Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done
As dyslexia does not have clear medical criteria, there is no specific, definitive test to diagnose it. (GettyImages)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

MAKKAH: Dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty with reading, is common but for many years there was a widespread lack of awareness about it in Saudi Arabia. As a result people with the condition often did not get the help they needed.
This has changed significantly in recent years thanks to community-awareness campaigns, through which Saudis have learned more about the condition. This is helping with early recognition and intervention but challenges remain.
This month is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion advocates and campaign groups in the Kingdom are stepping up their efforts to educate the community and show how knowledge is key to changing the narrative about people with learning difficulties.
According to specialists and people with dyslexia, media awareness campaigns in the past few years and the decision by Saudi authorities last September to officially classify it as a learning disorder have helped to improve the rights of people with the condition. They also said that modern diagnostic techniques mean that official figures for dyslexia in Saudi Arabia are much more accurate than they once were.
The condition was identified in 1881 by Dr. Rudolf Berlin, a German ophthalmologist in Stuttgart. A pioneer in his field, he was the first to describe it, and give it a name, in his paper Eine Besondere Art der Wortblindheit: Dyslexie (A Special Type of Word Blindness: Dyslexia), which was published in 1887. This formed the basis for all subsequent research, thanks to his systematic description of the condition.
Dr. Muhannad Al-Ali, a neurologist at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, said that dyslexia is a newly prevalent disorder in the Kingdom, meaning that until recently it was not classified as a condition. The amount of research carried out since the 1990s globally remains modest, he added.
Many people with dyslexia are unaware they have condition, he said, since the amount of time we spend on traditional forms of reading has declined. As a result, it can be difficult to accurately diagnose.
“Dyslexics find it difficult to comprehend what they read,” Al-Ali told Arab News. “They can read the first line but get tired and lose focus when reading the next.
“It is possible for a dyslexic to be able to read WhatsApp messages, for example, but unable to read a book or articles.” He further explained that because dyslexia does not have clear, consistent medical criteria associated with it, there is no specific, definitive test to diagnose it.
This can result in years of suffering by patients who later in life finally discover they have dyslexia, Al-Ali added.
“It arises with the child’s upbringing and often has roots in the area of the brain that handles comprehension, reading and cognition, and there are studies showing genetic and hereditary factors, but there is no clear and direct reason as to why a person has dyslexia,” he said.
Recent studies have clarified the significant role of functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain activity in determining the nature of the condition, Al-Ali explained.
This could be promising since cognitive behavioral therapy — in which a therapist provides a model for an appropriate behavioral response to a situation and the patient tries to copy that, receiving feedback on their attempt — has had significant benefits for some people with dyslexia.
Ibtisam Al-Samali, who is dyslexic and works as an engineer, said that community awareness is still at an early stage, but the situation is improving thanks to the good work of campaigners.
But she added that accurate figures for the number of people with dyslexia in Saudi Arabia are not available as the country lacks a unified, accredited body to identify and monitor people with the condition.
Al-Samali said she only learned about dyslexia when she was at university. Describing it as an invisible disability, she praised the efforts of civil society institutions and businesses to make a difference to people with the condition. She highlighted in particular the efforts of STC Pay which, as part of a community partnership, is helping to raise awareness of the condition through messages posted on social media.
“The road ahead is still long, as support is needed to establish the Saudi Dyslexia Society in preparation for setting up specialized schools for future dyslexic students, especially since dyslexics can pass this hereditary disability down to their children,” she told Arab News.
Dr. Yahya Al-Qahtani, an expert in special education and learning difficulties at Sultan bin Abdulaziz Humanitarian City said: “Dyslexia includes stuttering, difficulty and boredom in reading and following numbers and letters, and difficulty in focusing on, listening to and understanding the question. It is a disability that can be overcome through innovative educational strategies and methods.”
He added that although it has been identified widely since the 19th century, the disorder is still not clearly defined and not enough attention has been paid to a number of aspects of it, including medical questions concerning the nerves and behavioral effects.
Al-Qahtani added that Saudi Arabia lags some other nations in identifying people with dyslexia and that diagnosis and evaluation differs between schools, which often rely on older testing methods are not always effective.
A response-to-intervention assessment tool is already in use in some schools in Saudi Arabia and comprises three levels, Al-Qahtani said. The first level includes intensive teaching, to which 80 percent of students respond. The second level employs alternative teaching strategies and methods, which helps 15 percent of students. The third level is the provision of special education services, to which the remaining 5 percent of students respond.
He also highlighted the lack of accurate figures on the number of people with dyslexia in Saudi Arabia. About 400,000 students in the country have learning difficulties, he noted, and dyslexia affects about 40 percent of them.
Mohammad Bahareth, who is dyslexic and the founder of the Saudi-based Dyslexia Initiative, thanked the Human Rights Commission and its president, Awad Al-Awwad, who he credited for the official classification of dyslexia as a learning disorder and obtaining the Ministry of Information’s endorsement of the website www.dyslexia.sa as a source of information for people who want to learn more about the condition.
He also said that Arab News was one of the first newspapers to support the initiative.


French culture minister visits historic Jeddah

French culture minister visits historic Jeddah
Updated 04 December 2021

French culture minister visits historic Jeddah

French culture minister visits historic Jeddah
  • Bachelot toured various old parts of Jeddah, known locally as Al-Balad
  • The minister also visited Beit Nassif and Al-Shafei Mosque

JEDDAH: French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot visited Jeddah on Saturday during her visit to Saudi Arabia.  

Bachelot toured various old parts of the city, known locally as Al-Balad, visiting its historic houses and viewing authentic building patterns reflecting the identity and heritage of the region.  

The minister also visited Beit Nassif and Al-Shafei Mosque, where she was briefed on the various facilities, neighborhoods and landmarks that still exist today, and listened to an explanation about the excavation of antiquities carried out across Jeddah. 

Al-Balad, downtown Jeddah and the Gate to Makkah, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last month, Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan praised the strong relations between the Kingdom and France, including their respective cultural heritages, during his meeting with Bachelot in Paris.

The prince discussed ways to strengthen cultural cooperation between the two countries, including through exchange programs and the Historic Jeddah Revival Project, in addition to research and capabilities development.


Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM hold telephone call

Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM  hold telephone call
Updated 52 min 38 sec ago

Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM hold telephone call

Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM  hold telephone call
  • PM expressed Lebanon's appreciation for efforts made by Kingdom and France to stand by Lebanese people
  • Mikati: Government committed to taking all action that would strengthen relations with Kingdom and GCC

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's crown prince and France's president held a telephone call with Lebanon's prime minister on Saturday.

During the phone call, Najib Mikati expressed Lebanon's appreciation for the great efforts made by the Kingdom and France to stand by the Lebanese people.

He added that his government was committed to taking all action that would strengthen relations with Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries and rejects everything that would harm their security and stability.

The three countries agreed to work together to support comprehensive reforms necessary in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and France emphasized their keenness on the establishment of security and stability in Lebanon.

French President Emmanuel Macron met Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al-Salam palace in Jeddah on Saturday during the final leg of his two-day Gulf tour.


Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 04 December 2021

Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 539,011
  • A total of 8,842 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced two deaths from COVID-19 and 29 new infections on Saturday.

Of the new cases, nine were recorded in Riyadh, seven in  Jeddah, three in Makkah, two in Taif, and two in Dhahran. Several other cities recorded one new case each.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 539,011 after 21 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,842 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Over 47.6 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop
Updated 04 December 2021

French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

RIYADH: French President Emmanuel Macron was received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al-Salam palace in Jeddah on Saturday .

The two leaders dicussed bilateral cooperation and issues of interest in the region, and the crown prince hosted a working lunch for the president.

The lunch was also attended by the Crown Prince of Bahrain Prince Salman bin Hamad.

Macron arrived in Jeddah earlier and was received at the airport by Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, governor of Makkah and royal advisor. 

The visit is part of Macron’s Gulf tour, during which he is visiting Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar between Dec. 3 and 4. 

Saudi and French firms are expected to discuss cooperation in several fields including energy, finance and tourism.  

Speaking to the press in Dubai, Macron said Saudi Arabia, the most populated and most powerful country in the Gulf, held the key to preserving peace and stability in the Middle East, and also in the French endeavor to assist Lebanon.


Saudi aid agency discusses education efforts at UN conference

Dr. Hana Salem highlighted the efforts made by Saudi Arabia  to support education. (SPA)
Dr. Hana Salem highlighted the efforts made by Saudi Arabia to support education. (SPA)
Updated 04 December 2021

Saudi aid agency discusses education efforts at UN conference

Dr. Hana Salem highlighted the efforts made by Saudi Arabia  to support education. (SPA)
  • The conference tackled the importance of improving the quality of education, spreading knowledge, exchanging experiences and innovation in times of crisis

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center recently participated virtually in the “Leaving No One Behind: Benefiting from Innovation to Access Quality Education and Information” conference.

This comes within the framework of the annual program “Innovate Now … Live Tomorrow” and the Regional Digital Inclusion Week for Arab States organized by the International Telecommunication Union and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Speakers from the regional offices of UNESCO and concerned authorities participated in the two-day conference.

During the conference, KSrelief was represented by the director of the community support department, Dr. Hana Salem, who highlighted the efforts made by the Kingdom to support education — 89 educational projects were presented in more than 14 countries, at a budget amounting to nearly $200 million.

She touched on the educational projects provided during the coronavirus disease pandemic, indicating that the center works closely with local and international organizations to meet people’s needs and search for appropriate and sustainable solutions to ensure access to education.

She also stressed the center’s keenness to support innovation in educational projects.

For his part, the head of initiatives at the International Telecommunication Union, Alex Wong, discussed the Giga initiative, which aims to connect every school to the internet and ensure access to education for every child.

The conference tackled the importance of improving the quality of education, spreading knowledge, exchanging experiences and innovation in times of crisis, especially in light of the challenges the world is witnessing during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on education.

It also touched on the use of artificial intelligence systems in education and intellectual property rights and the importance of developing educational cadres to keep pace with the need in digital education.