In Conversation with D.Chandrasekhar (Founder and President) – Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA)

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Dyslexia is more common than you might think. Dyslexia International suggests that between 5-10% of the population experience dyslexia, which equates to around 700 million people worldwide. 1 in every 6 children experience dyslexia.

It took a battalion of a film like Taare Zameen Par in 2007 starring a star actor to awaken awareness and destigmatize dyslexia.

So what prompted Mr. Chandrasekhar to take it upon himself and start the Madras Dyslexia Association in 1991?

Explaining the trigger factor to start the non-profit organization, he said it happened over a special dinner with Hazel Mackay, former vice president of British Dyslexia Association who advised him to start a platform for dyslexic kids as not many were aware of the disorder and would tag the child as “dumb”. Being a parent of a dyslexic child himself, he resonated with the idea. A group of parents, a few special educators and philanthropists joined hands with Chandrasekhar to start MDA in 1992. The rest is history!

Talking about the Upside of Dyslexia and more, here are some excerpts from the conversation with Chandrasekhar :

Tell us about MDA?

The Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA) is a non-profit service organization that takes a pragmatic approach to helping dyslexic children. MDA has grown to bring awareness to several districts in Tamilnadu, and now hosts learning centers at more than a dozen schools.

For those whose needs are not easily met within the conventional school structure, we have ANANYA, a full-time remediation center and research center to study the behavioral pattern of dyslexic kids.

We have designed and developed a range of awareness and remedial training programs for helping dyslexic children. MDA provides expertise in the areas of identification, assessment, remediation techniques, and teacher training to overcome this learning difficulty.

We have also currently digitized some of our offerings so we can reach and help a bigger audience. Avaz is one such initiative. MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia is a reading app for individuals with Dyslexia. It is a reading application that can be downloaded from the PlayStore. The app can be a kid’s reading buddy, providing hints and help every step of the way.

What crucial role does MDA play for a child diagnosed to be dyslexic?

Parents are often faced with a situation, where the school informs them that their child is having difficulties coping in the classroom and not performing in the tests. Sometimes, parents themselves see that their child is not performing to his potential though not brought up by the school. They don’t know what the problem with the child is but would like to find out and provide the adequate help. Such guided counseling and assessment is one of the many assistance provided by MDA. We cater to children up to mid-higher secondary currently.

What has been a major challenge over the overwhelming 25+ years? 

The most common challenge is parents going through denial that their child is dyslexic. And in some cases, even worse is the lack of awareness. Intervention at the early stages could make a world of difference. Misunderstood and branded, children with un-addressed Dyslexia risk growing into adults with various problems, including psychological ones. It is important for teachers and parents to understand that dyslexia is simply a learning difficulty and a different ability, not a disability.

The MDA Difference?

Once you’ve been labeled, it’s easy to project disappointment out into the world and even easier for society to mirror your shame right back at you. Compounded by time, this humiliation becomes so codified that it’s hard to see yourself in a new light. MDA strives to work with kids early on from the identification stage and help them perceive that their challenges are actually huge opportunities. Helping them navigate to such a mental well-being can make a whole world of difference to their lives.

If we suspend the limiting connotations of dyslexia or any other learning disability, neurodivergent people can recognize the liberating truth that each human mind contains the potential for a hyper-ability just waiting to be discovered.

A word to parents and teachers?

Don’t just put all the children in one box; There’s a whole creative side of people and not everybody is analytical, not everybody is a bookworm. Each brain is wired differently; not right, not wrong, it is just what is.

Tom Cruise, Orlando Bloom, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, Paul Wellstone, Henry Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney, Agatha Christie. Who knew or cared that they were dyslexic? They are all creative geniuses!

Let’s celebrate educators like Chandrasekhar and his team who go above and beyond to truly change lives. After all, education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

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