A Falmouth woman is on the run to raise awareness about the need to address learning disabilities at an early age and to fund a scholarship to do so.

Erica Richards of Falmouth, shown here with her son Myles and daughter Eleanore, hopes to raise $25,000 for a scholarship at the Aucocisco School in Cape Elizabeth. Contributed / Erica Richards

Erica Richards, whose son has dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, led a 5-mile fundraiser Wednesday, and on Oct. 3 she will lead a team of staff members and parents from the Aucocisco School in Cape Elizabeth in the Maine Marathon. She hopes to raise $25,000 to create a scholarship for students with learning disabilities who need tutoring, intensive work or would benefit from attending the Aucocisco School.

Early intervention is vital, Richards said, especially because of the correlation between disabilities and incarceration. While 20% of all Americans have a disability, 32% of federal prisoners and 40% of jail inmates report having at least one disability, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Of those reported disabilities, two-thirds are cognitive.

“That’s kind of a big deal,” said Richards. “If we can help kids from a very early age get the help they need, that could prevent people from being in jail. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to do that.”

Richards’ son, Myles, attends Aucocisco, a nonprofit special purpose private school and learning center. Founded in 1994, the school provides remedial education to students who learn differently, teaching them the skills and strategies to be successful in their education.

“We are the only school in Maine that deals specifically with students who have learning disabilities,” said Head of School Barbara Melnick. “There’s a real need to educate students with learning disabilities differently.”

Richards has seen the impact that Aucocisco has had on Myles, who first enrolled as a third grader and is now in sixth grade.

“They just understand him,” Richards said of the school’s staff. “Not only is he doing better academically, but he’s just a more confident person.”

Melnick said the school often sees students who are three or four years behind in their reading and math skills. Dyslexia is the most common of the learning disabilities among the students, she said.

While having a learning disability is a struggle for the student, it presents challenges for that student’s family as well.

For Richards, running was a way to think through the challenges.

“In the early days of trying to understand my son’s dyslexia, running was very helpful,” said Richards. “I think there’s a misunderstanding that he’s lazy or that he doesn’t want to (do his work), but at the end of the day it’s his biology.”

Other families deal with the same misperceptions, Melnick said.

“Erica’s story of the struggles she went through with her child are unfortunately very typical of kids who come here,” said Melnick.

For more information on Richards’ fundraiser, go to https://bit.ly/RunforAucocisco.

 

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