immediate family about her son’s condition, dyslexia.
“I was so excited that I finally had a diagnosis for this condition. I rushed home and showed my husband, and then the following day, I showed my sister. Later I went to my son’s school, and gave them a talk during the parents-teachers association meeting,” she says.
When Phyllis’ son was in his third term in Standard Six, the teachers called her to school to tell her that she’ld have to find another school for her son, or else he would have to repeat the class citing poor performance.
“I was so upset knowing I had taken them through series of trainings about dyslexia and how to handle it, and here they were discriminating my son against the very thing that they claimed they understood.
“I told the teacher, that my son would not repeat or leave the school. I further warned them not to trip my wire by harassing my son as a result of his lack of performance,” she adds.
In2010, That’s when she started the Dyslexia Kenya Organisation to reach out to other parents who were facing the same challenge, but were unaware of the condition, and help them know how to effectively deal with it.
On the other hand, Trevor’s mother, burdened by the frustration of her child’s reading difficulty, took her son out of school enrolling him into full-time swimming classes in the morning and private reading classes in the afternoon.
“It’s after sharing with a friend about my son’s reading pattern that I was told he could be dyslexic.
She went into the Internet and got a lot of information about dyslexia. She also came across Dyslexia in Kenya, and met Phillys Munyi, Director of Dyslexia Kenya.
Dyslexia Kenya has focused its energies to creating awareness, train teachers in line of programmes designed by Dyslexia International Organisation, which Phyllis had to go to the UK to train on. The organisation is a member of the International Dyslexia Organisation, a global governing body based in the USA.
Phyllis urges parents not to panic when they discover that their children have a learning disability. She says that the first step one has to take is to take the child for assessment.
“Once you suspect that your child has learning difficulties, bring them for assessment to ascertain whether they are dyslexic,” she says.
So, just what is dyslexia? And how can you detect it early?
“It’s a reading disorder that occurs when the brain does not properly recognise and process certain symbols. The child is not able to read or comprehend words and letters as is expected of them, or as per the milestones expected in the different levels of learning. For instance, a child may not be able to identify certain words, and pronounce them, but can identify individual letters,” says Phyllis.
Others see the letters in reverse mode, while others confuse letters like ‘u’ and ‘n’, ‘m’ and ‘w’, ‘b’ and ‘d’. However, it is important to note that children at the kindergarten stage may confuse letters, but the cause of concern is if the problem persists for longer than is expected. Another indicator of a dyslexic child is when they spell words according to how they are pronounced. For example, they would spell the word ‘drawing’ as ‘droing’, or ‘elephant’ as ‘elefant’.
Problem areas vary from individual to individual. Others, while having a conversation, may confuse words that sound the same, but mean different things. For example, ‘surprise’ for ‘suppose’, or ‘commemorate’ as ‘communication’. Dyslexic children also have trouble reading double letter words like, ‘little’, ‘’fiddle’, ‘wiggle.’
“What is confusing for the parents is that when you interact with dyslexic children, they come across as intelligent, passionate, and can easily have a conversation and relate with people of all ages,” notes Phyllis.
They are charismatic, and tend to be the ‘crowd pullers’ and ‘trend setters’, but when it comes to reading and comprehension, they are considerably slower than others.
The only major challenge that dyslexic children face is that the 8-4-4 system does not cater for their needs. The system relies heavily on memory; while dyslexic children learn by using the other sensory organs, especially, touch.
One of the characteristics of dyslexic children is that they can spend hours engaging in activities involving use of hands, as in the case of Trevor, and are creative. In addition, they have a photographic memory; therefore, once they have committed something to their minds they will never forget it. Hence they learn by doing.
“In the olden days, we used to learn by writing the alphabets on the earthen ground, by moulding with clay and writing on tablets. Currently, childen do not even get to play outdoor games, therefore, making the situation even more grievous,” says Phyllis.
Dyslexia Kenya, started a school in January this year, which caters for dyslexic children. It gives them the environment to thrive using a module that is highly practical, and based on some of the models designed by Dyslexia International. Lydia, Trevor’s mother, has enrolled her son in that school — Rare Gem Talent School and his performance has tremendously improved.
“He has become more confident in his abilities, his reading has improved, and more so, he’s accepted himself the way he is,” says Lydia.