The Dyslexia Project, founded in 2011 by award-winning advocate Cheri Rae, aims to help parents help their dyslexic children. Out of that widespread effort — which focuses on building awareness, providing resources, and fostering a more dyslexia-friendly community — Rae recently released her second book on the topic, titled DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Children with Dyslexia. We caught up with Rae for some basics on this often-misunderstood learning disorder.
What is dyslexia? It’s a hereditary, neurological difference in the brain that affects how it processes the written word, making reading, writing, and spelling more challenging.
How common is it? It is estimated that dyslexia affects one in every five people to varying degrees.
What are some of the early signs? Even before school, some characteristics of dyslexia include difficulty rhyming, remembering the alphabet, the days of the week, months of the year, pronouncing multisyllable words. And if there is dyslexia in the family, it is a first factor to consider if a bright child is unexpectedly struggling in school.
Are there any positives? Yes, dyslexia is also characterized by outside-the-box thinking, creative problem-solving, intuition and people skills, 3D thinking, and success in the arts, athletics, engineering, architecture, and entrepreneurism. The list of accomplished dyslexics is very long!
How did you become an advocate? I was frustrated with how much my smart little boy was struggling in school. I finally discovered that he’s dyslexic. The educators had no idea how to address his needs. After I was able to get him help, I turned to helping others and even worked as a dyslexia consultant with Santa Barbara Unified School District as sort of a liaison between parents and educators.
What happens to dyslexic kids in school? Unfortunately, far too many of our schools — public and private — do not have teachers trained in how to teach dyslexic children in the explicit, multisensory, structured approach to reading that they require. The result is that these children struggle unnecessarily in school and are often still learning to read when their peers are reading to learn, usually around 3rd grade. And children too often get the message that reading equals smart and difficulty reading equals dumb — so those academic struggles become a source of emotional pain. Too often, that can last a lifetime.
What can parents do to help their dyslexic child succeed? Parents of dyslexic children must learn all they can about their child’s learning style, support their strengths, and work with the school officials to make sure they provide the appropriate teaching approaches and accommodations they need. If they cannot get the services needed in their schools — and that is too often the case — their options include homeschooling; tutoring, which can be very expensive; or even a private school for students with dyslexia, although those are even more expensive, and the closest one is in Encino.
What happens to dyslexic adults? I have met with countless dyslexic adults who have shared their painful stories about what school was like for them, and some of them have been unable to reach their full potential, or they continue to struggle with a negative self-image. As one forty-something said to me recently, “My whole life I was told I would never amount to anything.” There’s a lot of healing of dyslexic adults that needs to happen.
I am hopeful that DyslexiaLand will help end that cycle by empowering parents to advocate for their children as they recognize and support their strengths, without letting their challenges define them — in school, at home, or in the community.
Dyslexia doesn’t go away, but individuals typically figure out personal “workarounds” through persistence and hard work, which can minimize its effects and lead to great success in college, professional, and personal life. Many highly successful entrepreneurs, for example, are dyslexic. In fact, so are most of the inventors and creative people who make life more fun and interesting!
For more information, including Rae’s monthly workshops at Goleta Valley Library, go to dyslexiaproject.com.