One day in 2006, a family friend's daughter met me in Kota Kinabalu city. She said that her son could not read and when I asked her how old he was she said that he was 5 years old. I replied that he was still young and asked her to come back to me when he was 6. I told her that I teach only kids who know the alphabets well. She quickly responded that he knew his alphabet and that his cousins who were the same age as him could read better than him. After much persuasion from her I asked her to bring him to my house that Saturday. Let us call him Ted (not his real name). I am not using the real names of any of my students.
Ted, a very small boy for his age, came that Saturday. I asked him to read from a book used by kindergartens here. His parents were sitting not very far from where I was teaching. I usually sit to the left of my students as I am right handed. I read the book twice and then asked Ted to read. Ted read all of the sentences perfectly. I then pointed out to the parents that there seems to be no problem with his reading. In fact he was reading very well. The parents insisted that I continue teaching him and there started a beautiful friendship between Ted and I.I called him 'hi friend' and he liked that very much.
On his second day I brought out the same book and asked him to read. He read it just as well as he had read it the first time. However I saw or thought I saw him reading without looking at the words. I said to my son, Hakim, in Tamil (so that Ted will not know what I said) to sit across the table and watch Ted's eyes. Hakim confirmed that Ted was not looking at the words. Hakim, on his own accord, brought his white board and wrote out all the letters (large letters) and I asked Ted to read out the letters I pointed at random and sure enough Ted read them all. I took out a book with large letters and pointing to the letter 'S' asked Ted what it was and he happily said 'S'. I then pointed to an 'S' in smaller print and to my surprise he said he did not know. A few more tests and I was quite sure he had an eye problem. How do I say this to his mother in the best possible manner. This is not an easy thing to tell a parent and is sensitive. Anyway, when his mother came to pick him up I informed her that I may be wrong but asked her to get his eyes checked. I explained to her why I thought so. I told her that he had memorized the words in the book in the two readings I had made. He looked at the pictures and read out the sentences without looking at the words.
That evening I received a telephone call from Ted's mother and I could hear how thrilled she was. She was probably jumping for joy from what the doctor had told her. Ted has had astigmatism since birth. Now the mother could figure out why Ted had always wanted to sit right in front when he watched T.V. with his siblings. She was happy because she now knew what Ted's problem was. She now knew that Ted was "Not Stupid".
For Ted's next lesson he wore spectacles. He read very well. I enjoyed teaching him for two months and told his mother that there was no need for tuition with me.
What a neat story. Good detective work.
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