Getting a grip on dyslexia

Messenger photo by Rachel Scofield
Reynoldsburg resident Renee DeMarco, a fifth grader at Grace Christian Academy, writes sentences dictated by her instructor Shawn Schmittgen at the Dyslexia Institute of America located at 676 Brook Hollow, Suite 101 in Gahanna.

One in 10 people reading this article will struggle.

The core difficulty will be with word recognition and reading fluency, though the reader also may in general have trouble with spelling, writing and expressing himself clearly.

Ten to 15 percent of the U.S. population has dyslexia, yet only five out of every 100 dyslexics are recognized and receive assistance, according to the Dyslexia Research Institute.

Reynoldsburg resident Debra Demarco first noticed a problem with her daughter’s reading when she was in first grade, but it wasn’t until when her fourth-grade teacher recommended that Renee be tested that she knew something was truly wrong.

But even after testing showed Renee had dyslexia, Demarco was not able to find affordable help for her daughter until representatives from the Dyslexia Institutes of America visited Renee’s school.

In January, Joel Greff opened the Institute, located in Gahanna, after his son went through a similar experience.

"His preschool teacher first noticed something wrong and thought he should be tested," he said of his son, who is now 10. "The diagnosis was a pervasive development disorder, but they didn’t know specifically which kind of problem it was."

Throughout his early elementary years, his son had difficulty focusing and with reading and writing.

After struggling throughout his second-grade year, his son began school at Marburn Academy in Columbus, where he was diagnosed with dyslexia.

"We’re fortunate the teachers picked up on it early," Greff said.

Greff knows, however, that not every family has the means to support sending their children to private or specialized schools where they can get more one-on-one instruction.

Renee Demarco began working with Dr. Linda Condron, director at the institute’s clinic, in May for two hours once a week, and her mother already has seen progress.

"Renee’s self confidence has improved and so have her grades," Demarco said. "She’s reading better and better thanks to what the Dyslexia Institutes has done for her. Linda has done a great job teaching Renee and I think what helps is she can relate to Renee. They hit it off on day one and it hasn’t stopped."

Like with Renee, dyslexia can affect a person’s self-image. Students with dyslexia often end up feeling "dumb" and less capable – leading to students becoming discouraged about school.

"The impression is they are lazy or aren’t trying," Greff said.

In reality, he says, dyslexia is the "black hole of learning disabilities."

"A lot of kids ends up in special education programs, and they kids have average to above average intelligence," he said.

It isn’t only children, however, Greff sees struggling with dyslexia.

"They masked it all their lives because as children, there wasn’t a diagnosis," Greff said.

In fact, 15 to 20 percent of the population have a language-based learning disability, according to the International Dyslexia Association. Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties.

About 60 percent of individuals diagnosed with attention deficit disorders also are dyslexic, but because only the behavioral aspects of ADD are addressed, their learning and language differences are often unrecognized, according to the Dyslexia Research Institute.

Without the proper diagnosis and help, many of these dyslexics and ADD individuals are only functionally literate, and are part of the 44 million adults with only the lowest level of literacy.

This limits their ability to find jobs, or to advance in their current positions, Greff said.

"We’ve tested adults who got promoted and now have to write reports," he said.

The institute has tested more than 25 people so far, he said, ranging in age from 1st grade students to adults in their late 50s.

As part of the testing process, the institute conducts a diagnostic battery of 11 tests.

"The combination of the results helps us with our diagnosis," Greff said. "If they do have dyslexia, they receive therapy that is individually tailored."

Therapy usually consists of visiting the institute once a week for a two-hour session, as well as home therapy, he said.

"It’s been really neat to see the difference made in one week in the kids," he said.

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