A local student’s story inspires legislation on dyslexia

Thanks to an early diagnosis, Maxin is catching up in school.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 1:28 AM EST
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Two local West Virginia teachers are pushing for a bill that they say will help kids with dyslexia. They say a part of what inspired the bill is a local student’s story.

Maxin’s mom Misti Sims said she started noticing her son struggling with reading in Pre-K. Although Maxin got extra help, his challenges became more apparent in first grade.

He remembered, “I couldn’t really keep up with the teacher. Sometimes I’d notice a kid beside me who was like already done with the book when I was on like the second page.”

Beyond challenges in the classroom, this added stress at home.

Sims said, “During Covid and we had to be the teachers at home, it was such a struggle. There was a lot of yelling and just arguing because we just didn’t know what the problem was.”

Sims said Maxin was diagnosed with dyslexia towards the end of second grade.

She said, “The word ‘dyslexia’ did change our lives and it changed it for the better because now we know the tools - and what, you know, Maxin has to have accommodation-wise and things like that.”

With the proper intervention and accommodation, Maxin went from reading at a kindergarten level in the third grade to now reading at a third grade level in fourth grade.

When asked how the diagnosis made a difference in school, Maxin said, “Well I learned in the way I was supposed to learn and it helped me to read the words better.”

Not all kids are lucky enough to get an early diagnosis.

Teachers Brandi Criss Keaton of Wirt County and Amy Ramsburg of Wood County said West Virginia code is behind in addressing dyslexia in students. They say neither its definition nor its treatment or diagnosis are mentioned.

“..., they’re being underidentified and underserved,” Keaton said.

Ramsburg said, “I teach ninth grade and I have a lot that are below a fifth grade level that have never been tested for special ed, that have never been tested for a learning disability.”

Needless to say, she echoes Keaton’s sentiments about there being many more kids with dyslexia than the school system catches.

“I read about 40 IEP’s a year so, through my career, I’ve read hundreds of IEP’s and, through that time, I’ve only ever seen two IEP’s that have the word ‘dyslexia,’ in them,” she said.

The impact of struggling to read impacts kids’ self-esteem. Ramsburg said kids get discouraged, which causes other issues.

“The kids who struggle to read often have behavior issues, they don’t really care about school, they’re not doing assignments - they’re there in person only,” she said.

Maxin’s diagnosis prevented this from happening to him.

Sims said, “His soul never got crushed because they did catch it so early…,”

Keaton worries about kids who aren’t diagnosed early slipping through the cracks.

“What are they going to do? They can’t read to study or get a drivers license, they can’t read to fill out a job application, they can’t read to even begin to think about doing any kind of post-high school education,” she said.

Keaton said this can lead to dark outcomes, from drug-use to incarceration. She added that early intervention can prevent those kinds of outcomes.

Senate Bill 433 would make it so all West Virginia counties are required to take certain measures that will help diagnose, intervene, and accommodate students with dyslexia.

For instance, it would require each county to have a certified dyslexia expert who would train teachers on proper intervention. Plus, every teacher in a public school would be required to take professional development on dyslexia.

“I think if we were all on the same page and we all had the same information, we would be able to help these kids a lot more...,” Ramsburg said, then added, “..., right now, if we have a student with dyslexia, we’re doing our own research.”

The bill would also require questions that flag for dyslexia to be included in the progress-tracking tests that kids already take three times a year.

Ramsburg and Keaton said some counties are better than others at addressing dyslexia. They say this bill would make the response universal across the state.

Sims said, “If this bill gets passed, I just can’t explain to people how that changes the lives of all of these children in our state.”

To read the current version of the bill, click on the link below.

sb433 intr.pdf (wvlegislature.gov)