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Daily Journal
     January 30, 2020      #56-30 KDJ

Guest column by Rep. Parkhurst: We face drastic

By Lindsay Parkhurst

What do Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Tom Cruise, Kiera Knightly, Jim Carrey and Richard Branson all have in common? They have dyslexia.

A concerned parent contacted my office asking for stronger protections for students with dyslexia. The concerned mother said her dyslexic son was not getting the proper educational tools in school and suffered because of it. Many students with dyslexia in our school system go unrecognized and unassisted. This negatively affects their educational experience and life path. Illinois needs to identify dyslexic students and help them achieve a positive educational experience and life path.

Dyslexic students are smart, creative and, most importantly, are teachable and have great capacity to learn. They just need to learn in a different way.

Our school system is failing to identify and teach most if its dyslexic students.

Illinois law requires any child suspected of having dyslexia be referred for an evaluation. However, it is difficult to identify dyslexia without proper training, and Illinois teachers are not properly trained. Illinois has no requirement for dyslexia training. Regrettably, schools are reluctant to screen for and identify students with dyslexia. This makes no sense because these students have the best chance for future success if their dyslexia needs are accommodated. Schools with limited resources in their budgets do not want to spend money to identify and accommodate the needs of dyslexic students. This is a disservice to all of us, especially because with the right curriculum, it will result in success stories for many children.

Children with dyslexia slip through the cracks and are erroneously labeled behavioral problems or another learning disability. Children are embarrassed and afraid to speak up about reading difficulties or may just think their difficulties are normal.

Many undiagnosed dyslexic children end up in juvenile court and correction facilities as an adult because they were written off as behavior problems and failed to progress in their education. Tragically, students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are almost four times more likely to join gangs.

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity recently stated upward of 50 percent of prisoners in the nation are dyslexic.

Kids at Risk Action (KARA) reports 85 percent of children who come in contact with the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate. Data shows dyslexia intervention in prisons has led to a dramatic decrease in recidivism, creating fully functioning members of society. Imagine if children and young adults received this intervention before they encounter the juvenile and/or criminal justice system.

Nearly one in every five children in the United States struggles with dyslexia. Dyslexia accounts for more than 80 percent of all learning disabilities. If we want all of our children to succeed, we need to ensure those who struggle the most are receiving the help they need.

I consulted concerned parents and knowledgeable dyslexic professionals to discuss solutions to this problem. Together, we created legislation requiring the State Board of Education to hire dyslexia specialists to provide technical assistance and training and for schools to increase screening. Our schools and our state must change the way we address dyslexia in the classroom. Our teachers must be trained and prepared. Our schools must be equipped. Our state must offer support.

Together, we can make sure our children get proper support and no child reaches adulthood struggling from unrecognized dyslexia.

Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, is the 79th District state representative.

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