‘They’re wired differently’
“It is hell for a child with dyslexia at home. It is hell in the playground, and it is hell in school,” says Keith Gray, 81. “They’re wired differently.”He should know. Gray is dyslexic, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a top financial executive for TD Bank. He’s now retired, but his new passion is helping children with dyslexia. Today he heads up Dyslexia Canada, a coalition of parents with dyslexic kids who are pressing for national guidelines. The group will focus first on Ontario classrooms.”A child with dyslexia that is not properly trained, properly educated, will not be able to pick up reading, will not be able to pick up spelling, and as a result, they fail in school,” says Gray. “I failed Grade 3. I dropped out of [high] school. I couldn’t do it.”
On the group’s wish list:
- A new scientific definition of dyslexia that will allow it to stand on its own as a diagnosis instead of under the umbrella of learning disabilities in general.
- Mandatory training for all new primary teachers and existing educators in dyslexia-specific interventions.
- Compulsory dyslexia assessments for all students in kindergarten or no later than the end of grade one.
The International Dyslexic Association’s position is that early assessment is the first step in ensuring students with dyslexia get the instruction they need to succeed.
Gray says he shares that view. “Ontario uses the wait-and-see system, whereby they wait to see how the child makes out.” He says the province does not even consider assessing a child until Grade 3. But because there’s such a long wait for assessments in Ontario, these often don’t get done until Grade 5 or Grade 6. “By then it’s too late for the child,” he says.
New program provides hope
But parents say they are encouraged by an innovative language remediation program called Empower, a private initiative run out of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. It includes 110 lessons for students with dyslexia, outlining five strategies for spelling and decoding words. The program takes about one hour daily and runs for most of an academic year.
The program was developed by Canadian neuroscientist Maureen Lovett. She is a leader in the field of reading research and is currently the director of the learning disabilities research program at the Hospital for Sick Children.”We’re not saying that the child will be reading like a fluent adult reader after 110 lessons, but our experience has been that the majority of children make really sizable gains,” she says. Empower also provides trainers to coach school teachers on how to teach dyslexic students effectively.