October is dyslexia awareness month! The state of Alabama has made great strides in acknowledging dyslexia and informing teachers about its signs, symptoms, and treatments. However, there is still a huge need for increased awareness and understanding across the state!
Before moving to Alabama and becoming a reading specialist, I began my career as a middle school teacher in Texas, a state with dyslexia legislation. Despite Texas’ progressive stance on dyslexia, I never saw a diagnosis of dyslexia on a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), attended a professional development about teaching students with dyslexia, or heard other teachers or administrators talk about it. I am certain that many of my students suffered due to my lack of awareness about dyslexia.
One student in particular stands out: When I met Ed, he was a goofy sixth grader with slicked back hair and a big smile…and a history of struggling in school. He had been held back before and only passed to the sixth grade by attending summer school. Since we were a new school for Ed, he gave us the benefit of the doubt and believed us when we said we would help him. I’m embarrassed to admit that I assumed that his difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling resulted from poor instruction in the lower grades or learning English second language or maybe even a lack of interest on his part, but I never considered dyslexia as a possible cause of his struggles. Ed made it through sixth grade with a lot of help, but he slipped further behind in seventh grade. I vividly remember a conversation I had with him in the hall one day during class: he told me he was dumb and that I couldn’t help him and that he couldn’t wait to drop out of school.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Ed dropped out of school and out of my teaching life; although, I think of him often. I’m now convinced that Ed matched the profile of dyslexia: he had poor decoding and fluency skills causing him to have weak reading comprehension and written expression. If I had known as a beginning teacher what I know now as a reading specialist, I could have identified his dyslexia and provided him with appropriate accommodations and instruction. Most importantly, I could have provided him with understanding. An understanding that he was not dumb. An understanding that he just processed information differently.
For Ed and all the misunderstood kids out there, October is all about spreading dyslexia awareness to teachers, students, parents, and the broader community. Every time a caring adult looks at a struggling student and thinks “Could it be dyslexia?” is an opportunity to change a life for the better.
About the Author: Hunter Oswalt serves as Director of Read Write Baldwin County. She is a state certified reading specialist and has earned the designation of Certified Academic Language Practitioner (CALP) from the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA).