NOTE: October is Learning Disabilities (LD)/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness (ADHD) Month.
Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP, National Center for Learning Disabilities Texas Parent Advisory Council Lead
“Livvy speak” is the endearing term coined for the innocent one-off names or descriptions spoken by my daughter, Olivia, when she was in preschool. We adored it and rarely corrected her.
As a pediatric occupational therapist (OT), I recognized that all children, even siblings, develop differently. It didn’t surprise me that she has done things differently than her brother and they have approached “life” differently from the other.
When the preschool teachers mentioned to me that Olivia was having difficulty learning letters or rhyming, it didn’t really phase me. I was confident that when Olivia started kindergarten she would pick up on literacy just as quickly and easily as her brother did.
A few weeks into kindergarten came the first conference where Olivia’s teacher shared concerns and initiated response to intervention. The teacher believed that with a little help, Olivia would be successful in literacy concepts as she was in numeracy concepts. None of us knew that what we were seeing were signs of dyslexia.
Difficulty with rhyming, naming letters, the unexpected difficulty learning to read, even her “Livvy speak” were all signs that pointed to dyslexia.
After a year and a half, Olivia was identified with a specific learning disability and dyslexia. The identification made the therapist in me ecstatic! I saw a map laid out: ‘You are here’ marked the evaluation, ‘X’ represented the goal, and evidence-based intervention provided the dashed line between the two.
I knew that by collecting data and adjusting along the way, we could keep Olivia on course, closing the gap between her current reading ability and grade-level expectation.
We have decades worth of evidence, research and proven interventions for dyslexia. I was confident that with evidence-based intervention coupled with her rights under civil rights laws, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and our state dyslexia handbook provisions, everything would be fine.
However, I soon saw that even with intervention, Olivia was frustrated.
The achievement gap was widening and affecting her self-esteem. She was following a course, but it looked different from what I had imagined.
Her teachers were not prepared to provide the evidence-based intervention she needed. Most hadn’t been taught to help students learn to read or what to do when a student struggled to read.
We know a lot about how kids learn to read, and we know the science behind how to teach them. And right now, we have an important chance to help ensure every teacher is ready to do that.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to navigate a new map. It has presented new challenges and has simply made others more pronounced. We already know that many students in our country cannot read at levels they should, and at the same time, many are missing out on important instructional time because of remote learning.
Dyslexia does not have to be a path to disability. Dyslexia represents a different way of learning and can be remediated. Individuals with dyslexia can and should read at grade level.
As this pandemic has called us to rethink learning, we must also rethink teacher preparation and support. Every student should receive reading intervention early, and every educator should feel empowered and confident in their knowledge and skills to help struggling readers.
This recent shift in public education—the ways we’ve stretched to come up with new ideas to reach learners safely from a distance and become better partners with parents as educators—gives me hope that we can do the same for helping every struggling reader and those with dyslexia.
As we see this pandemic through and return to our school buildings, I am hopeful that we will enter through doors where parents continue to be partners, where educators have greater access to the science of reading, and where ALL children are on a path to reading at grade level.
Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP: Amy is an occupational therapist, assistive technology professional, parent advocate and most proud of her role as mom to two great kids. Amy is also the Lead for the National Center for Learning Disabilities Texas Parent Advisory Council.
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