JUNE FORD returned home one afternoon in 1956 and happened to overhear a conversation between her young son, John, and a playmate:
“Where does your mom go every day?”
“She has to go to school. She has to study special ed because, you know, I’m retarded.”
John and his mom had a long talk after the friend went home, and Mrs. Ford did her best to do away with his wrong idea. She knew her son was far from retarded, far from stupid or lazy or slow. He just couldn’t seem to learn to write or read. In those days, most teachers assumed that those problems were a result of minimal brain damage or emotional disturbance, so John was considered a poor and lazy student. Few teachers noticed how bright he was in other ways or that he built a working cotton candy machine at age 10. In school, he was failing and, as his mother says, “It was terribly frustrating for both of us – not nearly as much for me as for John.”
June Ford had returned to school to get a degree after her husband’s death when John was 6, knowing she would have to find a way to support her four children. She learned that her son’s dyslexia, once called “word blindness,” affects one in every 10 children. And she learned that there are those who found a way to live very successfully with the problem -people like Albert Einstein, Leonardo daVin-ci, Nelson Rockefeller, Woodrow Wilson and George S. Patton.
Ford received her Ph.D. in speech and hearing pathology in 1965, remarried and became Dr. June Shelton, director and founder of Shelton School and Evaluation Center.
John finally dropped out of school in the 10th grade, but he is now a partner in a successful landscaping company. His son, also dyslexic, received help early as a student at his grandmother’s school. He is now an avid reader attending Richardson High School.
The progress made since John’s childhood in the understanding and treatment of dyslexia is enormous. The World Federation of Neurology defines dyslexia as “a disorder in children, who, despite conventional classroom experience, fail to attain the language skills of reading, writing and spelling commensurate with their intellectual abilities.” As with Shelton’s family, it is often inherited.
One dyslexic child described his problem simply: “I can think okay. What’s wrong with me is just my words. I forget them, and I can’t manage them.”
Studies done at Shelton School estimate that of the approximately 380,000 Dallas children ages 3 to 14, 38,000 have learning disabilities. Only about 9,800 are involved in special programs, the study stated. Of course, not all of these children are dyslexic. A learning disabled child, as defined by the National Advisory Committee on Handicapped Children, has “one or more significant deficits in essential learning processes which require special educational techniques for remediation.”
The medical causes of dyslexia remain unknown; each theory developed over the years has gradually been proven wrong. Dyslexia no longer appears to be a result of minimal brain damage or mixed dominance of the hemispheres of the brain. Recently, researchers discovered differences in the anatomy of the brain of a dyslexic auto accident victim who had donated his body to medicine. They now believe dys-lexics have an abnormal cell structure in the areas of the brain that control language. Other studies by Harold N. Levin-son of New York University Medical Center propose that dyslexia stems from inner-ear problems. He treats his patients with anti-motion sickness drugs and says that as of yet there is no surgical cure for the problem, only medical treatment and educational tutoring.
The terminology becomes confusing, but most experts use the term “dyslexia” and the phrase “language/learning disability” interchangeably. A specific language learning disability, however, can be any one of an umbrella full of problems: dys-orthographia (spelling), dysgraphia (handwriting), dyscalculia (arithmetic), dyssym-bolia cyslogia (comprehension), etc.
Recognizing dyslexia in a child is difficult because the problem makes itself apparent in many different ways. Dyslexia affects three to four times as many boys as girls, most sources say, but some educators suspect that these figures are distorted since in past years boys were expected to perform better in school than girls. Pamphlets published by the Orton Dyslexia Society, an international non-profit organization that sponsors language programs, research and publications related to dyslexia, say the language/ learning disabled child’s intelligence, vision, hearing, motor control and physical development range from very good to poor, but that most dyslexics are about average in these areas. “He has no more problems with home life, school attendance and emotional life than anyone else except as they result from frustration and discouragement caused by failure,” an Or-ton pamphlet says.
HERE ARE some problems common to dyslexics. Rarely will a dyslexic possess just one or every one of these traits.
– Managing letters is difficult. As Carole Hill, director of Dean Learning Center, says, the dyslexic child remains at a concrete level as far as abstract symbols are concerned. Sometimes it’s hard for him to realize that while you can turn a man’s pipe in any direction and it’s still a pipe, it’s just not so with the letter “d.” A “d” becomes a “p” or a “q” or a “b.”
Letters or numbers are reversed(“nuclear” becomes “unclear”) and thechild has difficulty associating soundswith the corresponding letter. He has trouble discriminating between words like”pin” and “pen.” Anna Ramey, assistantdirector of the child study unit at ScottishRite Hospital, says the child may notnecessarily see things backwards, as iscommonly believed. He may just confuseletters.
When reading, he easily loses hisplace or skips lines.
He has trouble with sequences of allkinds -the months of the year, yesterday,today, tomorrow and next week. Direc-tions-up, down and backwards -areconfusing. Geography, perception ofdistance and map reading may be hard tomaster.
He has trouble focusing on the mostimportant stimulus. The teacher’s voicemay be confused with those down the hall.He may have a hard time focusing on oneobject in a cluttered room.
The child cannot learn and rememberwhole words by sight. Often he cannot callup the words he wants to say: “Oh, youknow that drinking thing”… or “I needthe thing you use to write with.” (Onechild said he couldn’t remember wordsbecause his internal Xerox machine wasn’tvery strong.)
– He may be clumsy; his handwritingmay be poor.
– Words come out wrong: “please uphurry” or “basgetti and cheese.”
Some of these problems are not characteristic of dyslexia itself, but are results of the learning problem. Hyperactivity, dis-tractability, frequent mood change and difficulty organizing time and tasks may also be characteristic of the dyslexic.
IF A PARENT suspects his child has dyslexia, or any learning disability, the first stop should be with a physician or school nurse. Many learning and behavioral problems are understandable results of physical problems. Be sure the child’s vision and hearing are normal and that a simple neurological exam is completed.
Public schools are required by law to offer tests for learning disabilities if a child seems to need them. Or a parent may request (and pay for) an independent assessment of a student’s educational needs, and public schools can provide information as to where tests are available and what criteria should be considered.
The Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children, Dean Learning Center, Shelton Evaluation Center, Winston School and Highland Park Presbyterian Church Mediative Center are among the places besides public schools and private therapists’ offices where children can be evaluated for language learning problems.
Although it is never too late to recognize and remediate dyslexia, ideally, children should be tested for dyslexia in the first grade or even kindergarten with memory games, design copying and picture naming. A history of the student’s health and education as well as that of other family members is usually required. At Scottish Rite, the evaluation is administered by a speech pathologist, audiologist, educational diagnostician, social worker and physician or psychologist. Scottish Rite was the first institution in Dallas to work with dyslexics; its evaluation process is perhaps the most complete in the city. Test results are usually accepted by private schools, though additional tests may be required and administered by individual schools. Tests gauge intellectual potential and determine a student’s actual level of academic function in reading, spelling, arithmetic and oral and written language. Emotional well-being is also investigated at Scottish Rite to rule out a primary emotional problem as the basis of the difficulties.
The Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children was founded in 1921 by an orthopedist and a group of Masons. The program there has always included language/learning disabled children. A child must be referred by a physician before his application to the hospital will be considered and he must not have reached his 15th birthday. Treatment is free.
Anna Ramey says students enrolled in the language/learning program at the hospital may attend their regular school in the mornings and come there in the afternoons. Scottish Rite evaluates approximately 500 children a year for language disabilities. Ramey says that because testing methods are not available everywhere, the hospital is a good place to have a child tested even if you plan to send him to school somewhere else. There is a waiting list.
Many private schools in Dallas use a program developed at Scottish Rite from several methods. The multisensory curriculum for teaching reading, writing and spelling is an expansion of techniques developed in the Thirties by Anna Gilling-ham, working with research already begun by dyslexia pioneer Dr. Samuel Torrey Or-ton. Orton was challenged in the Twenties by the possibility of teaching children with reading problems by the old-fashioned alphabetic phonetic structure rather than the newly introduced basal reader whole-word approach. Gillingham published some specific teaching strategies, The Gill-ingham Manuals, used widely as the theoretical base upon which other variations have grown.
The Orton-Gillingham method came to Dallas in 1958 when Aylett R. Cox, now director of teacher training at Dean, was persuaded by a Dallas family to go to Kansas City and learn the method from Gill-ingham-trained teachers at the Barstow School, a college-preparatory private school. The family’s 12-year-old son began reading, and as he did, Mrs. Cox’s phone began ringing and hasn’t stopped. She was asked to teach accelerated classes at Hockaday; in 1965, as the method caught on and the demand was too much for one teacher, a teacher-training program developed. In 1965, Dr. Lucius Waites, medical director of child development at Scottish Rite, asked her to come there and organize a teacher-training program. The program eventually moved to Dean, where the Crystal Charity Ball provided funds to build a teacher training wing. Cox still lectures throughout the country.
Teachers who complete the two-year graduate program are certified as clinicians or language therapists and can teach in many public and private schools as well as some accelerated schools. The program, which offers a structured curriculum for teaching reading, writing and spelling skills, is offered in various forms in the Mesquite, Lancaster, DeSoto, Royce City, Quinlan, Carrollton, Red Oak, Farmer’s Branch, Longview, Rock-wall and Lewisville schools, as well as in public schools in 30 other states, Colombia and England.
The program is not yet in use in the D1SD. “Big wheels turn more slowly,” Cox says. “Dallas public schools have more problems than dyslexic children, and they have to take care of first things first.” The program is not approved by the Dallas Public School System, Cox says, and Dr. Allen Sullivan, administrator for student support for DISD, confirms. Children are not allowed time off from school to attend tutoring. (The program Cox recommends is intended for use during school hours since children have trouble absorbing new information after a full day at school.)
Sullivan says he thinks there are very few kids with classic learning disability syndrome. “What I see more often is anxious and excited parents who want to discover why their kids aren’t performing. It becomes an easy way of explaining another problem -why the kids aren’t living up to parents’ expectations. Learning disabilities put the focus on the child instead of the parents.”
Sullivan calls dyslexia “a phenomena of middle- to upper-class whites” and points out that very few national statistics label minority students language/learning disabled and that of all the private schools in Dallas, very few minority children are enrolled. Cox explains this by pointing out that most minority children in the area attend DISD and are not allowed to leave school to attend the program.
To say that you are taking your child elsewhere because the kind of education he needs is not available in the public school is not accurate. The quality of the teachers is the same; all those teachers who are now in private schools sat in the same classes with the teachers now employed in DISD. Their methodology may be different, but it is proven that if you believe in a methodology it will work. The only certified training programs DISD accepts, Sullivan says, are university certified programs.
“We are a public institution. If I said we were meeting all the needs of all the kids you’d know I was lying. We can’t always provide excellence, but we can assure you of the essentials of education,” Sullivan says.”
There are approximately 3,300 children in classes for the learning disabled in DISD. Ten to 12 children are allowed in a class at a time. “About 25 percent of the 600 teachers certified in special ed in DISD are certified to teach the learning disabled. There are resources available. The state provides teacher positions according to need and based on the number served the previous year.
For every 100 children, the state provides another person or persons with equivalent training. A school might hire one counselor to take the place of two special ed teachers or might employ two aides in place of one teacher.
Dean Learning Center, established in 1970 and now undergoing full renovation and expansion as a project of the Dallas Association of Interior Designers, is a diagnostic center and school as well as a teacher training center. The goal of the school, according to director Carole Hill, is “rehabilitive language training.” Teachers work to get children back in nonspecial schooling -to “mainstream” them.
Hill says most dyslexics can learn to read, write and spell. No two children experience the problem in the same way, she says. A good multisensory program teaches more children to use their senses more efficiently, but simply slowing down the public school program isn’t enough.
A questionnaire sent to graduates of Dean showed that on the average, children had returned to the mainstream and were making B’s and C’s. Hill encourages parents to realize that their dyslexic child is more than a nonreader. He is an intelligent child or an athlete or perhaps an artist or a coordinated dancer. He may even be a talented creative writer who just has a problem expressing the words trapped in his head.
Tuition at Dean for nine months ranges from $3,600 to $4,200. Half-day tuition is $2,200. Summer-school classes are also available.
Winston School, founded in 1975, recognizes that there is no one answer for all children. No general teaching technique is used. Anne Rehmet, director of admissions, says teachers there “latch on to whatever works.” The school is open to 150 children, grades one through nine, and is intended to help each return to the regular classroom with skills and compensatory strategies needed to succeed.
Winston facilities include a clinic offering full diagnostic services to all children, whether or not they are future students of the school.
“Most kids who come to Winston,” Rehmet says, “have been turned off to school. Their self-esteem and ego need help. Our classroom is, we hope, no-fail. We don’t take a student out of one subject because he’s good at it in order to emphasize the subject he isn’t good at.”
Winston students study Texas history, algebra and other subjects at the same point in the school year that they would be taught the corresponding subjects in public schools. A child is admitted into Winston at the same grade level he would have been in had he never failed in public schools.
Tuition for the upper school at Winston is $5,000 per year plus lunch and testing fees. Lower school tuition is $4,800. More than half of Winston School’s students receive financial aid, though available funds are currently totally committed and there is a waiting list.
At Highland Park Presbyterian Church Mediative Center, Principal Sue Main is responsible for 65 students in grades one through eight. A full curriculum including art, drama and athletics is offered, and the school is accredited. The Orton-Gilling-ham method forms the basis of the program. Tuition is $3,270 per year. Students remain at the Mediative Center an average of three years. The student-teacher ratio is eight to one. The church subsidizes the center, and chapel is offered weekly. Scholarships are available.
Dr. Shelton of the Shelton School maintains that arguments about methods are ridiculous; teachers are to teach the basic elements of the English language the best way they can. “If a student can’t learn at a desk,” Shelton says, “let him write in the sand or on another pupil’s back with his finger.”
Study skills are emphasized at Shelton; beginning in the second grade, students do homework and drills designed to teach them to organize their time, energy and materials.
While many schools admit to de-emphasizing academics so that a child with a language/learning disorder can spend more time with success – perhaps studying music or art or participating in athletics – Shelton says a student disabled in reading risks wasting his gifts for engineering or music if he can’t get through the academic basics and go on to college.
Shelton encourages parents to know everything that goes on at the school and to show pride in the school. “Some parents feel this is a passing time. This attitude is really rough on a child; fortunately, most parents get over that feeling. Kids develop loyalty to the school as kids do in regular school; they even have a pep squad.” Parents are not, however, encouraged to tutor children themselves. Their time, Shelton says, can be better spent having fun with their son or daughter.
Tuition at Shelton is $4,500 per yearwith a $300 registration and activities fee.Scholarships are available.
How Children Study
By D Magazine
By D Magazine
By D Magazine