Open Letter Supporting Dyslexia Bills in Michigan
Dear Senators Jeff Irwin and Dayna Polehanki and Jim Runestad and Lana Theis:
I am writing to you in support of the proposed State legislation aimed at identifying and intervening to help students with dyslexia in Michigan.
Our large population of dyslexic students (as many as 1 in 5) have been underserved for far too long. The negative consequences of this failure are dramatic and painful.
As Sally Shaywitz says in Overcoming Dyslexia, “once a pattern of reading failure sets in, many children become defeated, lose interest in reading, and develop what often evolves into a lifelong loss of their own sense of self-worth.”
This devastating reality leads to lifelong challenges and disproportionate rates of substance abuse and incarceration.
We can dramatically improve life for dyslexic kids. The scientific evidence of dyslexia is well established. The recommended treatment of structured literacy intervention is a proven success. It is also long acknowledged that dyslexic people provide a creative and valuable voice in our culture, including such bright examples as Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Branson.
This issue is personal for me. My father, myself, and both my children are dyslexic. Here’s a little about our story.
My son, Asher (11), suffered from the lack of appropriate dyslexia identification and intervention in Michigan. We had to provide the structured literacy intervention he needed privately, costing us tens of thousands of dollars. Despite Asher’s clear signs of dyslexia from Kindergarten on, our efforts to understand and address his reading challenges started a multi-year dispute with the school district. We saw firsthand how administrators are hesitant to even say the word dyslexia. This process was emotionally taxing and resulted in an official State complaint (Special Education Complaint 19–0071). Not until Asher was also diagnosed with ADHD did the school agree to place him on an IEP. By then, in his fourth grade year, the ideal timing for dyslexia treatment had passed.
Asher is lucky. We had the ability to help him ourselves. Many other kids are not in that position. Their parents may not understand what dyslexia is and how to treat it. Many families can not afford to pay for services privately. It is obvious to everyone which children need this help. We know the names of these children and teachers have confided in us at how broken the system is. It is heartbreaking to see dyslexic kids be victims of systemic discrimination that has historically viewed their condition either one of being at worst “lazy,” or at best “not important enough” to address with appropriate learning supports.
When I was enrolled in a small Kindergarten, my mother was told I may not be a “good fit for their curriculum” because I had a hard time with the alphabet. My first grade teacher told my father he should “adjust his expectations for me” because I “would never go to college.” My fifth grade teacher was so developmentally abusive that my dad fought the administration to change my class. When I did, a great and caring teacher saved the day by investing in my self confidence simply by believing in me. Her name was Mrs. Trozzo. Thankfully, I had generous and kind people on my path that kept my story away from substance abuse or worse. Instead, I have a happy life with a loving family. I have far exceeded the abhorrent expectations of that dud of a first grade teacher, who probably just did not understand dyslexia. Let’s make sure no teachers and parents of dyslexic kids suffer from that form of ignorance again.
Citing Shaywitz again, “The greatest stumbling block preventing a dyslexic child from realizing his potential and following his dreams is the widespread ignorance about the true nature of dyslexia.”
These bills have the potential to spread awareness of dyslexia’s true nature and how we can successfully address it in Michigan.
Thank you for introducing them and your support of this important cause. Please feel free to share my letter with anyone who is open to considering the importance of this legislation. I am eager to help you ensure the passage of these measures in any way I can.