Fayetteville Mayor Michael Whisenant and Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman proclaim October as Dyslexia Awareness Month, as representatives of the newly formed Middle Tennessee Dyslexia Support group look on. The group will join the Middle Tennessee Reading Center in presenting an informational seminar focusing on how to help students with dyslexia on Oct. 15.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month established to create awareness of the signs of dyslexia, dispel myths and offer resources to parents or teachers who need help with a child that struggles in school.

Lori Arnett, M.Ed., owner and operator of the Middle Tennessee Reading Center, in collaboration with Middle Tennessee Dyslexia Support, will present an informational seminar on Tuesday, Oct. 15, for parents and teachers titled “How to Help Your Struggling Reader”. The seminar will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Public. The question, “What is dyslexia?” and others will be answered.

By some estimates dyslexia affects up to 20 percent of the population and represents the majority of all of those with learning disabilities. Nearly four out of every 20 children in an average school classroom have dyslexia. These children are often creative and of superior intelligence but, without cognitive-based intervention, perform poorly in school until they get the proper help.

Children with dyslexia are often mischaracterized as being slow learners or lazy students. This stigma may result in low self-esteem, anxiety disorders and is frustrating for not only the child but for parents and teachers as well.

 The most effective intervention is early, hopefully before the child reaches second grade. But, even before they enter school, they will exhibit some clues. They may have trouble learning to speak and doing such things as learning nursery rhymes as a result of memory and attention span difficulties. Kids with dyslexia also have difficulty recognizing letters and sounds, reading comprehension, and have poor spelling and letter recognition.

 Dyslexia is regarded as a neurobiological condition that is genetic in origin. This means that individuals can inherit this condition from a parent or grandparent, and it affects the performance of the neurological system – specifically, the parts of the brain responsible for learning to read.

They have trouble memorizing number facts and math operations, have a hard time organizing written and spoken language, and other difficulties.

But, their weaknesses are often off set by strengths. Many dyslexic individuals are gifted in science, math, fine arts, journalism and other fields. Some famous individuals who had dyslexia were Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Edison. In fact, over 50 percent of NASA employees are reported as having dyslexia.

“It’s God that gives you a super power to compensate for these deficits,” said Stacie Newton, the parent of a dyslexic child, explaining that a dyslexic person’s difficulties stem from a basic neurological functioning of the left side of the brain. Using MRI technology, researchers have compared hundreds of scans of people’s brains and have a good idea of what a “typical” scan looks like. As a result, researchers can now tell whether parts of a person’s brain look different than expected.

In Tennessee, The Center for Dyslexia at Middle Tennessee State University conducts research on dyslexia and translates research to practice through the organization and delivery of professional services to students with dyslexia, their teachers, schools and psychologists.

Jennifer Murdock and Newton are teachers by trade, both have dyslexic children and both have a history of dyslexia in their families. Stacie’s son was screened for dyslexia outside of the school system, and Jennifer’s daughter was diagnosed at the end of the first year of school.

The two met in church, and out of their concern for dyslexic children, formed Middle Tennessee Dyslexia Support. They field questions and point individuals to resources that may help unlock a child’s learning potential. The sooner it’s diagnosed the better, in order to enable these students to achieve their potential.

Parents who suspect that their child may have dyslexia should speak to the child’s teacher and may also contact Stacie Newton or Jennifer Murdock at midtndyslexia@gmail.com for information and resources.  “We all want what is best for our kids,” said Murdock.

Bright kids may be gifted and can squeak by in class for a while, said Murdock, but if a kid is not reading by first grade, they will still be at the same level in third grade, they said.  

The right type of instruction can change the complete trajectory of their future. “Most of them turn out very successful once they get out of school,” said Newton.

All school districts are now required to screen all students for characteristics of dyslexia through their existing response to instruction and intervention screening process since the “Say Dyslexia” Law took effect July 1, 2016.

Tennessee’s General Assembly passed Senate Bill No. 2635 that took effect July 1, 2016 relative to dyslexia. It states that the department of education must develop procedures for identifying characteristics of dyslexia through the universal screening process. Once the characteristics of dyslexia are identified, parents are notified that the child needs dyslexia specific intervention.

Parents are to be provided with information and resources, with the student’s progress monitored and reported.

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