Understanding dyslexia, and how to deal with it

Alarm bells went off when MCC member Moudi Bint Fahad’s daughter revealed she couldn’t read when she was home schooling. Since then, Moudi has made understanding dyslexia her top priority in bid to help her daughter thrive


Imagine if your child said to you one day, ‘Mummy, I can’t read.’ What would you think? What would you do? Depending on the age of the child, this might set some alarm bells (and phones) ringing, and search engines whirring as you tried to understand what they meant exactly. If you were lucky, perhaps you’d have a teacher, colleague, or trusted friend who might be able to shed some light on things, and they might calmly mention the possibility of dyslexia – a learning disorder that’s widely known for impacting the way in which an individual is able to read and write.

This scenario – or something very close to it – played out for MCC member Moudi Bint Fahad, when her daughter Sama was due to begin first grade. During her last term at kindergarten, the COVID-19 pandemic unfurled and Moudi took on Sama’s education at home.

‘She would tell me “Mama, I don’t know how to read”,’ says Moudi. ‘And I always thought, you know she’s just young – she knows her letters but she can’t get the words out. So I was saying “Don’t worry, you’ll learn, it’s ok!”. I think what she meant to tell me was “it’s not clear”, but she didn’t know if that was normal or not, and I didn’t want to emphasise the issue.’ Over the next few months, aware of this, Moudi spent a lot of time one-on-one with her daughter and saw some progress in her learning.

Just before school was due to start, however, Moudi got a call from a tutor, recommended by Moonfame, who was helping Sama prepare for school. ‘She said “It’s nothing wrong or serious – Sama might be dyslexic. It might be very mild, and she may outgrow it, but maybe get it checked.”’ Moudi took that as a cue to find out more about dyslexia in general, and also to seek out help for her daughter.


Scrabble letter spelling 'Dyslexia' / Shutterstock

What is dyslexia?

While some specialists argue that the disorder doesn’t have a ‘clear diagnostic profile’, it’s widely acknowledged that dyslexia ‘affects a child’s ability to recognise and manipulate the sounds in language.’* This can make it hard for individuals with dyslexia to decode words – whether typed or handwritten – and therefore, impacts their progress on tasks that require reading, writing and spelling.

Dyslexia is not rare though. It’s thought to affect roughly 1 in 5 children, although it can sometimes go completely undiagnosed; it’s not unheard of for people to go all the way through their schooling (even as far as university) without anyone registering or addressing their dyslexia. As those with the disorder are often attributed with strong visual, creative and problem-solving abilities, they may find ways to work around the challenge they face, meaning it’s less obvious to their teachers and parents. 

An issue with this is that sometimes a student’s difficulties are attributed to other things – because they are usually bright, if they fall behind academically there’s a chance they could be mis-labelled as ‘lazy’ or ‘problem children’. This was something Moudi was adamant she wanted to avoid for Sama, so she started to contact various professionals to find out what she could do.


Girl with head on books / Shutterstock

Getting assessed: overcoming the challenges

Finding help proved more challenging than Moudi had imagined. Many centres for learning difficulties in Riyadh were geared up to deal with dyslexia only if it co-occurred with other learning disorders, such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder), which Sama did not have.

Further to that, the specialists wanted to hold off on a diagnosis. ‘They were telling me “she’s still too young to assess”, and that I should wait until she was 8 or 9, which to me is a little too late – if you’re not confident from the beginning you can feel ashamed to participate in school, and I really didn’t want her to go through that struggle. That’s what frustrated me – why should I wait?’

This was a valid reaction from the mother of three; many children with dyslexia struggle with self-expression and self-esteem which, if left unchecked, can start to impact on their behaviour, mood and confidence. ‘I started looking into someone to assess her, and I only found two people [who dealt specifically with dyslexia], one in Riyadh, the other in the Eastern Province of Saudi,’ says Moudi. Luckily, the consultant in Riyadh agreed to see Sama and, after two assessments, he diagnosed her with dyslexia. The next step? To get her the help she needed. 


Book full of question marks / Dyslexia / Shutterstock

My child has been diagnosed as dyslexic. Now what?

While this might all sound quite worrying to a parent, it’s important to remember that once the signs of dyslexia are picked up, and if it is diagnosed, it’s actually very manageable. Those who experience the disorder can employ simple techniques and learning styles, from wearing ChromaGen glasses (with particular coloured lenses) to specially designed reading programmes – the methods used depend on the severity of the issues that each individual encounters.

As some treatments lean on the idea of memorising word lists to boost recognition, it can also be tricky if the child is (like Sama) multilingual – they may have to focus on one language, and compromise on others.

Often teachers are the first to pick up on any difficulties, so it’s good to involve them in the process if your child is diagnosed with dyslexia – if they understand the particular needs of each child, they are better able to offer additional help or ensure extra time is granted during exams. ‘It’s just a matter of awareness, you know?” Moudi says. ‘What hurts most is that children with dyslexia would be labelled as “lazy” – it’s not that at all. They can still be successful [academically and beyond], it’s just that they won’t be learning in the typical way at school.’


Child writing in book / Shutterstock

Staying positive

While dyslexia isn’t curable, using a personalised set of tried-and-tested techniques really does see results… in all areas of the dyslexic person’s life, as Moudi can verify. ‘Sama’s doing amazingly in both Arabic and in English. She doesn’t feel a bit hesitant or embarrassed if she makes mistakes, and that was the most important thing. One time I forgot her glasses and was going back to the car to get them, and she told me, “No, don’t worry, I can work it out. The letters will dance a little, but you know what, I think I can do it”. The most important thing is to keep her confidence high, no matter what. Do that and everything else can be resolved.’




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Words by Alanna Freeman
Image credit: Shutterstock


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