Spelling woes, extremely messy backpack (and bedroom), choppy reading, slow, messy writing and a dread of school – scientific studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) indicate that one in every five elementary school students displays these signs.
For parents, teachers, and administrators who observe these behaviors, questions inevitably arise about what creates this struggle with language processing and what can be done to help. A pair of moms from the Spokane Valley Stake, Staci Seliger and Kerry Jensen, have banded with several other parents to form Enlighten, a non-profit organization equipped to answer these questions.
Kerry Jensen (left) and Staci Seliger of the Spokane Valley Stake are two of the founders of Enlighten, an advocacy group formed to provide support and education for children with dyslexia and their families.
According to Jensen, mother of five and a founding member of Enlighten, “These language processing difficulties are the signs of dyslexia, a word many have heard but very few understand.”
At their inaugural public awareness forum held in January, Jensen explained that the word “dyslexia” simply means “difficulty with reading.” An individual diagnosed with dyslexia will generally struggle with a variety of language processing tasks.
Scientific research by NIH has determined that 20 percent of the population inherits the brain structure that typically yields the more creative, artistic, innovative thinking but also leads to difficulty with various forms of language processing. This genetically inherited trait is commonly known as dyslexia.
Kerry Jensen is shown speaking here at a meeting of Enlighten. The group established its headquarters at the Liberty Lake Portal in February.
Since 1987, NIH has been researching what causes difficulty with reading. According to Jensen, “In the last decade, scientific findings based on brain imaging studies that began at Yale have put an end to any speculation that dyslexia is not real.”
FMRI studies of struggling readers versus natural readers indicate a dyslexic person will have a 10-percent larger right brain than the other 80 percent of the population. In addition, Jensen explained, “People with dyslexia will use different areas of the brain for reading. There will be under-activation of the automatic recall areas of the brain.”
For a child, trying to learn the alphabet, or the Friday spelling word list, this can be extremely defeating. As they study and study the letters and words, their brain is just not hardwired to retain what they are learning in the traditional way. Often a dyslexic student will put in extreme effort, successfully pass a spelling test, but if asked to take the test two weeks later, will not recall the correct spelling.
Niki Ely, also a member of Enlighten, told of her experience feeling total despair after trying every possible avenue she could identify to help her young child who struggled to read and spell.
“One week my student set a goal to get 100% on the spelling test,” she said.
Kerry Jensen and family.
After a week of intense studying, a 48 percent grade was the result.
“That’s when I felt defeated,” Niki explained. “I was at a loss. I didn’t know what else to do. I had gone to all the teachers and the reading specialists, and then a friend gave me a website that listed signs and symptoms of dyslexia.”
Niki realized her child exhibited 40 of the 60 indicators.
With a one-in-five ratio, Niki’s child is not alone. In an average classroom, a teacher can expect to have five to seven dyslexic children. Despite these numbers, “Most teachers have never heard of it or don’t really know what it is,” explained Staci Seliger who founded Enlighten.
With five young children, and three church callings, Staci still manages to spend up to 10 hours a week working to build the Enlighten foundation. In the early days of the organization, Seliger contacted several universities to find out what type of dyslexia-related instruction was included in their Elementary Education curriculum. The answers were disheartening.
Still, a wealth of scientific data exists, as well as effective programs for teaching students who need to learn reading, spelling, and language processing in a different way. The individuals that have come together to form the Enlighten organization hope to help as many teachers, kids and parents as they can. In February they opened a new resource center in the Liberty Lake Portal building. The goal is to eventually staff the resource center with tutors – volunteer and other professionals who have been trained to instruct dyslexic students using an Orton-Gillingham certified program.
Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist, and teacher/psychologist Anna Gillingham teamed up in the 1930s to create a teaching method designed for the 20 percent of our population who aren’t “hardwired for reading” Jensen explained.
Founders of Enlighten, including Staci Seliger (third from left) and Kerry Jensen (second from right).
“The right type of instruction builds pathways to the automatic recall part of the brain,” Jensen pointed out. She has tutored her daughters for three years using a program based on the research of Orton- Gillingham, and created by Susan Barton who is internationally recognized as an expert in dyslexia.
Most people with dyslexia lack a skill called “phonemic awareness” which is critical in becoming an automatic reader. Phonemic awareness is the ability to perceive and manipulate the sounds that make up the words in a person’s language. In most people, where this skill is lacking, it can be effectively taught through repetitive, sequential methods that employ the use of multiple senses.
While the genetic brain structure of a dyslexic person generally yields more creative, artistic, innovative thinking, the language processing difficulties can feel disabling to a student who is trying to learn using methods most common in our schools. For this reason, early awareness and intervention is a key goal of the Enlighten organization. Jensen explained that a child who struggles in first grade often doesn’t even know they are struggling more than others, but a child who struggles in middle school faces anxiety (don’t ask me to read out loud), feelings of low self-esteem, fear of failure, loss of motivation and sometimes rebellion.
Early awareness and intervention is a key goal of the Enlighten organization. “We envision students coming to the Portal after school,” Seliger explained. “We hope to have volunteers here who can tutor
students using methods designed specifically for their style of learning.” Seliger hopes that teachers will also utilize the resources being compiled by the Enlighten organization.
Staci Seliger and family.
Helping young students to gain the tools necessary to be successful is a key to avoiding the more long-term emotional toll that can come from difficulty with language processing. Members of Enlighten can help parents and teachers understand what legislation exists to provide classroom accommodations for students diagnosed with dyslexia, but they’ve discovered that parents must generally take the first step for a child to benefit from the law.
For example, Heather O’Keefe told of how some students need their homework and tests printed on a different color paper because black text on white can aggravate the reading effort. The law allows a 504 plan to be put in place which details specific actions a school will take to accommodate that child. “Orlando Bloom always has his scripts printed on light green paper,” Heather pointed out. “He is dyslexic.”
“Acceptance is part of understanding,” said Bernard Daines whose grandchild has been diagnosed with dyslexia. He overheard a conversation between several grandchildren where one cousin told the other, ‘Dyslexia, oh yeah, that’s as common as left handedness.’ He applauds the efforts of Enlighten and is glad they’ve established their headquarters in his Liberty Lake Portal building. “Once you know a bit about dyslexia, you’re no longer afraid of it,” Daines said.
Scientific research points to many methods, strategies and resources to help those who struggle with dyslexia.
“At Enlighten, we are working to help people discover resources available to address the learning style of 20 percent of the kids in school today,” Jensen stated. “And once a teacher or a parent discovers there are ways to help a child overcome the challenges, you can change a child’s world.”
Both Kerry Jensen and Staci Seliger know that is true, because they have done it.
To reach a representative of the Enlighten team, call 509-255-7600 or email Kerry.firstname.lastname@example.org.