The solar eclipse on the first day of school was an apt metaphor for the 20 percent of students who have dyslexia. The morning light darkened, just as the shining lights in these kids are extinguished by confusing forces beyond their control as they inexplicably struggle to keep up in school.
For generations, dyslexia has been treated in public schools as a rare and mysterious occurrence for which we have no explanation. It’s a belief as outdated as thinking that an eclipse is caused by a dragon nibbling away at the sun.
Like their peers, students with dyslexia can be taught to read, write, and spell. All it takes is for educators to identify them and teach them with the appropriate approach that is explicit, multisensory, structured, and evidence based. This is not a new idea; it’s just an idea whose time has come.
The future is looking bright in DyslexiaLand, as the balance of power has shifted: Parents have begun to realize that they, not educators, are the experts in dyslexia. The parent-empowering Decoding Dyslexia movement has, in just five years, spread its grassroots message to every state, and several countries: Educate. Advocate. Legislate.
And determined parents have done just that — and are seeing results from tireless work, connecting in person and on social media, speaking out about dyslexia as a social justice issue, working with politicos to pass effective legislation.
Here in California, the guidelines required by Assembly Bill 1369, the unanimously passed dyslexia bill (cosponsored by then-assemblymember Das Williams) are now posted on the California Department of Education website and were implemented this school year. These guidelines provide information for all community members, including educators, parents, and administrators, with essential information about how to address dyslexia for their students in grades K-12.
The top ten provisions of the guidelines can be found here.
Some districts are more responsive than others. In Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest school district in the state, dyslexia advocates asked school boardmembers to do more than just the annual declaration of Dyslexia Awareness Month. And they did, voting unanimously to direct the superintendent to come up with a plan to update the district’s dyslexia policies, procedures, and practices, including staff development, reading instruction, and assessments, and to report back to them within 90 calendar days. As a result, district officials have appointed four different work groups — consisting of parents and educators — to meet and develop policy on how to address dyslexia in a comprehensive way.
Those that are not responsive may pay a high price: The public law firm Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) recently filed a class-action lawsuit against Berkeley Unified School District for its years-long denial of appropriate teaching of students with dyslexia.
Locally, it remains to be seen how our many local school districts intend to systematically address dyslexia, but they cannot avoid it much longer. Parents remain determined that their dyslexic children have access to appropriate instruction, understanding, and accommodations.
To learn more about strategies and approaches, join our series of monthly dyslexia workshops. They will be held at the Faulkner Gallery at the Central Library, 7-8:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month during the school year, beginning September 6. Please join us for monthly discussions, support, films, and many interesting guest speakers who will address everything from early identification to assistive technology, from dyslexia in college to dyslexia in the workplace.
Cheri Rae is the author of DyslexiaLand, the parent of a son with dyslexia, and the director of Dyslexia Santa Barbara. Contact her at DyslexiaSB@gmail.com.