Dyslexia is a learning disability which is rarely focused on or understood in India. Yet, it can be diagnosed in as many as 15 per cent of all school-going children. This disability can be broadly divided into three categories: Visual dyslexia, in which letters and numerals are often reversed with faulty sequencing of letters in the spelling. The child also suffers disorientation of time and space and in recalling visual images. In auditory dyslexia, there is difficulty in integrating what is heard and recalling those sounds and identifying them with their printed symbols. The third category is a combination of both visual and auditory dyslexia. Interestingly, research shows that a male child is far more likely to suffer from this disability. The causes for dyslexia are not entirely clear, but birth traumas like oxygen deprivation, medicines for seizures and head-injuries can be possible reasons. Social class, home environment or intellect have nothing to do with it.
For Sodhi, the career switch from juvenile delinquency and criminology to teaching was necessitated as her own children were too young and required attention. Formal training followed, with five years at the Learning Centre Programme for children with learning disabilities in the American School. On her early days, she says: "I started with a small group of parents, talking to schools, doing workshops and had to put up with a lot of resistance. My only motivation was that I was trained and people knew little about this disorder. I believe one should share knowledge, not just acquire it." True, for many school teachers fail to recognise dyslexic children, which in turn puts pressure on the child and many simply drop out.
Post-training, she set up the first learning centre in St Columba's School in New Delhi, and also an informal school from her home in Hauz Khas, New Delhi. "Initially, when we worked out of the house, the noise would upset my family," she recalls. Now, the school has over 80 children who work in groups of six to a teacher. Each teacher is trained and works for a monthly salary of Rs 3,500 to Rs 6,500. Explains Sodhi: "We tried volunteers, but it just did not work. They weren't committed enough." The level of hard work it takes with these children has meant that the school sees a 30 per cent burnout rate amongst the teachers.
And the reason is easy to discern. While dyslexia does mean a difficulty in oral and writing abilities and sequencing problems which lead to low achievement in comparison to peers, dyslexic children also suffer from secondary trauma. Often, due to inept handling, the secondary problem gets aggravated, causing severe adjustment problems. Hence the high turnover of teachers.
The school offers the facility for diagnosis and remediation. The diagnosis is done by Sodhi personally, as even her most trusted and old hands have made errors. Apart from school, after-noon sessions are held for individual students.
The school's sustenance is based on a three-tier fee structure: well-to-do parents pay a monthly fee of Rs 1,500, the not-so-well-off pay half of that and the poor study for free. When the figures don't add up, her husband, P.S. Sodhi, an arms and ammunition exporter and champion shooter, chips in. Aid, foreign and governmental, is something she has kept assiduously away from. Governmental because, "it would impose restrictions we may not be able to accommodate." Foreign, "because I'm too patriotic. We can do this on our own," says she. This zeal has resulted in her refusing the American School offer to return as "she wants to work with Indian kids. They can get anyone, but these kids don't have many to turn to."
Despite the strain of keeping the 'crusade' going, there has never been a question leaving for a more paying job. She explains: "I can't stop even though I'm very tired. I haven't found anyone to carry on the work." To help, contact: Educare, M-2 Hauz Khas, New Delhi-110016, Phone: 6857560, 6565061.