Dealing with Dyslexia

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As many as one in five children suffer from dyslexia, a neurologically based learning disability marked by poor comprehension, fluency, and decoding in reading. Legislation passed in 2014 made it a requirement for New Jersey school districts to screen students for the disability, but schools were left on their own in those efforts, says Kathleen Rotter ’72, an associate professor of special education, language, and literacy at the college. As a result, uncertainty has prevailed as school districts struggle to define what the evaluations should entail,who should perform them, and how they should be conducted, says Rotter.

Enter TCNJ’s Dyslexia Initiative. Created through a donation from Adolf and Patty Herst (whose daughter, Elissa, struggled with dyslexia), and housed in the School of Education, the initiative prepares current and future teachers to identify, remediate, and support students with dyslexia and other literacy disabilities through conferences, workshops, and other training opportunities. One of its offshoots, the Student Evaluation Clinic, can help school districts navigate the confusion surrounding the new dyslexia regulations, while providing parents a way to address a delicate issue privately, with a qualified staff, in an academic setting.

At TCNJ, a dyslexia evaluation typically runs two-and-a-half hours and costs about $700. (Evaluations elsewhere run as high as $2,000, says Heather Tellier, who directs the clinic.) The child is tested by speech pathologists and learning consultants, and after the results are analyzed, Tellier meets with parents to propose a course of action. Many times, she says, parents are simply relieved to get an answer: “OK, this is what it is and these are the tools I have to fix it.”

Dyslexia goes well beyond the common perception of jumbling letters. Those afflicted frequently suffer self-doubt, says Rotter, who serves as director of TCNJ’s Dyslexia Initiative. The longer the problem goes unnoticed, the gloomier the outlook (see below).

Likewise, identifying a child’s dyslexia is more than solving an immediate problem, says Rotter. “If you intervene early, fast, and hard, you can make a substantial impact and change everything,” she says. “But if you don’t, you’re going to have dramatic expenses through the rest of [the child’s] life. Being dyslexic hurts [the child], and it hurts society. They’ll be underemployed. They’re not going to provide tax dollars to society. And how can you be a participating citizen if you cannot read the ballot to vote? The capacity to read in our society is hugely important.”


GETTING A READ ON DYSLEXIA

Research suggests that students diagnosed with dyslexia in fourth grade have little chance of ever reading at grade level, so the earlier dyslexia is diagnosed, the better a child’s chances of overcoming it. Here are some warning signs parents of preschoolers can look for:

 

Difficulty reading single words, such as a word on a flash card

Difficulty learning the connection between letters and sounds

Confusing small words, such as at and to

Reversing letters, such as d for b

Reversing words, such as tip for pit

 

Source: TCNJ’s Dyslexia Initiative website

 

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