N.J. public schools creating barriers for dyslexic learners

    I have three boys. My oldest and youngest are dyslexic. For the past eight years, I have been on a journey to understand dyslexia and educate myself about the essential components of sound reading instruction and effective interventions.

    The following reader-submitted essay is in response to a Speak Easy post about the preparedness of New Jersey public schools to accommodate the needs of dyslexic students.

    I have three boys. My oldest and youngest are dyslexic. For the past eight years, I have been on a journey to understand dyslexia and educate myself about the essential components of sound reading instruction and effective interventions.

    Do you have experience with dyslexia?Tell us in the comments below.

    I have found that there are two distinct worlds. The first is that of the learning-disability (LD) community — dyslexia conferences, LD workshops and webinars, research-based discussions. I have attended them all. I’ve read the books, the research papers, and the educational reports. I understand the brain-based science that shows proper intervention can re-wire a struggling reader’s brain to more effectively activate its language centers. This is the world that brings me hope and offers my boys solutions.

    Unfortunately, my children are educated in a very different world, that of N.J. public schools. It is here that I have encountered many roadblocks and had to maneuver around many obstacles. I’ve had to have a discussion with my school’s curriculum director about the findings of the National Reading Panel and urge him to bring systematic phonics instruction into our schools.

    I’ve had a principal try to assure me that I shouldn’t worry that my son couldn’t read nonsense words — because “that is a difficult task for anyone.”

    My son’s first grade teacher mistook his painstakingly slow acquisition of letter names as “progress.” I had to explain to her that, if you are still focusing on letter names in the middle of first grade, this is actually a red flag.

    I worked with an intervention team that did not understand their own progress monitoring results, leaving my sons to languish in inappropriate interventions for years before referrals to special education were made

    Lastly, I’ve actually encountered a special education director who wanted to play semantics over the word “dyslexia” and its use — stating it doesn’t exist in New Jersey.

    It is time for N.J. public schools to catch up with the current research. Good things are happening across the state in private schools and intervention clinics focused on students with learning disabilities. Research based interventions are in use, and educators are knowledgeable about what strategies work and what techniques are effective.

    There are no excuses for allowing children to struggle with dyslexia through 3rd grade, 4th grade and beyond. Literacy is the foundation of all learning. It needs to be the focus of school reform agendas.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.