A CHILD’S TOUCHSTONE
Rising to the Challenge of your Child’s Dyslexia
O.C. businesswoman Lorraine Donovan understands the dynamics of a learning disability diagnosis, because “Nothing is more overwhelming than the news your child has a learning disability. For those bringing the news, it’s a matter of fact. For you, it’s an emergency.”
Crisis strikes quickly:
When Donovan’s son was diagnosed five years ago with dyslexia, that emergency arrived. Basic education and real-world applications she could use daily to increase her son’s capacity for learning seemed inaccessible and almost non-existent. Sorting through the legal, academic and clinical literature to find practical and understandable tools for parents was overwhelming and confusing. Donovan learned for first time, that she was also dyslexic.
Solutions that pay off:
Thousands of research hours and five years later Donovan wrote a book on dyslexia to fill the information gap between academic analysis and parental action. A series of speaking engagements for 2016, among others, include webinars for The International Dyslexia Association, the National Institute of Learning Development, and keynote speaking for JPW Learning Center, Parent Teacher Association(s), School Districts, and Decoding Dyslexia, and training on dyslexia to educators. Her book, “A Child’s Touchstone. Dyslexia Guidance for ‘Less than Perfect’ Parents, Teachers and Pediatricians,” launched at Chapman University’s Dyslexia Summit, Oct. 23, 2015. “A Child’s Touchstone” helps parents recognize dyslexic symptoms, and navigate through the maze of people, paperwork and legalese that a dyslexia diagnosis can bring. In Donovan’s words, “I wanted a book on dyslexia that guided parents and teachers, step-by-step, in relatable terms. I also wanted solutions that made practical sense that could be applied on a daily basis to help dyslexic children” — she couldn’t find such a book, so she wrote it herself. Her decision to write “A Child’s Touchstone” was the right one! Thousands of parents and educators are gaining knowledge and solutions that benefit dyslexic children. Donovan says, “Helping parents and educators so that they can help dyslexic kids, is what it’s all about. I am honored to be a part of such an important cause”.
A critical need for so many:
The International Dyslexia Association, a network of professionals whose mission is to educate dyslexics and their families, notes that “perhaps as many as 15–20 percent of the population as a whole—have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing or mixing up similar words.” In the United States, a country of almost 323 million, this might mean somewhere between 48 and 64 million Americans may experience trouble learning, although not all would qualify for special education. However, a child can quickly be set on the path to success when learning disabilities are caught early and provided educational supports and accommodations.
Life with dyslexia:
The dyslexic brain processes material differently, therefore, it is not as adept at learning by reading. Creative and visual processes are needed to enhance learning. Research from the Learning Disabilities Association of America reveals audio books (such as Learning Ally), presenting material in small units and multisensory teaching methods improve learning. In other words touching, cutting and tasting an apple will provide a more profound learning experience for the dyslexic child than simply reading about it. Unfortunately, the majority of classroom teachers do not have adequate training on dyslexia or know how to teach to these children’s learning style.
Literacy spells success:
The National Assessment of Educational Progress underscores early literacy’s importance to a child’s success. Without language and vocabulary skills opportunity for advancement is stalled. Donovan’s book, “A Child’s Touchstone” (pp. 345-47), reveals that many children with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, flow into the school-to-prison pipeline. In fact a 2015 National Disability Rights Network report “asserts that more than 65 percent of youth in the justice system meet the criteria for a disability, a rate that is three times higher than that of the general population.”
The cost of doing nothing:
Sadly, without proper instruction for dyslexic and learning disabled students human potential dwindles while crime and public assistance costs escalate. The statistics are sobering.
- A 2013 national estimate from the office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported that in any one day about 54,148 juvenile offenders were held in residential placement facilities. Justice Policy Institute notes that, nationally, it costs $407 per day or $148,767 per year to support just one of these children. California costs run higher at $570 and $208,338.
- The average stay in the system is 21.7 months.
- The lost economic potential of youth ages 16-24 who are “disconnected from education and work” accounts for about $4.7 trillion for the 6.7 million youth affected according to a Columbia University and City University of New York study.
Creating a future template:
Donovan wants others to know that they, too, can rise to the challenges dyslexia brings. Change cannot help but come through a six-prong plan to counter dyslexia’s effects: 1) effectively educate parents, teachers and pediatricians on learning disabilities; 2) educating school districts and administrations on appropriate educational supports and therapies for children with dyslexia; 3) encouraging teacher credential training on dyslexia in higher education; 4) reducing youth incarceration; 5) educating the media and 6) thoughtful legislation. And as the future unfolds, working with organizations such as Decoding Dyslexia, The International Dyslexia Association, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the California and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the Academic Language Therapy Association, the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council and the National Institute for Learning Development, among others will successfully create solutions that benefit dyslexic children and future generations. Answer the call to action on dyslexia at www.achildstouchstone.com. Donovan is available for interviews and speaking engagements.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: (with Lorraine Donovan)
(Q) Why did you write “A Child’s Touchstone”?
(A) Five years ago, my son Brandon was diagnosed with dyslexia. And, like most parents, I jumped right in and started researching everything I could on dyslexia in order to help my child. I purchased many books on dyslexia, most of which I found to be, quite frankly, over-the-top clinically boring for my understanding or lacking questions and answers that I so desperately sought. As a result, six months later, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, and no further ahead with any help for my son. The book I so desperately sought, was not yet written. What I wanted was a book that would guide me, step-by-step, in terms that I related to and solutions that made practical sense that I could apply on a daily basis to help my child. It was my unwavering determination to help my son that began my journey to write “A Child’s Touchstone”.
(Q) Wow! That’s incredible! Five years later, your book is done. How do you feel?
(A) It’s one of those “you did it” moments that, for me, is incredibly personal and humbling. Never before have I ever felt such a “calling” to help those most vulnerable (our children). Helping others is the best gift one can ever receive. Everyone should try it…..
(Q) It’s mentioned on the back book cover that you are known for your “spot on” honesty while writing “A Child’s Touchstone”. This is evident in your book. Would you share with us, how you kept your perspective intact while describing (what you call) “the good, the bad and the ugly” truths in our educational system.
(A) Initially, it was challenging separating my personal experiences and feelings from my research. But slowly, I found myself simply stating the facts as they are, and all the nakedness and truths filtered to the surface and eventually greeted by my own ignorance. Pointing the finger and expecting others to solve the monumental issues surrounding dyslexia and getting nowhere, was not an acceptable solution. Educating myself on dyslexia and becoming proactive in finding solutions was the answer. Along the way however, I discovered that the participants in “the good, the bad and the ugly” truths, included parents (like myself), teachers and pediatricians. In other words, we all all part of the problem.
(Q) Why do you believe that “A Child’s Touchstone” provides the answers for parents, teachers and pediatricians are seeking?
(A) My research included interviewing hundreds of parents, teachers and pediatricians. The theme of their complaints and concerns, resonated similarities – all of which included lacking significant knowledge and understanding on dyslexia. One of many goals included bridging the gaps between true knowledge of dyslexia and our own ignorance. “A Child’s Touchstone” answers those questions and much more.
(Q) While reading “A Child’s Touchstone”, I was shocked to learn that a large percentage of children that are incarcerated in our prisons, are diagnosed (while imprisoned) with having dyslexia. Even more disturbing is that most of these children are never identified nor diagnosed with dyslexia while attending school. Do you have any insight as to why children with dyslexia are not being identified in our schools?
(A) Good question. You’re not the only one that is shocked by this reality. Most people (with or without children) have the same reaction. How is it that 85% of children with learning disabilities have dyslexia and yet most are never identified or helped? It’s because the majority of classroom teachers, principals and administration, lack knowledge on dyslexia or training on helping dyslexic students! This fact is indisputable. Sadly, most children with dyslexia are ignored and/or their learning disability is not given the same and equal concern of those children with other learning disabilities. I believe this is because you cannot “see” dyslexia”. Dyslexia is not an intellectual disability. A perfect example is, you and I are talking, yet you cannot tell that I am dyslexic. Dyslexia is a learning-style difference. This means that dyslexics process information they receive (visually, auditory, tactically and kinesthetically), differently than those who are not dyslexic. If parents, teachers and pediatricians are unfamiliar or lack education on dyslexia, they often dismiss a learning disability and instead decide that the child is “not living up to their potential” or “lacking in motivation”, (none of which is true).
(Q) Although my role is to just ask questions, I am overwhelmed by my own lack of understanding on dyslexia. (Personally), I had no idea how important it is for all of us to be knowledgeable on dyslexia. If someone learns (while reading your book), they or a family member may be dyslexic, what is the next step?
(A) You’re asking important questions! The first step is to be evaluated by a clinical psychologist or educational physio-educational therapist. These professionals specialize in identifying neurological differences in processing brain-received information and identify learning differences. They can recommend appropriate educational accommodations (tools) and teaching strategies that significantly benefit the dyslexic student. My book provides all the necessary steps to follow, including school required academic evaluations.
(Q) Why was it important to include artwork from dyslexic kids in your book?
(A) Dyslexic kids rarely receive acknowledgement for their incredible talents and abilities. I wanted to honor them and acknowledge their genius.
(Q) You dedicated an entire Chapter on the issues of bullying. Why are children with learning disabilities, more vulnerable to being bullied, not only by other students, but also by teachers, athletic coaches, and even family members?
(A) Children with learning differences/disabilities are not at fault for being bullied. The problem and fault lies squarely with those who do the bullying. A lack of knowledge and training on learning disabilities, especially dyslexia, tops the list. As does a significant amount of ignorance. Then there’s the bullies who have their own agenda and believe that those who learn differently are easier prey. In my book, I identify the different characteristics of those who bully and expose the ugly truths that are often not talked about. It’s an eye-opening chapter.
(Q) I love the way you describe the dyslexic child in the beginning of your book. Was some of your insight from personal experience?
(A) When I was a child, dyslexia was not on anyone’s radar. I only learned I was dyslexic after my son was diagnosed. As I reflected on who I was a child, I noticed similar traits in my son. And the more dyslexic children I met and interviewed, the more obvious it became that children with dyslexia share in common some wonderful traits and abilities. I thought it was important to share them with everyone.
(Q) Your book covers accessibility in education with accommodations. What does this mean?
(A) I describe in detail, yet simply, all areas that affect learning and the specific academic accommodations (which I call “tools”), that if applied, significantly and positively increase a dyslexic child’s academic outcomes and future life successes.Accessibility in education means that school-aged children with learning differences/disabilities, receive educational support and accommodations that meet learning. It is extremely important that children with dyslexia receive accessibility to education that benefits and supports “their” learning style (and not the other way around).
It’s important to understand that an accommodation in education is not a “rule”, it’s a “tool”. When it’s categorized as a rule, some become defiant and complain, and others do nothing. Lack of training on dyslexia causes lack of understanding, and resistance to change usually occurs when legally mandated procedures lack appropriate training for those implementing them.
(Q) The “famous quotes” in your book are perfectly paired with each chapter. What inspired you to inspire others with these quotes?
(A) Many of the quotes in the book are from famous people who also dyslexic. I’ve left it up to the reader to learn who they are. Some of the quotes are from fictitious characters, but are very real to our childhood memories. While others are quotes from worldly figures that may or not be familiar yet are very much a part of history. As with the artwork in my book, each quote is one of a kind. Sometimes reading a quote, is all that is needed to keep on going. I want the reader to feel empowered to keep learning about dyslexia and continue to turn the pages.
(Q) In your book you talk about the shame dyslexics experience of feeling different and shunned (among other things) by those closest to them. What advice would you give to dyslexics of all ages that would encourage them to work beyond these feelings of shame?
(A) It’s not as simple as it sounds. A large percentage of dyslexics have endured a life-time of unkindness and rejection by those ignorant enough to offer it up. Forgiveness is important, as is a willingness to move forward without resentment. Learning ways to reject negative input from others will follow. And as the dyslexic learns more about themselves, including their strengths and weaknesses and wonderful traits and talents, these will move to the forefront, leaving all the negative energy behind them. Lastly, it’s important to “own” ones dyslexia. By owning it, no one else gets to define you.
(Q) One of your chapters is entitled, “School Isn’t Everything”. With all the emphasis these days to push children to strive for straight “A’s”, why do you believe that school isn’t everything?
(A) The chapter title is deliberate and hopefully encourages conversation. School is important but not to the extent that students are judged exclusively by the grade determined by their teacher, who may or not have any knowledge or training on dyslexia. A straight “A” student can be miserable, while a barely-passing “C” student can be happy and thriving. The magic is in the balance.
(Q) It seems evident in your book that our school system is still broken. What do you believe will help solve our broken school system?
(A) I believe that knowledge and being informed makes change happen. The status quo will undoubtedly remain the same when no one challenges its authority. It’s important to question everything, so as not to fall victim to any potential consequences. Those disenchanted with our school system, have a duty to speak up and make it better.
(Q) I’m sure people ask you all the time. What is dyslexia?
(A) Dyslexia is a term that describes differences in the way a dyslexics’ brain processes received information, which is different from non-dyslexics. Dyslexia is not an intellectual disability. I’m dyslexic, but no one looks at me and says, “I can see that you’re dyslexic. Do you need accommodations that will help you process information that is equitable to your needs?”
Respectfully speaking, dyslexics have the courageous ability to see, hear, touch, smell and taste everything life has to offer, with a more creative, out-of-the-box twist.
(Q) What are the signs or symptoms of dyslexia?
(A)There are many signs and symptoms that identify dyslexia (depending on age), which are described in my book at different grade levels. However, one specific symptom overwhelmingly and negatively affects all those with dyslexia. It is the inability to process and hold information received, in short-term working memory, long enough to formulate, process and move into long-term memory (the memory bank).
So, if you’re school-aged and have many subjects and content requiring memorization, it is nearly impossible to process and remember all the parts of what is presented in the typical, teacher-taught way, because the dyslexic brain is not able to process and retain the information long enough to submit into long-term memory.
A perfect example of this is when the teacher instructs students to read two or three chapters in a book, as homework, and says there’s a test on these chapters the next day. For the dyslexic, this means failure and an “F” on the test. They cannot and will not be able to remember the content of what they have read from the day before and correctly answer the test questions the next day. Period!
Multiply the demands of having different teachers for different subjects, and you can see how devastatingly difficult it becomes for the dyslexic child to keep up with academic demands, without appropriate educational support and accommodations.
(Q) All of what you’re saying makes perfect sense. Why is it then that our school systems seem to be lacking in knowledge, training and the appropriate support for dyslexic children when it is the number one learning disability among school-aged children?
(A) Those responsible for the implementation of educational support for students with dyslexia, may believe they’re doing a great job in that effort. However, in the daily reality of the dyslexic student, most are not receiving the support and accommodations they so desperately need because most educational professionals do not see dyslexia as a significant learning disability that requires a lot of attention. Until we are able to educate and change that ignorant perspective, dyslexic children will continue to be ignored and not given the support they deserve.
(Q) Do you believe the majority of educational professionals are ignorant of dyslexia?
(A) Unfortunately, yes. Which is why millions of dyslexic children are never diagnosed or identified, and not provided the educational support to help them. I truly believe, if educators were properly trained on dyslexia, we would have substantially higher graduation rates and significantly less children incarcerated in our juvenile prison systems. Which by the way, in California (as an example) costs $565 per day! Incarcerating our children is not the answer. Allocating more funds towards teacher education and student/family support is what will reduce our imprisoned child population.
(Q) A Child’s Touchstone has a sub-title that says, “Dyslexia Guidance, for “Less than Perfect” Parents, Teachers and Pediatricians.What type of reaction are you receiving from the phrase “less than perfect”?
(A) The reaction is absolutely positive. Parents, teachers, pediatricians and those professionals dedicated to helping our children, know how challenging that can be, and yet they continue forging forward and fighting the good fight, with all their might, possibly stumbling along the way. What’s important is their hearts are in the right place and willing to challenge the status quo, even when they may not be sure what they’re doing. And that’s because, none of us are perfect…..
(Q) In your book, you discuss “Failure to Identify”. What does this mean and how does this negatively affect children with dyslexia?
(A) Laws, such as “Child Find”, require all those working with children, including public schools, private schools, social workers, family doctors/pediatricians, childcare providers, special education educators/therapists, juvenile correction facilities, family social services and others to locate, identify and refer any child for evaluation, suspect of a possible learning disability. Failure to do so, is a violation of a child’s right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). It is important to note that a free appropriate public education includes private schools and organizations that work with children. Some believe that “Child Find” law only applies to public schools. They are wrong. The law includes private schools and every public and private organization that works with children. No exception.
Violations in a child’s free appropriate public education are wide-spread. This is because appropriate oversight and monitoring of Child Find law are not on everyone’s radar. As a result, millions of dyslexic kids are never located, identified nor referred for evaluation.
Dyslexic children that are not evaluated for a possible learning disability, are being academically neglected by those closest to them. As a result, children with dyslexia that are not identified and supported, often experience a lifetime of suffering – And it’s not their fault.