New Dyslexia Law May Lead to Early Identification and Treatment for Virginia Schoolchildren

A new dyslexia law has got Virginia educators and dyslexia advocates mighty pleased and excited. The new legislation, just signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe, calls for teachers to undergo training in dyslexia awareness. Teachers will have to take a single one-hour online course in order to qualify for or renew a license to teach.

Can a brief one-hour virtual lesson for teachers make a difference in the classroom?

Dyslexia experts say yes. Because that one lesson won’t make teachers experts in dyslexia, a reading difficulty affecting one in every five children. That lesson will, however, help teachers spot signs of dyslexia in their students. More to the point, the course will guide teachers in ensuring those children have the support and assistance they need to succeed in the classroom.

New Dyslexia Law: Effective July 2017

The new dyslexia law takes effect beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. Dyslexia experts say the law is important because the earlier children are identified as having dyslexia, the sooner they can begin treatment. The earlier children receive treatment for dyslexia, the more likely it is they will learn to manage their difficulties and go on to read and learn.

Because teachers have not been educated to spot reading difficulties in their pupils, some children with dyslexia fall through the cracks. Some children fake their way through school and life pretending they can read. As adults, they may never find adequate employment.

Why would a person pretend to be literate? It’s a societal thing. We take pride in academic accomplishment. Not being able to read, in that light, can feel shameful.

Which is a shame, because there’s no shame in having dyslexia, a common disability. And there are ways for children with dyslexia to excel in school. They just need to receive help and support.

An Unexpected Difficulty

Dyslexia is defined as an “unexpected difficulty,” which means that people with dyslexia are of normal intelligence. That is why we fail so many children with dyslexia. It’s why these children are not diagnosed and treated.

Teachers look at the student with dyslexia and see a child of normal intelligence, not learning to read. That teacher may think, “This child is not trying hard enough,” or even, “This child is lazy. The teacher may even reprimand the student, or give a negative report to the child’s parents. This leads to shame and feelings of failure in these children. Sometimes the effects of all this last a lifetime.

The new dyslexia law should change all that for the children of Virginia. From next year on, a teacher who sees a bright child struggling to read, will understand the child has a reading disability and needs extra help. The accusations of laziness will be a thing of the past, and so will the shame. There will still be calls home to parents: calls that explain and advise, rather than accuse.

There is nothing shameful about having a brain difference, which is how many experts see dyslexia. The brain simply sees things a different way which makes it difficult to translate symbols into sound. The new dyslexia law will do a great deal to change educators’ perceptions of students who struggle to read. This will, in turn, do a great deal to help children with dyslexia feel good about themselves. Freed from any sense of shame, children with reading difficulties will  now feel encouraged to do what they need to do to get ahead in school and in life.

The new dyslexia law is a beautiful thing, almost a miracle. Let’s hope the idea of educating teachers in dyslexia awareness spreads and grows so no child ever has to feel shame for being different in Virginia or anywhere else.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe

Helping my Child Find a Ramp to Reading

Helping my Child Find a Ramp to Reading
Julya (Jules) Johnson with her son (courtesy)

When I was a kid, I loved to read! You’d often find me snuggled into a chair with Sweet Valley High, Goosebumps, or the Baby-sitters Club. I knew my kids would be the same!

Only, they weren’t.

My eldest, my 4th grade son, has severe dyslexia. After many years of reading therapy and interventions, he can read—but it’s slow and labored. It’s certainly not fun. It’s HARD. In fact, he’s been known to yell out in frustration, “I wish reading were never invented!”

Yet, he loves stories. When I read to him, his eyes light up and he absorbs every single word. When I get to the end of a chapter, he says “More, more, more!” and I read until my voice cracks. It’s heartbreaking to my momma heart because I know he has a desire to consume these beautiful and fascinating books independently!

Here’s the thing about dyslexia—it’s an UNEXPECTED struggle with reading. Kids who have dyslexia have average to even superior IQ levels. They can fully comprehend text at grade level or above when they hear it. Every sign points to the fact that they should be able to read easily, but it doesn’t happen that way.

We discovered our ramp to reading—audiobooks.

Watching my son struggle was heartbreaking, but my perspective completely changed after reading The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan, by Ben Foss. Ben is also severely dyslexic, like my son.  In his book, Ben says, “The key to my happiness occurred when I stopped trying to change my brain and started changing the context around me. Focusing on eye-reading overlooks the real goals of education, which are learning, independent thinking, and mastering the ability to make new connections in the world of ideas.”

Ben is a big believer in assistive technology, specifically what he has coined as “ear-reading” otherwise known as audiobooks.  Since that day, I’ve come to fully embrace assistive technology, and how it does help to level the playing field for my son! He does stay up all night reading now—ear-reading the fabulous books brought to him by the volunteer readers of Learning Ally, a national non-profit that serves people with print disabilities.

An audiobook can serve as a ramp to reading for children with dyslexia. (courtesy)
An audiobook can serve as a ramp to reading for children with dyslexia. (courtesy)

Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t “given up” on eye-reading. He still gets his tutoring and still practices, but we have found this fabulous ramp into the world of literature! We’ve embraced his dyslexia, and we are forever thankful. He gets so excited knowing he can easily read what his friends read now, and he stays up late reading books—just like I did as a child!

Audiobooks aren’t only good for self-confidence. Here are three additional ways I’ve discovered that audiobooks help children who struggle to read:

1) Access to Vocabulary

A 1998 study found that children’s books contain 50 percent more rare words than conversations between college-educated adults! Children who don’t read as often are missing out on all of that wonderful vocabulary. That will show up as a deficit once they reach high school and beyond, whether on SAT tests or in college application essays.

2) Boosting Comprehension Skills

It’s often said that those who read live 1,000 different lives, and it’s true! Books take you into a whole other world, where you can learn about different cultures, times and backgrounds. All of this helps children boost their comprehension.

3) Demonstrating Proper Fluency

Whether children are reading along in a paperback book or use the VOICEtext feature (where text is highlighted in sync with the audio), proper fluency and intonation is demonstrated by human-narrated audiobooks. That repeated exposure greatly helps in the long run.

Jules Johnson's son has found his ramp to reading! (courtesy)
Jules Johnson’s son has found his ramp to reading! (courtesy)

Keep in mind, many kids who struggle to read may have a notion that they “hate reading,” so some may resist any form of reading (even audiobooks) at first.  However, many kids get hooked after trying several different audiobooks of different genres. They have to find what they like. Play around with the audio reading speed and onscreen text options. With technology today, the options are endless!

Dyslexia Humor

Dyslexia humor. Does it sound like a contradiction in terms? Or did you happen on this blog prepared to become very angry, thinking that someone had a nerve to make fun of dyslexia, which is no fun at all.

Nope. No fun at all. We totally agree here at Kars4Kids. There’s nothing fun about the struggle to read in a world where reading is key to everything we do.

Letting Off Steam

That said we feel that having a sense of humor goes a long way toward releasing pent-up tension, especially toward the end of the week when it seems that if we have to cope with even one more weekday we’ll go out of our minds. The frustration mounts until we’re longing for a way to let off steam, at work or in school. All the more so, for anyone who struggles day in, day out with a learning difference. That might be an adult or a child, a man or a woman. Unfortunately, dyslexia is an equal opportunity thing.

We find that with dyslexia, or with any other learning difficulty, perspective is everything. If you can laugh at yourself for the mistakes you make, you’re more than halfway there to feeling better about yourself. We promise. So take a deep breath and prepare to be amused.

There. Now wasn’t that fun? Since you were such a good sport, we’ll give you another, a particular favorite of ours, here in the K4K office:

Felt good to laugh, right? See? We told you. Sometimes you just gotta laugh to get those endorphins flowing and your mojo back. Reading may be difficult but guess what? You win. Because you’ve kept your sense of humor about you.

Now do a good turn and share this blog piece with someone you know who’s struggling (with reading or something else) and in need of a good laugh. Oh, and before you do that, leave a comment below and tell us if you’re feeling better now. We really hope so. If you like this one, we’ll be happy to bring you more joy in this space.

Your wish is our command.