October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month, so we are bringing awareness to this learning disability by sharing important facts about dyslexia and information on what is being done in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to identify and serve dyslexic children. Dyslexia is a learning disability “characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities” (International Dyslexia Association). Recent scientific research supports dyslexia as a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is estimated as many as 40 million Americans suffer with dyslexia, yet only about two million are actually diagnosed.
Since 2008 there has been a concerted effort in the HISD to train staff on the characteristics of dyslexia and the identification of students with dyslexia. At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, approximately 3,000 students had been identified with dyslexia, up from 560 in 2011. According to Mimi Gomez, Ph.D., Senior Manager of Student Evaluations in the Office of Special Education Services, the single most important factor leading to the increased diagnoses came in 2014 with the revision of the Dyslexia Handbook issued by the Texas Education Agency. The revisions “provided much greater clarity” when it came to identifying children in the school system who were struggling with dyslexia.
Once students are identified as dyslexic, specific interventions and supports are provided. We met with Dr. Natalie Blasingame, Assistant Superintendent for Academic Interventions, Mary Miner, Program Manager, and Tammy Nick Spencer, Teacher Development Specialist. The Interventions Office works specifically to guide the Student Support Services Office in modeling a manner of schooling that uses data-based problem-solving to advance teaching strategies relating to dyslexia. Since the implementation of its systemized support program for students with dyslexia, every HISD school has a certified aid serving its students to diagnose the disability and teach strategies that allow students to succeed. HISD has now trained over 200 interventionists internally. When the last group of trainees completes its current training, the number of interventionists will rise to almost 300 teachers by mid-year.
"We know children have a far greater chance of academic success if we intervene early on and provide the specific services they need,” explains Tammy Nick Spencer.
Dyslexia is a disability that holds significant personal importance to the Bush family. Our chairman, Neil Bush, has openly spoken about his struggle with dyslexia and his mother’s advocacy for services.
For those children who do not have a strong-willed parent or guardian advocating for their success, or for parents who simply don’t understand why their children have trouble learning to read, programs like the HISD System of Support for students with dyslexia are critical. Local organizations, such as Neuhaus Education Center, also provide dyslexia support services.