The Dyslexia Initiative
Dyslexia Awareness Month
by Ashley Roberts
There was a great meme that I saw last October that said, "October may be dyslexia awareness month, but dyslexia exists in January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, November and December as well. Every month is Dyslexia Awareness Month." Needless to say, I love the meme, because it's true, every month is Dyslexia Awareness Month because in my life and in so many others, every day is Dyslexia Awareness Day.
I like having a dedicated month because it is important, as it is with so many things, to take a pause and acknowledge, celebrate and discuss all things dyslexia, and I'm cool with it being October because I love the month since it harkens fall, the coming holidays and a time in general where I hope the whole world slows down and savors life. It's a positive thing to have a month dedicated to banners in schools, proclamations across our cities and states, and conversations near and far to advance the understanding of dyslexia.
But, the thing is, I can't tell if it has an overall impact on actually changing the educational landscape for our children, and here's the reason why I say that. As an example, there's a school district, which shall remain unnamed, that holds a parents dyslexia awareness night, where they bring in a quality key note speaker and then offer several break out sessions. Overall, it is a quality session, truly, but the reality is the session is purely lip service. It was a way to lift up a banner and say, "Hey! We celebrate dyslexia! Look at how awesome we are!" The reason I say this is that getting a dyslexia diagnosis within this district is extremely challenging, accommodations are slowly stripped away, and the curriculums given as remediation are overwhelmingly sub par.
The sad reality is our public school system holds remediation to the child's intelligence and capability level (which is full and complete remediation) as a mythical unicorn that can never be caught, but we know this to be wildly untrue. Our dyslexic children can and do learn to read, and can and do read with amazing ability, on par with their "normative" peers. It is incredibly short sighted to believe they can't. To believe so is to believe that dyslexia is a disability, not just a difference in how the brain learns to read. In fact it forces it to be a disability for the rest of the person's life.
I came across another quote, which is profoundly true. "Dyslexia is only a gift if you are not born poor." This was stated by Dr. Julie Washington, a professor and the program director of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the College of Health and Human Development at Georgia State University. Her research focus is language development and language disorders in African American children at the time of school entry and emergent literacy skills of high-risk preschoolers.
Think about the truth in that statement, then think about this. The definition of dyslexia is a definition of privilege.
As Emily Hanford stated in her recent podcast, "What the Words Say" when you walk into a poor school in a poor community, one cannot discern a child not being given adequate opportunity, meaning both literacy enrichment at home as well as effective classroom instructional opportunities, which the quality of can be debated in poorer schools, from those with a learning challenge. We know for a fact that structured literacy (SL) is the great equalizer. When SL is the mainstay of educational instruction in our schools, the question of how literacy rich one's home is, doesn't matter, but when that opportunity is not given to our children because Balanced Literacy is the mainstay of our educational curriculums across the country, those children in poorer schools are left that much further behind. You deny the learning challenged children the right to be identified, perpetually denying them of FAPE, because your entire student population is denied FAPE. Given enough time this becomes, and is, a multi-generational illiteracy problem that we have willingly perpetuated, and is further evidence that a dyslexia diagnosis is one of privilege.
To be born to a middle or upper class family means access to private tutors and other therapies for remediation, at the expense of the family on a personal level in both time and money. The schools then get to continue their poor methods, their denial, and their determination to define dyslexia remediation as a mythical unicorn that cannot be achieved. They get to continue to say, dyslexia is a disability, and they get to keep ensuring that it is to multiple generations of children, all the while taking credit for the family's personal efforts.
Additionally, the laws that are being passed are great efforts, and some more than others, but I think most advocates will still acknowledge they're not enough, through the fault of NO ONE that is actually fighting for them. The uphill battle against those that oppose literacy in this country is a steep one. Fortunately there is significant precedence of winning real change against unprecedented and determined odds.
And that's what this comes down to. It is in that precedent that you find the real beauty of dyslexia awareness month.
For each person that joins the fight, that's one more voice standing for the equity that literacy provides to all; that's one more person who stands for all of our children to be taught to read in the known and proven methods of how the brain learns to read; that's one more person who stands for the truth that dyslexia doesn't have to be a disability, and that our children are not less than, are not unteachable, are not unworthy of an education.
To those who simply pay lip service while failing to actually teach our children, to those who sit in 504 and IEP meeting after meeting and proclaim their methods and trainings to be amazing things, to those who willfully deny time after time again, to those who refuse to say the words dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, to those who bully and threaten parents, who gaslight advocates, who play games with IDEA and FAPE out of spite that a parent had the temerity to push back against their denial, to those who pay lip service time and time again and pretend like they're celebrating dyslexia awareness and working to educate our children, I have a few things to point out to you.
1) Dyslexia is a General Education problem. Until you refuse to continue using Balanced Literacy techniques in the General Education classroom, you will never truly be servicing your dyslexic students, or any others for that matter.
2) Parents are not stupid. Clearly you assume the stupidity level of the masses is significantly high, but more and more people are realizing we have a significant and GROWING illiteracy crisis in this country, and the educational system is the one perpetuating it. Parents are figuring this out in droves, so be wary.
3) The days of violating parental rights and authority are coming to a swift and joyous end. For those tongue in cheek pom pom sessions trying to "raise awareness" while you continue to deny, know that won't last much longer. You're going to have to put those pom poms down and do the right thing.
4) Teachers are not at fault, and are just as much of a victim as our children are by the failed curriculums, and they're figuring that out, if they don't already know, as well. You sold them a bundle of false goods in their university programs, hold fun professional development parties where they might get a selfie with the writer of that program, and encourage them to go back to their schools and spread the good word. You want them to believe parents are the enemy and are uninformed and don't know what we're talking about. You push them to judge our children from a behavioral perspective and dismiss their challenges as anything less than an emotional disturbance problem, then blame the parent for not reading to them while then asking the child to pick a "just right" book. It's hard to stand up against the one who signs your paycheck, and be a voice for change. The movement is happening though. We will get laws to protect them too. Wait, there is the whistleblower law....
What this boils down to is a growing movement, and I for one am ever more empowered to see it grow. I love the level of communication and awareness that is happening every single day. I love that the curriculum masters of Balanced Literacy are scared. I love that every time Emily Hanford opens her mouth more golden goodness is said and the spot light of knowledge is shone in the darkest corners of your world.
Education is supposed to be about the children. The science is real, and all children can learn how to read and read well, and frankly, the dyslexia parents are not afraid to hold the mantle of literacy high and march forward to make the necessary changes happen. We're not afraid to be the champions for literacy, and that is what dyslexia awareness is really about. This is the #DyslexiaRevolution, and I'm loving every moment, in October and beyond!