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When Johnny can't read Modern technology and new approaches help kids with dyslexia

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 11:55 a.m. MDT

Many schools do basic screening for dyslexia, but a concerned parent has the legal right to request a comprehensive evaluation. If a child’s reading struggles are severe enough to be diagnosed as a learning disability, he or she is legally entitled to special education programs that meet individual needs.

Struggling readers who don’t qualify for special education can be eligible to receive accommodations in the classroom, such as modified homework assignments and extra time to complete tasks. At Nathan’s school, he is required to learn only 10 spelling words each week, although the other students must learn 20. With hard work, he can learn his 10 words and pass his spelling test successfully, his mother said. Trying to learn 20 new words would be a weekly exercise in failure, she added.

Modern developments

Advances in technology have brought many useful tools to people with dyslexia and Shifrin relies on some of these. Although he overcame dyslexia well enough to earn an advanced degree, reading will never be his favorite thing, he said. Using voice recognition software helps him get words down on paper. Software that allows computers to read text aloud is a great study aid. And, Shifrin loves books on tape.

The study about reading from a smartphone or e-reader showed that when the device is formatted to display only a few words per line, dyslexic readers show significantly improved reading speed and comprehension when compared with reading traditional blocks of text printed on paper.

“Technology is like a seeing-eye dog for children who have dyslexia,” Shifrin said.

At the Eberting household, technology is used in a different way, one many mothers will recognize. Nathan spends long hours on schoolwork — he has to. But his mother breaks it up by allowing 10-minute breaks for computer gaming after each task he accomplishes.

For Nathan, now 10, the struggle isn’t over. Although his reading comprehension is at grade level, he reads slower than his fifth-grade peers, and has to work hard after school to stay on top of his homework. He’s doing it, though, and goes to school without dragging his feet. After three years of year-round tutoring, Nathan no longer needs tutoring during the school year, but will return to the Dyslexia Center during the summer.

A letter Nathan’s fourth-grade schoolteacher sent home last spring spoke of the remarkable improvement in his reading skills, then hinted at the bright future Nathan is building:

“Nathan is a sweet boy and will continue his progress with his good attitude and hard work.”

Email: cbaker@deseretnews.com Twitter: @celiarbaker

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