Story by THALESE BARNES
Imagine it’s your first day of elementary school. You are feeling nervous because of the unfamiliar surroundings, new classmates, and being away from your trusted mom all day for the first time. Just as you are settling in, the school teacher asks you to read out loud for the class. You look down at your paper, and there is not a single familiar word. You struggle to open your mouth and speak as none of the words, sounds, or letters seem to make sense. Suddenly, you feel as if there is a thick wall standing between the letters on the paper and your eyes.
This scenario is not far-fetched or unique. This story describes the experience of many children due to dyslexia.
Dyslexia is more common than people think. In fact, The Center for Dyslexia and Creativity found that dyslexia is the most common neurocognitive disorder; 20% of the population is affected by dyslexia.
Many students, parents, and teachers have experienced hearing the words, “you have dyslexia,” “your child has dyslexia,” or “this student has dyslexia.” Unfortunately, despite the frequency of these phrases, very few know the basic meaning of dyslexia, and what resources are available for students and their families.
Jared Madsen is one of those 20% who has been affected by dyslexia. He said he was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade by a child psychologist. “The very beginning of school, I remember kids were reading these books, and they were fun and exciting. I wanted to read it, and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.”
Following first grade, Madsen was frequently pulled out of the standard classroom to attend a resource class. He said this class was a place to stick students who couldn’t get through the school day like the other kids. This class included kids who were disruptive, had physical disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity, or dyslexia.
Madsen said in a Zoom interview that he had empathy for his classmates. “I look back on that group of kids in that class with me and know that I was the only one that ended up graduating high school. It was so much easier to drop out.” Madsen said he begged his mom to let him drop out like all the rest of the kids in the resource class, but she wouldn’t let him.
He described his experience in the school system as “shattering.” He felt lonely and misunderstood. None of his teachers understood his struggles or provided the tools, resources, or education necessary to succeed after his diagnosis.
Madsen, now 48, is not the first person to feel shattered by dyslexia and failed by the traditional school system. Despite this adversity, he now has hope for future dyslexic students because of Decoding Dyslexia. Decoding Dyslexia is a network of resources and satellite programs aimed to help young students facing the disorder.
Deborah Lynam is the founder of Decoding Dyslexia, located in New Hampshire. Lynam first became interested in helping those affected with dyslexia when her own son was diagnosed when he was in third grade.
Concerned by the lack of support and education for those diagnosed, Lynam went to the National Center for Learning Disabilities Conference in October 2011. She left this conference with a group of new friends ready to bring awareness to their children and friends with dyslexia. As Lynam spoke with others at the conference, she said she realized that “this was a diverse group of parents, but they all had the same stories.”
Every month following this conference, Lynam said in a phone interview, this group of parents would meet at a library in the middle of New Hampshire and discuss plans and ideas to change the face of dyslexia. After many meetings and conversations, Decoding Dyslexia was established.
There are now satellite groups of Decoding Dyslexia in all 50 states. Each state handles its group differently and is in charge of implementing its own Decoding Dyslexia program. All states are at a different stage within the movement, but they all have volunteers working tirelessly to improve resources for their respective communities.
The co-founder of the Utah branch of Decoding Dyslexia is Phoebe Beacham. Beacham was inspired to take part in the movement after watching her father, late husband, and two sons struggle with dyslexia. For the past eight years, she has been on a mission to empower parents, and she regularly presents in front of legislatures with propositions to help dyslexic Utah students succeed in the Utah school system.
“We initially set out to be a resource for parents, and we are, but our niche has been to educate teachers,” Beacham said. The Decoding Dyslexia group in Utah is focused and determined to help Utah teachers understand how they can recognize a student with dyslexia and help them be successful.
Beacham said that children who are not supported at a young age may go on to experience problems with the law. She explained that 80% of the inmates of our prisons are dyslexic. Beacham asked the important question, “So what is the difference between this millionaire who has dyslexia or this guy that ended up in prison who is dyslexic?” She answered her own question: “When you speak to successful dyslexics, the most common thread that they have — that you can string them all together with — is that they all said that there was someone that believed in them.”
This is why Beacham and the entire Decoding Dyslexia community are coming together to educate our teachers. This will not only decrease prison rates but will also help those diagnosed with dyslexia to become successful and confident readers and students.
Jared Madsen said he felt shattered by his earlier educational experience. Sadly, many students with dyslexia echo his perspective and feel that their school systems have failed them.
However, we need to understand that this is not the fault of teachers, as they have not received the proper education to help students with dyslexia succeed. If our teachers knew how to recognize the signs of dyslexia, the resources available, and how to teach techniques to help those affected, Decoding Dyslexia believes that the world would be much different.