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LA parent voice: Schools ‘need to be sensitive to the differences’ of children with dyslexia and partner with their parents

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | October 1, 2018

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Every week, we sit down with Los Angeles parents to talk about their students, their schools, and what questions or suggestions they have for their school district. (See our previous interviews.)

Faith Wroten’s son has dyslexia, and finding the right support for him has been a challenge as he’s been in different schools and school districts. She’s found that some schools, teachers, and districts still lack sensitivity and don’t provide enough guidance for parents of students with learning differences.

Wroten started to notice her son’s struggles with reading when he was 6 years old. “I thought, ‘He’s young, he will get better.’” Instead, it got worse, and when he was in fourth grade, his performance in school plummeted. He was attending an elementary school in Compton Unified, where he also went to middle school. But this year he moved to LA Unified and is in ninth grade at Jordan High School.

“I was always scared to come to LAUSD because it’s so big,” Wroten said. “But he is doing fine. He’s playing football, and he has a period where he gets reading intervention in class. Now he knows how to ask questions and request help, but getting there was a process. I have had to teach him myself how to ask for help.”

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects 1 in 5 students nationwide. Students have difficulty reading fluently and accurately and with spelling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they require special education services. But they do require different levels of intervention.

LA Unified has been gradually increasing support for students with dyslexia. Last year, it launched a Dyslexia Awareness Campaign and marked October as Dyslexia Awareness Month across the district. This school year, the goal is to increase parent participation at workshops and access to the district’s resources. On Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 10 a.m., the district will hold its Central Committee Parent Training on Dyslexia Awareness at the Office of Parent and Community Services on Temple Street in downtown LA. The first parent workshop of the year will be Nov. 7.

According to a presentation by district officials at an August school board meeting, teachers from more than 500 schools in grades kindergarten through second — along with principals, assistant principals, school psychologists, and other school staff — have been trained on identifying characteristics associated with dyslexia. Officials also announced that the number Intensive Diagnostic Educational Centers (IDEC) will expand, and teachers will receive additional training at 450 more elementary schools.

These centers support 600 students a year who have significant reading disabilities and don’t respond to traditional intervention. Last year, 23 were in place, and this year 19 more will be added at school sites.

Wroten said her experience in the early stages was challenging. She didn’t know where to go to ask for support, and the elementary school her son was attending was not a good resource. She couldn’t get any guidance. She had to look for external resources on her own. But after years of learning about her son’s learning differences, she was able to request the right support from the school and an Individualized Educational Plan was put in place for her son. Now he receives reading intervention in class and enough support for him to have a 3.8 grade-point average. “He has improved a lot,” she said.

How did you start noticing your son’s trouble with reading?

I noticed that he was having difficulties when he was 6 years old. He was always counting his letters backwards. His D’s have always been backwards, so dog is bog. To this day, we have to still help him, to turn it around.

What were the first steps you took to help him?

In second grade, I had him tested because the school said, ‘Hey, something is not right.’ I had everything tested: his eyes, his ears, his sight, even his speech. They said his speech was fine, and I was saying, ‘No, it’s not.’ But that was when he was in a different district. This is his first year in an LAUSD school. So since he wasn’t identified in school, I took him to get an assessment at Lindamood-Bell (Learning Center), and that’s when we found that he had dyslexia and an auditory issue. So, I took the results back to the school. This is when we were in a different district. And then he had some support in class, but in fourth grade his reading was terrible. He cried throughout fourth grade because he really couldn’t understand half the things that he was reading, so he felt in the dark. He was really having a hard time. He then had a resource specialist teacher come to his class, something he also has now. I put him through a summer reading program, and that actually sparked something.

What can school districts and schools do to better support students with dyslexia and their parents?

I think, honestly, the district, all school districts, need to be more open to the fact that there are a lot of kids that are different. There could be a cookie-cutter way of learning, and if there are kids that have dyslexia or any issue that requires them to learn differently, they need to have those resources available to them (sooner). And it shouldn’t be that big of a fight for parents when we’re entrusting our kids to the district. If I’m entrusting my kids to you, then you should be able to get me help or guide me to where the resources are to help them. It’s supposed to be a partnership. I am bringing my child to you every day, to educate them, then you need to be sensitive to the differences that they may have. Our kids don’t learn the same. I think they need to be sensitive to them socio-economically as well, because there are some kids who have other stuff going on, that’s also preventing them from fully engaging in what’s going on in school.

Some teachers see them as a distraction and remove the child from class. They need to see beyond and why he’s been this way. A lot of teachers are not taking that extra step, and so they are just ostracizing these kids and they are taking them out of the classroom and they actually need help. Sometimes that’s a cry for help. And so, we are not being sensitive to that. But also we need more resources for these kids, from the state.

What can parents request from schools to help their students?

I’m still making sure that his IEP is being used, that he is seeing his RSP teacher (a resource specialist). From what I know, he’s doing OK right now. He’s gone from not really reading to him having a 3.8 (GPA) at this point, so he’s improved a lot. I was always scared to come to LAUSD because it’s so big, but so far he’s doing well. I think just getting to the point to get an IEP for my son was a very long process and a total waste of time. And the kids get lost sometimes in the shuffle. It’s a waste of time because he is still going to school every day at that point. And he still needs services at that point. And what he is doing is prolonging him getting his services. It wasn’t easy, to finally get the IEP.

Once he got the IEP and an RSP teacher, he was able to just not be pressured with reading. I was also able to find help from places like the Special Needs Network. I’m just a really proactive parent. I know that a lot of our parents are not. And so our kids end up really, really, really struggling. Actually, I’m seeking to become a teacher. I’m working on going into a program seeking my credential as a special education aide, so that I can help kids, like my son, to help them get more.

How have you helped him?

He and I had to learn to ask questions. There are things that I’ve had to teach him because when kids are dyslexic, a lot of times they learn how to compensate for their lack. And so a lot of them become behavioral. A lot of them become manipulative because they’re trying to figure out a way around what their issue is. I have helped him get organized.

I think the reason why he’s come through the way he has is because I’ve had to go and self-educate him and myself on how to deal with him on our own.

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