Most people have a vague sense that dyslexia entails seeing words backwards, that it’s not all that common, and that there’s not much that can be done about it, anyway. In reality, this neurobiological learning difference is characterized as an unexpected difficulty with learning to read and write accurately and fluently, it affects 20 percent of the population, and there are effective and data-supported programs to help.

While individual learning journeys vary, my son’s story is fairly common. John was a precocious child.  I expected school to be a welcome adventure that would satisfy his endless curiosity. Much to my surprise, he didn’t enjoy school and by the time he was in fourth grade, he was frustrated and underperforming. For years, we’d battled tears with homework that was designed to take no more than 20 minutes per night. It took him well over an hour of earnest effort, and often he still did not complete his work. Reading was laborious, and writing was torture for him.

His peers were writing full pages in class while he would scratch out a rudimentary paragraph of one syllable words and simple, uncapitalized and unpunctuated sentences. On a good week, he might get a 50 percent on his spelling tests. Yet when he had an opportunity to present reports to the class or collaborate on hands-on learning projects, he was able to demonstrate solid mastery of the subject matter, big-picture thinking, conceptual understanding, and effective use of vocabulary that he simply could not replicate on paper.

After neuro-psychological testing, my husband and I were told that our son is dyslexic. We learned that dyslexia is relatively common, affecting 1 in 5. It’s also highly hereditary and my husband recognized John’s learning struggles as familiar to his own school challenges. Up to 49 percent of dyslexic students have a dyslexic parent, and about 40 percent of siblings of kids with dyslexia also struggle with reading.

Sometimes referred to as a Specific Learning Disability, John’s dyslexia diagnosis helped us to access support in school and through the Portland Children’s Dyslexia Center. At school, he was eligible for some accommodations like talk-to-text technology and extra time on tests. Outside of school, my son received tutoring at the Portland Children’s Dyslexia Center. It would be difficult to overstate the positive changes. Immediately, he felt relief that his learning challenges were not because he was incapable.

As soon as we matched educational approach with his learning style, he blossomed. After two years of intensive tutoring at the Center and some supplemental instruction through school, his ability to decode words improved from kindergarten expectations to grade-level expectations. He feels confident now when he approaches his school work. Next year he will be a high school student and he is ready for the challenge.

The Portland Children’s Dyslexia Center provides free, one on one tutoring for dyslexic students. It also provides certification training for educators who work with dyslexic students. Students are tutored using an Orton-Gillingham based, multisensory structured language education (MLSE) approach. While my son’s progress at the Center was impressive, it is by no means unique. Students consistently make significant gains across a series of formal standardized tests.

Last year’s second year students, for example, made double digit improvements in four of nine assessments.  During the 2018/2019 school year, certified staff from the Portland Children’s Dyslexia Center trained several teachers within the RSU5 (Durham, Freeport, & Pownal) district, where students likewise experienced double-digit gains in three of four assessments.

Quality interventions are a game changer for dyslexic students. With proper support, they can aspire to be business leaders like Sir Richard Branson, Nobel Prize recipients like Dr. John Goodenough, authors like Debbie Macomber, entertainers like Jennifer Aniston, humanitarians like Prince Harry, or any number of other dyslexic wunderkinds.

Though tutoring at the Portland Children’s Dyslexia Center is provided as a free service, it costs $5,000.00 per year to tutor each student. If you would like to help meet the mission of helping dyslexic students, consider attending the upcoming Silent Auction on November 1 at the Portland Masonic to support the Portland Children’s Dyslexia Center. For tickets or more information about tutoring services and teacher training opportunities, please visit https://dyslexiacenterportland.org.


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