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Dyslexia is Common but Resources Scarce in Pennsylvania; Conference Tackles the Issue

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability which makes it hard for those who have it to learn to read and write. According the Pennsylvania branch of the International Dyslexia Association, it’s the most common learning disability.

“15 to 20 percent of the population have some level of dyslexia.” said Pittsburgh region of the Association Chairperson Christine Seppi. “That’s a really huge number. Autism, which gets a lot of press, has one in 50. This is one in five or six.”

A one-day conference in Pittsburgh will shed light on the disorder and help parents, teachers and others better understand dyslexia.

“About the diagnosis, about the management, about how to teach people with dyslexia,” said Seppi, “we have people talking about how you deal with it in the classroom with appropriate accommodations, we have somebody who’s going to be talking about assistive technology – there are a lot of apps for the iPad that actually can be extremely helpful.”

Pittsburgh is behind the curve on the issue, according to Seppi. She said Philadelphia has about 10 special private schools for kids with dyslexia, and is on its 37th conference; this will be Pittsburgh’s third. Plus, she said other states, such as New Jersey and Ohio, have introduced legislation for mandatory early testing for dyslexia.  She said an early diagnosis can make all the difference for a child with the disorder.

“This is really common, and if we would help kids starting from when they’re in kindergarten and first grade, we would identify the kids who needed even more help and get them the help early before they’re way behind their peers,” said Seppi, “somebody who doesn’t get identified until third or fourth grade, they are already years behind.”

Seppi said part of the problem is not enough awareness of dyslexia, and teachers and parents not being sure how to deal with it; and holding a child back in school does not help.

“Because it’s not an issue of intelligence, it’s an issue that they need a different way of teaching,” she said, “and so if they just get it again the same way, it’s not going to help any, you’ve just told that person even more that they’re stupid, which they’re already thinking they are.”

Seppi said there is no cure for dyslexia.

“But it is something that can be managed,” she said. “People with dyslexia can learn to read. In fact there are extremely successful people with dyslexia like Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines and Charles Schwab. There are lots of highly successful people who are dyslexic, but our jails are also full of people who can’t read.”

Those who go undiagnosed are more likely to fall behind in school and are more likely to drop out of school altogether. That, said Seppi, is why early intervention and management is key.

The Pittsburgh Dyslexia Conference is Saturday April 5 and is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Region of the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. It’s open to anyone with an interest in the topic. More information can  be found at www.pbida.org

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