State needs to recognize dyslexia
Parents must request in writing for their child to be assessed for any and all real or suspected reading disabilities ASAP. Do not reply on the OPINIONS of the school teachers or administrators in this matter.
My daughter was in first grade when I asked the teacher to talk about the fact that she still couldn’t read.
“Jennifer can’t read?” she responded incredulously. “But she’s such a good little girl.”
I knew then that we were on our own.
With a younger son who was reading by 3 and correcting my pronunciation of Dr. Seuss stories, my daughter would shyly snuggle with her head on my shoulder as I read her favorite books. But she couldn’t make out words or even letters. Her clever wit, verbal skills and perfect behavior meant that no one else noticed despite attending a university-based pre-K and kindergarten class.
Thankfully, perseverance and a wise second-grade teacher who offered some sage advice — teach her everything three ways: visually, aurally and tactilely — helped us stay on course. Later, Jennifer would attend years of “special ed” reading classes that put her in the same room with kids who had a variety of so-called “learning disabilities.”
Despite screening in two school districts, which both resulted in a cryptic declaration of an unexplained learning disability, it was a fourth-grade teacher who let slip the D-word — dyslexia, “a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder that interferes with the acquisition and processing of language,” according to the International Dyslexia Association.
That was in the 1970s, but talking with parents of children with dyslexia today I realize that not much has changed. School districts can’t diagnose dyslexia because they are not doctors. Doctors can’t diagnose dyslexia because it is not a medical condition. Teachers often don’t recognize dyslexia because it is rarely taught in their education courses.
According to the National Institutes for Health, 80 percent of students in special education classes have dyslexia, and an estimated one in every 10 children has dyslexia. Yet, that study showed that only one in 10 children with dyslexia are identified by schools has having a reading disability. Children with dyslexia come from all social, economic, ethnic and language demographics. They represent all levels of intelligence, and their experience with dyslexia can range from mild to profound.
Despite the prevalence of dyslexia, teachers report they learned almost nothing about dyslexia. Traditional teacher education programs do not focus on this condition that so many of their students will have.
School districts develop programs meant to address those learning disabilities, but most refuse to even use the word. If district, state and federal funding for special ed generally does not apply specifically to dyslexia, there is no motivation to diagnose the condition.
Parents don’t know what to do. Traditional assistance — schools and doctors — offers little help. Children with dyslexia are frustrated, can experience depression as a result and often become disruptive. At the same time, it is important to note that hundreds of famous people also had dyslexia — from Albert Einstein and Alexander Graham Bell to John Lennon and Agatha Christie.
So what do we do about it? Missouri needs to change its laws regarding special education funding to include dyslexia, as Arkansas did this year. Universities need to include basic and advanced instruction in recognizing and addressing dyslexia in the classroom (something easily done using the highly successful Orton-Gillingham method). School districts need to put dyslexia on their front burners.
One local district has done just that. Nixa Public Schools will have its first Flight Academy, a small class of eight third-graders who exhibit characteristics of dyslexia. The district decided that this had to be done, even if state funding wouldn’t pay for it. Burrell Behavioral Health and Cox Health are helping pay for the classroom teacher, Jennifer Williams. The district saw it as part of its mission to help all students reach their maximum potential, and the goal is to expand the program backward to pre-kindergarten.
I wish such a program was available when my daughter was in school.