Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Need for Dyslexia Legislation

I recently read an article in Education Week that talked about the fact that Iowa has officially defined dyslexia in their state education code. The article points out that “without an official definition, identification and treatment of the condition was nearly impossible.” The law that was just passed also charges Iowa’s Department of Education with developing and providing school districts with professional development programs for teachers to better equip them to work with these students. Iowa now joins other states around the country that are committed to helping their dyslexic students. You might wonder why a 15-year old high school student is following this news. You see, my mother is a leader of Decoding Dyslexia-IN and she keeps a legislative summary of all the states and whether they have laws in place to help their dyslexic students. Whenever a state passes legislation, she is quick to point it out to me and tells me that one day Indiana will be on the list.

 I am excited for the dyslexic students in Iowa but I am sad for the dyslexic students in Indiana.  Indiana just released this year’s scores for IRead.  IRead is a high stakes test that is supposed to determine whether third graders can read well enough to move on to fourth grade. Everyone is excited because 86% of the kids passed this year. It makes me sad that nobody really talks about the 14% that failed the test. I think that if Indiana had dyslexia legislation, we would have identified these students earlier and would have already been using a multi-sensory phonetic approach to provide intervention for these kids. Unfortunately, many of these students will never get this help. Tutoring is very expensive and most schools don’t offer this type of intervention. Although IRead wasn’t a requirement when I was in third grade, based on my ISTEP scores, I probably would have failed.  It was only because my parents could pay for Orton Gillingham tutoring that I have been able to be successful in school. I think failing this test will discourage these kids and may destroy their self-esteem. Unfortunately many of these kids will go on to be struggling readers in high school and beyond. The NIH says that, “Of children who display reading problems in first grade, 74% will be struggling readers in ninth grade and into adulthood unless they receive informed and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness.”

I think that Indiana should look to Iowa and other states and see just how important dyslexia legislation is to helping their dyslexic students. Since dyslexia affects 1 out of 5 people, this legislation would help 20% of its population. I also think this would help to improve Indiana’s test scores and literacy rate.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Discipline is a quality that I admire in people.  It is the ability to follow through with something in an effort to achieve your goal even if you really don’t want to do it or it’s painful to do. I believe it is an important quality for anyone that wants to be successful but I think it is especially important for a dyslexic student like me.  Like many dyslexic kids, school isn’t easy for me. I often find myself doing homework for 6 or 7 hours at night.  It’s not that I want to work late into the night, but I have to if I want to do well. I also find that I have to work over the weekend on assignments that are due the following week. It’s not always easy to be disciplined to work when I don’t feel like it, but I have to keep reminding myself to keep my eye on the goal.
Like most dyslexics, I struggled to learn to read.  I started Orton Gillingham tutoring two days a week after my first grade teacher told my mom, during an end of the year conference, that I cried when I had to read out loud. While many people have free time after school, I continue to tutor twice a week. It takes discipline to practice what doesn’t come easily. It’s just a way of life for me. John Irving, writer of the World According to Garp seems to understand the importance of discipline in his life. He said, “I believe that my life as a writer consists of one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline.” John Irving found out that he was dyslexic when his younger son was diagnosed. He refers to the fact that “More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.” I know the effort that it takes me to write a 300 word blog, I can only imagine the amount of discipline it takes for a dyslexic to write a book. I believe that discipline and perseverance are key qualities that a dyslexic must possess to be successful. It takes discipline to work when you don’t feel like it and perseverance to keep trying when you fail.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dyslexia: Limited Abilities or Unlimited Possibilities?

Thomas Edison once said, “My teachers say I’m addled . . . my father thought I was stupid, and I almost decided I must be a dunce.”  You see Thomas Edison was dyslexic and so he struggled in school. His mother pulled him out of school at the age of six when a teacher sent home a note that said, “He is too stupid to learn.” Edison went on to become one of the world’s greatest scientists. He held 1,093 patents and changed the world with his discovery of the light bulb. I often wonder if he would have been so successful if he had remained in school and become convinced that he was stupid. He himself said that he had almost decided that he was a dunce.
I also wonder how many dyslexic kids never reach their potentials because they become discouraged in school.  They struggle to learn to read and often struggle to memorize their math facts. I am dyslexic and I am one of those kids. I had trouble learning to read and I also struggled to learn math facts. In third grade, my teacher kept a chart on the wall with the names of the kids that could do 30 math facts in a minute. I am pretty sure that I was still working on addition when everyone else was doing multiplication and division. In fact, I don’t think I ever got my name on the wall and everyone knew it.  Unfortunately, this practice sends a message to those kids that struggle that they aren’t smart enough.
These kids not only struggle every day but they often aren’t offered opportunities in areas in which they would excel because they aren’t considered smart enough or they are pulled out of those classes so that they can work on reading.  I love science but it wasn’t offered in my elementary school as a class for everyone; instead, it was offered as enrichment. There was a group that met for “Enrichment” but someone like me was never offered that opportunity.  Someone that didn’t get their name on the wall for memorizing math facts certainly wasn’t going to be asked to come to “Enrichment.” They seemed to have so much fun doing science-type activities.  I wonder if Thomas Edison would have made it through school still wanting to be a great scientist if he had experienced all of these unspoken messages.  Would he have chosen to pursue his dream?  We need to be concerned that we have kids like Thomas Edison that leave school discouraged that they aren’t “smart” enough. We may never know the contributions they could have made because they just think they are “dumb.”  It’s important to identify these kids, teach them in a way they learn best, and help them to understand that they aren’t stupid, they just learn differently. They are dyslexic.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Puzzle Child

Nelson Rockefeller, an American businessman, philanthropist, politician, and public servant, once said, “I was one of the ‘puzzle children’ myself- a dyslexic… And I still have a hard time reading today.  Accept the fact that you have a problem. Refuse to feel sorry for yourself. You have a challenge; never quit!”  Do you wonder what a puzzle child is? A puzzle child is someone that shows great strengths in some areas but has significant learning difficulties in other areas.  These children pose a difficulty for most classroom teachers because they appear to grasp the big picture but struggle in areas that you don’t expect. The puzzle child may have great ideas but struggles to learn to read. He may understand math concepts but can’t seem to memorize simple math facts. I understand this seemingly complex puzzle because I am also a puzzle child. I know what it feels like to be a puzzle child. I remember what it’s like to be forced to read easy readers when everyone around me is reading chapter books. I also know what it’s like to hear kids giggle because they realize you’re not reading at their level. Unfortunately, I’ve only had a few teachers that really understood what dyslexia is and know how to help. I think this lack of understanding further helps to make the puzzle seem that much more complex. 
As Rockefeller acknowledged, dyslexia certainly provides a challenge. Dyslexia has taught me to work hard and never give up. Being identified with the word dyslexia tells me that I have potential. It tells me I have a challenge but I am capable. I feel so fortunate though in knowing why certain things are hard for me. I am thankful to have a name, dyslexia, for this apparent puzzle. You see, things haven’t changed much since Nelson Rockefeller spoke about being a puzzle child. Today most people with dyslexia are never identified. They experience the challenges and they’ve heard the same giggles. They have felt the humiliation of being called on to read and letting everyone hear them struggle.  Some have been told they’re lazy or they just need to work harder. Some even begin to believe it and others give up. They realize they’re different and often in a bad way, but without being identified with dyslexia, they somehow continue to remain a puzzle.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Perseverance is a quality that I admire in people. It is that quality that makes a person keep trying when no one thinks they will be successful.   Perseverance drives people to succeed when everything and everyone seems to be against them. They somehow find the strength to continue to try. I don’t think perseverance is a quality that people are born with. I think that it is learned and practiced. It is developed and rehearsed with each seemingly impossible situation. 
Dyslexia has taught me all about perseverance.  I would like to tell you that it was an easy lesson and that it wasn’t painful but that just wouldn’t be true. You see, it seems like everything comes hard for me. I have to work harder and longer than my friends to do homework and study for tests. I work for hours on homework every night and also on the weekends. Most people don’t know that about me because dyslexia isn’t something you can see and most teachers haven’t been trained to look for it. In fact, when I was in second grade, I had a teacher that kept telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough.  She couldn’t see that I was working as hard as I could. Second grade was a painful experience.  Although I wanted to give up, I continued to work hard. There are many very successful dyslexics that attribute their success to their dyslexia. Their dyslexia taught them how to get back up after failing and it taught them all about perseverance.
 Charles Schwab is someone that I admire for his perseverance. From a young age, learning was difficult for Schwab. He didn’t know that he was dyslexic. In fact, most of his teachers just thought that he was slow. In college, he failed both English and French. He learned to never give up. Schwab sees his disability as a blessing because it has allowed him to see the world differently. He explains, “There were people who were a lot brighter than I was, or at least seemed to be, because they got much higher marks. But I could see the bigger picture, whereas they could see what was right in front of them.”  Charles Schwab went on to become the founder of the biggest, most successful discount brokerage firm in the industry. 
I will try to remember the importance of perseverance as my dyslexia teaches me how to keep working and trying my best. It is with perseverance that I will get back up after failing and continue to strive to become the person that God wants me to be.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Some people may find that writing out their thoughts is difficult, and for some, it is very difficult, but I actually find that writing is painful. I seem to have lots of ideas but it is hard for me to get them down on paper. Many of my ideas are really great ideas but when I write them, they seem so simple. I am sure that many of my friends were able to sit down and write their blog post in a matter of an hour, but for me, I spent hours trying to write and rewrite my blog posts. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand how I could have really great ideas but it would take me so much longer than everyone else to write my paper. Now I know that it’s because I’m dyslexic.

Dyslexics struggle with written expression. It is much easier for me to write about a famous person, or a period of history, but it is painful to express my thoughts on paper. When I have to write a paper, I have to first draw out my thoughts. I set it up like a web and boy is it messy. This allows me to organize what I’m going to say. Then I use Dragon Naturally Speaking and start talking to write out my thoughts. Dragon is a voice recognition software that allows you to speak while the computer types. Dragon is a lifesaver for me! I usually end up with 900 words for a 300 word post. This is because like most dyslexics, I have lots of great ideas. I then read through the post and end up shrinking it down to about 250 words. I keep reading and rereading the post and add more thoughts. I have to read it out loud so that I can really hear what it sounds like. I also have someone else read it and make comments and edits. As you can see, this difficulty makes me different. Dyslexia makes me different than my friends but I’m ok with different. I’ve actually learned to like different. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Case for Labeling

Although 1 in 5 children is dyslexic, less than 30% of these children are ever identified. Why is this? In fact, most schools won’t even use the word dyslexia. There is a philosophy in education today that society shouldn’t “label” these children dyslexic. This philosophy not only discourages children from being “labeled” dyslexic but it also discourages schools from identifying children with learning disabilities. Society sees “labeling” as a bad practice. I disagree with this philosophy. I believe it does a disservice to the dyslexic child and to their families. Today, a dyslexic student is only identified as having a learning disability after the child has fallen significantly behind their peers. Schools are then able to “label” the child as having a Specific Learning Disability. The label Specific Learning Disability includes many different types of disabilities, including brain injury. Dyslexia accounts for 80% of those identified as having a Specific Learning Disability. Dyslexia requires a specific type of intervention so that the student is able to actually close the gap. Without the label of “dyslexia,” most students only receive interventions that are appropriate for a group of disabilities, but never receive interventions that are specific for dyslexia. To me, that’s like identifying a group of people as having cancer and assuming that the same type of treatment will work for each individual regardless of the type of cancer.
If dyslexic students aren’t identified as “dyslexic”, they are often informally identified by their teachers as being lazy or slow. The other kids in the classroom are also labeling these kids as “dumb”. These kids are often picked on and bullied. Everyone seems to have a label for them whether or not the school formally “labels” them.  I can remember teachers telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough. My second grade teacher told my mom that I was capable of reading but I just didn’t want to do it. She would send home papers that I had trouble reading and wrote in big red letters, “Joshua refused to do this.”    

I think having a “label” of dyslexia will help students get the right help and provide them with the appropriate accommodations for their weaknesses. It also helps families to have a term to research to better understand the learning difficulties. I knew I learned differently and was frustrated because I couldn’t learn the same way as my peers. The word “dyslexia” gave me confidence that I could achieve success.