Dyslexia: A hidden disability

Webster, and experts like her, found this particular learning disability affects one in five people, but the condition may be hidden because the dyslexic mind has many strengths.

Dyslexia: A hidden disability
Webster, and experts like her, found this particular learning disability affects one in five people, but the condition may be hidden because the dyslexic mind has many strengths. (Source: wdam)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Could a highly intelligent child too often not know the real reason why school is so hard for them?

This question may sound contradictory, but experts and therapists found some kids and even adult’s learning disabilities go undetected and undiagnosed because many can find other ways to cope with a condition that affects 8.3 million people world wide.

The Professional Development Coordinator of the DuBard School for Language Disorders on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, Alison Webster explained Dyslexia.

“Dyslexia is not just a reading difficulty, it’s a spelling, and a writing, and sometimes carries over to math,” Webster said.

For 11 years, Alison Webster has put her time and energy in helping and treating children with Dyslexia.

“Then they are able to go through school for quite some time before people realize it,” Webster said.

Webster, and experts like her, found this particular learning disability affects one in five people, but the condition may be hidden because the dyslexic mind has many strengths.

“Most of our children with Dyslexia are very bright, very creative, very artistic,” Webster said.

Webster said children with Dyslexia are often highly intelligent and creative. For example, she said some have enhanced skills so they can memorize enough material to fill in the gaps. Their reading is more of putting the pieces together to get by rather than comprehension.

“They make it later on in life before they realize, ‘I can’t really read this. I’m just guessing at what some of the material is.’”, Webster said.

Webster said she wasn’t surprised when she heard of the unique case of 29-year-old Whitney Clark.

“I felt horrible about myself, honestly. I had no confidence in myself. I really had beat myself up,” Clark said.

Clark explained these negative feelings as a young adult stemmed from years of not knowing why she felt like she wasn’t as smart as other kids.

“I just felt like I learned differently,” Clark said.

Clark’s story is complex. She said she made A’s and B’s and graduated high school with honors, but she said she struggled for every grade and accolade.

“I would have to study really, really late and my parents would have to help me a lot. I definitely was not a good independent {studier},” Clark said.

Clark said her parents and teachers simply thought she had her own way of learning, until she started college in 2008 at USM. Clark couldn’t keep up. She said she couldn’t understand her professors, or certain words.

“After a couple of semesters, I went home to my parents and said,'I’m not going back. I can’t do this. Something is wrong with me.' My parents always go back and say when you came home and said ‘something is wrong’, we knew we needed to check in to see what was going on,” Clark recalled.

A battery of tests and evaluations showed Clark has Dyslexia, ADHD, and Receptive Processing Disorder, meaning a problem understanding what she reads, hears and retaining that information.

“We were blown away. We were like, ‘What is this? What is it? And what does it mean’?,” Clark said.

It meant at the age of 18, Clark said she was basically back in elementary school, learning to read again, through therapy at DuBard.

“Sounding out words like: pig and cow and the color pink, and breaking down sounds,” Clark said.

Clark said after two years of therapy at DuBard she gained confidence, and later her undergrad a master’s degree in child and family studies. Webster said Clark’s case is exceptional because she made it so far with her Dyslexia undiscovered. But Webster said the benchmark demands now put on kindergartners through third graders, make it highly unlikely a child’s disability would go undetected like Clark’s.

“We have the Mississippi Academic Achievement Program, the MAEP testing, that is done. Well, now in third grade they have to pass that assessment,” Webster said.

Another net of detection: The National Reading Panel, which set standards for good reading skills. The NRP serves as a guide teachers can use to make sure kids are hitting their developmental marks.

Most importantly, Webster said thanks to our Governor, who is dyslexic, as of 2012, there is a state regulation enforcing screenings for Dyslexia.

“Every child at the end of kindergarten must be screened for Dyslexia, as well as again at the beginning of first grade,” Webster said.

Clark said she does feel she slipped through the cracks, but her message to kids and parents is that once you find out you have Dyslexia, whenever that may be, there are resources right here in the Pine Belt to help.

Webster said that help can be costly. Webster advised parents to reach out to their public school district first for information on screening, testing and therapy. But, she said you can also reach USM’s Dyslexia Therapy Program, William Carey’s Dyslexia Therapy Program, or Mississippi College, which has a group that comes to Hattiesburg, and check if they have graduates or teachers in training for Dyslexia Therapy who can help for free. Lastly, you can always ask about financial aid from any of those programs including DuBard.

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