At Yale Meeting, Dyslexia Advocates Call for More Public Engagement

Yale University in Connecticut recently hosted a gathering of over 200 students, parents and advocates who called for changes in the way classrooms help kids suffering from dyslexia. Specifically, they called for earlier testing to help identify those who suffer from the learning disability which affects as many as 20% of Americans.

Although the common understanding of dyslexia is as a reading issue that arises out of those affected seeing letters on the page in reverse, in reality, dyslexia is typically diagnosed in those who have difficulty reading that is out of proportion to their IQ scores and education levels. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, led by Dr. Bennett A. Shaywitz and Dr. Sally Shaywitz, is also calling for additional assistance in test taking for those who are diagnosed.

And they want to change the public perception of dyslexia so that it is not seen as a sign of ignorance.

Attitudes toward dyslexia are slowing shifting as more famous and successful people reveal that they have struggled to read, including businessman Sir Richard Branson, actress Whoopi Goldberg, investor Charles Schwab and even Connecticut's governor, Dannel P. Malloy.

Singer Harry Belafonte Jr. was at Monday's meeting and said he doesn't think dyslexia should be viewed as a disorder.

According to Wes Duplantier of Yale's The Courant, Belafonte, who is dyslexic, called himself "differently enabled," and credits dyslexia with influencing the way he saw the world. Many who spoke at the conference agreed with Belafonte's assessment and dean of admissions for the Duke University School of Medicine Brenda Armstrong said to convert the public to this point of view, people with dyslexia needed to become more politically engaged.

No changes could be expected until those with dyslexia make more of an effort to make themselves heard, Armstrong pointed out.

Dyslexia advocates have had some success in the nation's capital and in changing the rules at some colleges and universities.

Some colleges now allow dyslexic students extra time on exams and make other types of accommodations.

Yale, for instance, allows students with documented cases of dyslexia to complete different assignments to satisfy foreign language requirements for their degree.

And Armstrong said her school's admissions process is a holistic one, focusing on more than just classroom grades and standardized test scores, which might reflect poorly on dyslexic students, even if they understood the material.

Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney, who is one of the 55 Congressional members of the Dyslexia Caucus, said that lawmakers should force the issue and mandate that testing agencies give more time to students taking standardized tests who have dyslexia and have medical documentation of their diagnosis.

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