Blazers seeing backwards but moving forward
Junior Hannah Fegley begins reading aloud one evening in late November from Guns, Germs and Steel to speech-language pathologist Bonnie Curl, and following along with her finger, she says, "…take a glass of cool water…" The book in front of her reads, "…take a glass from the water cooler…" but Fegley's dyslexia had skewed the words.
Reading is no longer difficult for Fegley, an avid reader, but she still mixes up her words from time to time. Curl has tutored Fegley since she was diagnosed in fifth grade with dyslexia, a learning disorder that impairs of the ability to recognize and comprehend written words.
Curl says some of the "hallmarks" of dyslexia include letter reversal (when a reader reads "on" instead of "no"), difficulty with word retrieval and reading for meaning—misreading exact words but maintaining an understanding of the meaning of a passage. Ten to 15 percent of the U.S. population has dyslexia, according to the Dyslexia Research Institute, but only five percent receive assistance.
Early intervention: the key to success
Special education teacher Jana Goss says if dyslexia is not recognized at an early age it can have "profound" effects on a student's education.
Without early recognition and intervention for dyslexia, learning strategies used to deal with the disability are nearly impossible to employ when students are in high school.
Since dyslexia is not always an obvious problem, some dyslexic students manage to hide their disability. For example, when Fegley had trouble sounding out words, she tried to memorize them. This tactic works effectively for many dyslexics until late elementary school years, when students learn many more new and complicated words.
But even then, Curl explains, students can get around their dyslexia. "There are people I don't see until they reach eighth grade because they have gotten by through getting information through discussions, instead of reading the material."
Even after detecting symptoms of dyslexia, assistance is sometimes hard to come by. Junior Rachel Feely-Kohl's parents detected her dyslexia and got her a private tutor in fifth grade, but it took two years of constant requests to get the county to test her and officially diagnose her disability.
Feely-Kohl's mother, Maureen Feely, says that without the parental involvement, "borderline dyslexic kids—those who can get away with dyslexia but would benefit enormously from help—get missed. It is real hard for kids with parents who don't have time, or who don't know that [pushing for help] is important."
There are many accommodations in public-school education for dyslexic students, but someone has to take initiative in order to receive them. "You have to jump through six different hoops to get extended time," explains Feely. "You have to fill out so many forms, track down so many people."
Currently, Feely-Kohl has a 504 Plan, a legal document designed to map out a program of instructional services to assist students with special needs who are in a regular education setting.
There are dyslexic students, however, who, out of embarrassment, shy away from accommodations such as the 504 Plan. "Many of my dyslexic students are ashamed and refuse to sit anywhere near the window because they do not want others to see them in my class," Goss says.
Feely-Kohl gets extended time on tests under the plan, because with dyslexia, "everything just takes so much longer."
Taking it day by day and word by word
Reading with dyslexia takes a lot of time and energy, explains Feely-Kohl. "A lot of times when I'm writing something my sentences don't make sense if I haven't thought about them thorouhly or read them out loud," she explains. "I have to proofread everything."
For Fegley, time is spent mostly on vocabulary. "I can study and study and study and write the words a billion times, yet not know them for a quiz the next day," she explains. "I have bad word retrieval, which means the vocabulary I can recall and speak with doesn't represent the vocabulary I have in my mind."
However, with weekly tutoring sessions and a stimulating educational environment, Fegley is proud of the progress she has made. "I feel like I've overcome so much," she says.
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