A shadow is a poor substitute for substance. The appearance of love cannot be equated to genuine love. If we agree love wants the best for others then there are some vital issues we should begin to look at instead of pretending they don’t exist. Let’s not bury our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich who foolishly believes that by doing so, no-one can see him since he can’t see anyone. Whether we’re ready to admit it or not, many of our children have Special Educational Needs. In particular, we need to recognize the life destroying role Dyslexia plays by retarding so many innocent lives. Innocent, because most people who suffer this condition in Nigeria don’t even know they have it. They have never been diagnosed. Instead of producing delicious figs in abundance as a good fig tree should, they find themselves condemned to an ineffectual life of barrenness much like the proverbial fig tree struck dead by Jesus for not fulfilling its purpose of producing fruit. They stagger miserably through school, lampooned by teachers and classmates alike; mocked as stupid, dense and dull, wondering why they struggle with what others easily get. “What is wrong with me?” they wonder, as frustration precedes depression. Restless greatness remains hemmed in inside of them because they lack a guide to navigate it out. Eventually, they crumble under the relentless barrage of insults, jettison all ambition and resign themselves to a life of mediocrity. After all, how can the boy become a doctor when he gets all his numbers jumbled up? Simple maths, he can’t do. How can her dream to become a hotshot lawyer ever materialize when she struggles to read a simple sentence? “Maybe I am as dumb as mummy and daddy say I am after all” she sighs. This is the stark reality of many a dyslexic in Nigeria. Self-confidence, self- belief, self esteem, all gone.
Dyslexia, a recognized learning disorder is a condition that makes it very difficult for one to read, write or spell because the brain’s language processing is wired somewhat differently to what the majority of us call regular. Both alphabets and numbers look jumbled up, which makes it difficult to make sense of what one is reading. Some sufferers even find it hard to follow what’s being said so a little extra effort may be required to slow down speech or break it down for them but do you know the ironic thing? This condition doesn’t in any way compromise intelligence. Many dyslexics are highly intelligent and creative. In fact you find that a disproportionately high number of celebrated entrepreneurs in the western world are dyslexic. I’m sure such names as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Will Smith and Whoopi Goldberg sound more than vaguely familiar. Why didn’t I mention names closer to home, you may ask? They would certainly serve as a more relatable source of inspiration but to be frank, I can’t point to a single notable Nigerian who has ever publicly acknowledged to be dyslexic and I can think of two reasons why this is so. One, there’s a distinctive possibility they don’t know. Two, our society is one where appearances take centre stage. The slightest indication that one is different automatically exposes one to taunts, mockery or condescending looks at best. Here – different, vulnerable and inferior are synonymous and once you make the mistake of appearing like a wounded lion, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of heckling hyenas. Some will even go as far telling their children not to sit next to “that boy” in class, as if every condition is contagious. This reminds me of a friend’s sister who’s involved with one of the associations of the blind in Nigeria. She said she was so disappointed, no disgusted, when a supposed university educated music star visited one of their centres and sternly refused to have body contact with any of the blind children because he didn’t want blindness “to catch him”. How stupid is that? Unfortunately, such ignorance is still common place in this part of the world but we still talk of love.
Dyslexics possess an uncanny ability to see the big picture as they sift swiftly through the unnecessary. Many ooze of creativity, maybe as a result of living day-in day-out with adversity. They get so used to living with challenges that they develop remarkable resilience and an uncommon can-do spirit. This makes them excellent problem solvers which is why Richard Branson regards it an asset and not a liability. He’s quick to tell anyone how his dyslexia puts him at an advantage over his competitors. Also, hear Brett Kopf, the dyslexic CEO of Remind, a teaching resource, “I was taught at a young age, by living with dyslexia, that when things seem impossible, you just find a way.”
But of course these are the lucky ones who live in a society where this condition is better acknowledged, where most are diagnosed on time and the right intervention is readily available. That’s why it saddens me to be informed an estimated 20% of Nigerians suffer from this condition that the average Nigerian has never even heard of. Heck, 90% of our teachers aren’t even aware of it! With a population of 200 million, that’s a staggering 40 million dyslexic Nigerians! Only God knows how many Steven Spielbergs, Albert Einsteins or David Boies (all dyslexics) have fallen through the cracks in our country over the years and are still falling through right now. According to a survey conducted by the Dyslexia Foundation of Nigeria, the numbers shoot up dramatically at public schools, with one in three living with this learning handicap. Hear what David Boies has to say about the condition he has had to live with all his life. “Reading has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s just one way of getting information. The important thing is how a person processes that information, the kind of person we are, the contributions we make and the kind of utility we have for society.”
David Boies, undoubtedly amongst the most successful lawyers in the United States couldn’t read until he was nine years old. He says his dyslexia is a gift as it led him to develop other cognitive skills such as in depth understanding of issues and a prodigious memory which helped to catapult him to the very top of his profession. Needless to say, there must be many David Boies’s in Nigeria waiting to be noticed and discovered.
I have no doubt that our dear country has lost many of it’s greatest minds over the years, not because they died, for we must all do that one day but because they went through life unnoticed. Their packaging just didn’t conform to societal expectations and so they were consigned to the waste bin. The past is gone but the present is with us, here and now. It’s our move.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time.