Ninety percent of children with reading difficulties will learn to read on grade level if they receive evidence-based reading instruction by first grade. If instructional staff delays evidence-based intervention, 75% of these children will struggle throughout their school careers.1996 by Vellutino, Scanton, Sipay, Small, Pratt, Chen, and Denkla
My oldest son, Jonah, has dyslexia. His diagnosis was overlooked and unattended for many years, on a campus that is deemed a Texas Exemplary School. We were always involved parents but avoided being helicopter parents. We trusted the teachers and wanted to give them space to do their job. At home we supported Jonah by assisting in hours of homework and participating in activities offered at school. Perfection by educators was never my expectation. Neglect wasn’t either.
Jonah’s story is not unique; unfortunately, it is all too common. Approximately 1 in 5 children who cross every school’s threshold has dyslexia. The trauma our son carried with him as he left school every afternoon became more and more extreme. Deep-seated anxiety became an obstacle that he still works to overcome. Over time, we learned that our second son, Jordan, also has dyslexia, but it wasn’t identified until fifth grade. Despite the research being clear on statistics, signs and symptoms, and best practices for teaching dyslexic children, there is still a gross lack of understanding in the current education and medical systems at hand. Both sons met all developmental milestones at all of their well-child checks that the pediatrician screened for, but at that time we didn’t know there was a simple screener for dyslexia.
Desperate for information after the diagnosis, our reading specialist led us to resources and was able to give us a plan for intervention. Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a Yale University expert on dyslexia, says, “Dyslexia might be an island of weakness but is surrounded by a sea of strengths.” I wish Jonah’s teachers would have told me that during all those conferences. I wonder, did they know?
When we think of great contributors to the world, names from history immediately come to mind: Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci. As we consider our modern world and the many conveniences that impact our lives, names like Ford, the Wright Brothers, and Steve Jobs come to mind. What do they all have in common?
They were all labeled unteachable, struggled in conventional classroom environments, avoided reading, and some required scribes. These individuals all had dyslexia. In fact, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, himself a person with dyslexia, called it the “MIT disease” in his autobiography.
These names are not an exhaustive list. It has been discovered that dyslexic thinkers have made these world-changing accomplishments because of their dyslexic tendencies, not in spite of them. In fact, individuals with dyslexia have unique abilities to solve problems in alternative ways and have heightened creative skills. Galileo Galilei, Pablo Picasso, Agatha Christie, John F. Kennedy, Cher, Octavia Spencer, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Aniston, John Lennon, Andy Warhol, Steven Spielberg, Henry Winkler, Erin Brokovich, Richard Branson, and Dav Pilkey all have dyslexic minds.
Last year, the Texas Education Agency reported that 4% of students in Region 20 were receiving dyslexia services. Twenty percent of students that cross the threshold of school every day have dyslexia, whether identified or not. That means up to 71,145 children in our region are not getting the services they need to read at grade level. Educators see dyslexia in their classrooms every day but may not know how to teach those who have it. Unidentified children may come from families that can afford private tutoring after school. At that, the training capacity of teachers to become Certified Academic Language Therapists in our community is stifled by the lack of capacity and opportunity teachers have to complete this $4,500 training, due to lack of resources, time, or space in a cohort.
In 2019, the nonprofit Celebrate Dyslexia was founded with the mission to celebrate, educate, and empower the 1 in 5 affected by dyslexia. We know teachers want to do their best for children, so they should be equipped to know the signs and symptoms of dyslexia as well as how to make sure accommodations are used in the classroom to remove barriers to learning. Although there are museums dedicated to the innovations and artistic creations of dyslexic minds, dyslexia is still misunderstood and a mystery to many.
With collaboration as the heartbeat of our work, we were proud to bring the traveling exhibit “Beautiful Minds: Dyslexia and the Creative Advantage” to the DoSeum last year. This exhibit will be opening at the Health Museum in Houston from September 2021 through May 2022. In addition, the Magik Theatre is producing an original play in the near future about a student with dyslexia.
While many are advocating on the legislative level, there is an urgent need for a space where teachers can be trained, and where dyslexic learners and their families can recognize and celebrate their unique learning style and have access to the education they need. For that reason, with the support of City Education Partners and with training through EDreimagined’s design fellowship, Celebrate Dyslexia is applying for a Generation 27 open-enrollment charter from the Texas Education Agency to start a tuition-free school, which will offer an Orton-Gillingham-based structured literacy curriculum for those who have not previously had access to crucial intervention.
In addition, this campus will offer training to teachers and offer capacity to our community in training highly qualified dyslexia therapists so that eventually, every campus can offer the crucial interventions needed by dyslexic students.
If you love someone with dyslexia, know you are not alone. Please find more information about our work at celebratedyslexia.org.