BOISE, Idaho — Idaho is one of the few states that does not have laws identifying or addressing dyslexia as a specific learning disability.
Now two bills hope to change that – and a has just cleared the floor of the Senate.
It’s a mission Robin Zikmund has led for more than four years, inspired by his son, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2018.
“I brought my assessment to my school with excitement, like, ‘Now I finally understand where his fight is,'” she said. dyslexics, and I thought, ‘Well, we should.
Zikmund is the founder and president of Decoding Dyslexia Idaho, the local chapter of a national organization started in New Jersey. Her goal, she said in an interview with Idaho News 6 on Thursday, is to reach the one in five college students who struggle with dyslexia on a daily basis.
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and we are celebrating with a month full of opportunity. Come learn and grow with us! https://t.co/RD0YvZwHLX
— Idaho Dyslexia Decoding (@DDIDchange) September 18, 2020
Decoding Dyslexia Idaho (DDI) has another goal: to inform policymakers and educators on how they can better support children with dyslexic characteristics. Since its inception, the group has encouraged Gov. Brad Little to proclaim October Dyslexia Awareness Month and has spoken with the state Department of Education on several occasions.
Related: Dyslexia Advocates Continue to Push for Policy Change
Over the past year, Zikmund said DDI began to focus on drafting dyslexia-focused legislation with a team of literacy experts. Experts include Dr. Deb Blaser, who helped establish the Idaho Reading Flag in 1999.
“These kids don’t get that early screening. So the result is that they feel like they’re stupid. They feel like they’ve failed,” Zikmund said. “That then creates a lot of issues that shouldn’t be happening, and those are mental health issues.
“In fourth grade, my son was in a place where he had so many anxieties and fears about going to school that he literally told me he wanted to kill himself,” a- she continued. “The reason I’m so passionate about bringing this legislation to Idaho is to catch the kids when we know we can provide appropriate corrective action.”
Sally Brown, assistant professor and literacy expert at the College of Idaho, is also part of the group. Brown met Zikmund while serving in the state advisory committee on special education and said they bonded over their shared experience of having a dyslexic child.
Related: Passionate Moms of Dyslexic Students Help Organize Dyslexia Awareness Month in Idaho
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin, meaning it’s simply how a person’s brain works, Brown said.
“What it looks like to the reader is that they can be disfluent. They have difficulty with phonological processing in their minds, so they don’t understand sounds and language,” Brown said. “You often see disfluent readings from dyslexic students as well as terrible spelling, for example, because they don’t know how to represent that language code.”
Brown said there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding dyslexia.
“It’s actually this challenge and this processing disorder in the brain,” she said. “They look at the words and hear the words differently than a typical reader.”
If passed, the DDI legislation would direct the state Department of Education to implement evidence-based screening, intervention measures, and professional development for children with dyslexia. The screening would coincide with the Idaho Reading Index (IRI), which the state uses to test literacy rates for K-3 students.
Thanks to the legislation, dyslexia would be examined up to fifth grade to flag students who are not reading well. Brown said the group of students would then receive additional measures through their teacher to improve their reading.
“It helps differentiate between what’s happening in basic education, general education classrooms, and then what needs to happen for an intervention to really move the bar for that student,” he said. she stated.
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On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Carl Crabtree of Grangeville carried the DDI legislation through the Senate. It passed unanimously in the Senate.
“We put these kids in special classes or whatever, thinking they can’t learn. When in fact, they can read,” Crabtree said Wednesday. “I learned of the neglect we inflicted on these children. We did not help them.”
During the debate, several lawmakers shared their personal experiences with dyslexia.
“My dad was dyslexic. When he was in school, he was called stupid, a model, and a problem. Even though that was about 80 years ago, that stigma is still there among students in Idaho today,” Republican Senator Robert Blair of Kendrick said. “Looking back, I can only identify one thing my father was afraid of – and that was being in public and having to read something in a public place.”
The bill now heads to the House Education Committee for review. Lawmakers will compare it to another piece of dyslexia legislation proposed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.
Ybarra’s legislation would similarly require screening for Idaho K-3 students with instructions and follow-up intervention. The bill would also create a “dyslexia handbook” with resources and training for teachers to help them create reading intervention plans specifically designed to help students with dyslexia.
“It’s critical that we detect dyslexia and other barriers to learning as early as possible so that children who learn differently can still learn effectively,” Ybarra said in a press release. “Students often don’t receive a diagnosis of dyslexia until the senior years. At that time, teaching students to read for understanding and even for enjoyment is an uphill battle.”
To help administer the legislation, the state Department of Education would designate a dyslexia coordinator to provide Idaho school districts with additional support and resources. The cost of implementing Ybarra’s legislation is “subject to appropriations” but is estimated to be over $2 million, according to the statement.