This was a post I had written when I was back in India. I had watched ‘Taare Zameen Par’ [It’s a Bollywood movie, translated to stars on earth] upon the insistence of some friends as it would appeal to the psychologist in me. The thing is, I did watch it from a psychologist’s perspective. And I ended up with this:
Dear Aamir Khan,
Firstly, I must thank you for bringing to light the issue of learning difficulties in a country like India where knowledge about it is close to nothing and everyone is expected to perform at a high level. However, I have a number of issues with what has been presented in terms of the reading disorder (read: I will not get into how horrible the teachers and the father were).
1. Teachers DO NOT diagnose a learning difficulty. And for good reason. I have nothing against teachers (hell, I admire them!) but depicting that teachers can diagnose kids with dyslexia is a bit too far-fetched. They can identify that a child has problems but the rest is up to psychologists or speech pathologists to assess and diagnose (depending on the disorder)
2. You have depicted the central character as having difficulties making friends. Individuals with reading disorders are NOT socially inept. You seem to be confusing that with someone with an intellectual disability or an autism spectrum disorder.
3. You have portrayed the boy has having motor-coordination difficulties. Motor-coordination problems are NOT one of the symptoms of individuals with a reading disorder. They are not even an indicator of a reading disorder (to those that don’t know the movie, the kid is shown as a baby who had difficulties when learning to walk etc).
4. You have shown the character as having difficulties with executive functioning such as being disorganised, difficulty in time management, difficulty planning etc. Executive functioning problems are actually seen in kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder/attention-deficit disorder.
5. Young children with reading disorders do not have difficulties in basic maths. This means maths without the word problems but rather just addition, subtraction, multiplication, division sums. They may have problems later on in maths in terms of word problems but that is because they cannot understand what they are reading. The child you have depcited could have learning difficulties in all areas or below average intelligence but is unlikely to have dyslexia in that case. And this brings me back to the point that teachers do not diagnose learning difficulties.
The reason the last point is particularly important is because this aspect of the movie probably gives the message to parents that “if you can do well in maths, you should be able to do well in other subjects”
I wish you had looked up the DSM-IV for a clearer idea on the criteria for a reading disorder and how it is distinguished from a general learning difficulty, attention-deficit disorder and autism spectrum disorders. It would have added a lot more realism to the movie.
But, then again, it is Bollywood. And I guess I cannot expect too much. I should be happy that at least you have tried to put the message out there. But as always, I question everything.
A psychologist that has diagnosed children with reading disorders.