Photo: Senator Elizabeth Warren confers with Senator Bill Cassidy at a hearing entitled Understanding Dyslexia: The intersection of Scientific Research & Education
I can remember the first time I saw the girl from Pakistan, wrapped in a simple pink hijab, stand up before a crowd of hundreds to deliver a passionate speech about the urgency of education, a call for action to help the many children who are denied that fundamental right around the world. Malala Yousafzai’s words rang through the large stately room like the clear tone of a bell, and sent shockwaves through my system. I have since watched this speech, and many of her other speeches, almost once a week for inspiration. The words that stay with me most after the video comes to a close are, “we realize the importance of light, when we see darkness...the importance of our voice, when we are silenced...let us pick up our books and our pens...they are our most powerful weapons.” I am not dyslexic myself, and I am only two years into teaching, but when I saw the lack of awareness that surrounds this issue in my travels, and in my work, I was inspired to pick up my pen, and my camera.
For every Albert Einstein and Steven Spielberg, there are far more dyslexics who, finding school to be a daily exercise in frustration and stress, and feeling terribly about themselves as a result, drop out altogether.
I have previously written about the wait to fail, or wait and see, model used by public schools to identify Dyslexia. Massachusetts is a leader in the nation when it comes to identifying dyslexia, and then not doing anything about it. Wait to fail is the paradox wherein children are diagnosed [if they are at all] starting in third grade, which is well past the window of most effective intervention. By this point a lack of confidence, a disillusionment with learning, and other social/emotional side effects have kicked in, yes even in first and second grade, making successful intervention even harder. I also discussed the desire for schools to institute existing free early screeners to identify dyslexia when it is easiest to treat. A successful early intervention can mitigate many of the challenges and costs that are associated with this learning difference. Untreated dyslexia leads to expensive special education that districts must pay for, and often this is a generalized approach, a game of roulette wherein parents have to hope they find a teacher with the right mindset and approach to help their child. This is not the norm. Many parents end up in protracted legal battles or must pay for costly private tutoring or a specialized school.
I am bringing up this subject again because things haven’t changed overnight, though it would be nice to wake up to a better world. Dyslexia was recently discussed at the federal level, and our own Senator Elizabeth Warren attended the hearing titled Understanding Dyslexia: The intersection of Scientific Research & Education. You can watch the hearing here
Speakers such as Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (essentially the guru of Dyslexia, and author of Overcoming Dyslexia), actor Ameer Baraka, Dr. Guinevere Eden, and others testified about the importance of early intervention, and the far reaching social and economic implications of not treating Dyslexia. For every Albert Einstein and Steven Spielberg, there are far more dyslexics who, finding school to be a daily exercise in frustration and stress, and feeling terribly about themselves as a result, drop out altogether. It has been pointed out in a recent TEDx talk by Dean Bragonier, a dyslexic himself, that some of our most brilliant and creative minds, who are that way because of dyslexia, are jobless or behind bars because we hold them accountable for an archaic set of standards. All of that brilliance and potential is termed a disability.
Just recently, on May 26th, the Massachusetts state senate voted to provide $300,000 of our budget for Reading Recovery, an early intervention program that has been proven to be ineffective. An amendment, #225, that would have required programs to be screened for effectiveness in treating Dyslexia was not passed. This early intervention being funded is not based on research or neuroscience, and thus wastes precious time and money for dyslexic students [20% of the overall population]. The AASA, The School Superintendents Association, recently published an article about this very struggle to address the harm caused by programs like Reading Recovery. Programs like this are well funded, have their advocates, and continue to pervade our schools despite evidence of their lack of effectiveness. Students with dyslexia are, statistically, the largest group of students failing third grade reading, and Reading Recovery spends money on a program that is not fit for its intended use, namely early intervention for these students. We are putting profit and the needs of adults in education above the needs of a large block of students who need our help most.
This is an injustice that can be undone by simply reexamining our practice, taking the time to look at the materials out there, and be open minded enough to try a new approach
It is this injustice that daily inspires me to pick up my pen, and my camera because it is so preventable. We know very specifically what Dyslexia is, and how it can be treated. We have all the research, and all the tools at our fingertips. This is an injustice that can be undone by simply reexamining our practice, taking the time to look at the materials out there, and be open minded enough to try a new approach [though Dr. Shaywitz and others have been writing about this topic for decades now]. There is no need for these children to experience so much stress and frustration, and sometimes pain. There are many pressing issues facing the world, and why would we want to hold back some of our most brilliant minds before they even have a chance to contribute. Let us pick up our books and our pens!
For more information about Dyslexia, and the valiant efforts of Massachusetts parents check out Decoding Dyslexia-MA, The MA branch of a national 50 state movement.