By Jamie Richardson
Alabama passed dyslexia amendments to their administrative code last week. Now students will be screened for dyslexia, and then given appropriate intervention, access to assistive technology, and accommodations in the general school population through the Response-to-Intervention (RTI) process, without the need for special education certification. The changes took effect immediately. The dyslexia amendments also establish an Alabama Dyslexia Advisory Council, call for a Dyslexia Resource Guide, mandate that IDA accredited training for teachers be made available, and mandate professional development for educators to equip them to meet the needs of students with dyslexia in classrooms across the state.
Parent activist Angie Hood shared her story with IDA:
“The hope is that by catching students earlier that they will get the help they need before they ever have to ‘fail to qualify’ for help through special education,” Hood said. “This is huge because the dyslexic student will not be made to feel dumb and hopeless.”
Parents were heavily involved in making these changes happen. They helped with the first draft of the proposed bill and the amendments that were passed. It was a collaborative effort between the Alabama IDA, the Alabama Scottish Rite Foundation, Decoding Dyslexia Alabama, Alabama Game Changers, Roundtable Solutions, and current teachers and administrators in the public schools. They named this group of advocates the “Dyslexia Friends,” and the power of their bond grew as the work progressed.
The group dubbed the dyslexia law the Alabama Dyslexia Bill of Rights. They wanted to ensure that students with dyslexia were guaranteed their own 3Rs: RECOGNIZED through screening, REACHED through appropriate dyslexia-specific interventions, and then taught to READ.
“Sometimes I thought herding cats would be easier than getting our groups to agree on everything, but we ultimately reached compromise and consensus,” Hood said. “I think that unity led to the ultimate success of getting what we dreamed into the Alabama Administrative Code.”
Senator Dick Brewbaker, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, agreed to sponsor the Alabama Dyslexia Bill of Rights but encouraged the coalition to work with leaders in the State Department of Education and State Board of Education to secure these changes through the Alabama Administrative Code. Leaders from the State Department of Education worked with the Dyslexia Friends throughout the spring. “They wanted to work with us because they believed that what we were advocating was right for students,” Hood said. “Teamwork is crucial, and egos cannot be allowed to overrule common sense and compromise.”
The mother of a dyslexic child, Hood knew the need was real and that she couldn’t wait for others to make the changes happen. “As we worked to make sure my son could read, I realized that what I had learned could help other parents in the same battle. I joined IDA and organized a local parent dyslexia support group,” Hood said.
Then, Hood started the first IDA Branch in the state of Alabama. “I asked IDA what it would take to get our own branch, and IDA gave me the steps to follow. In 2002 I got a group of people together to form a steering committee, and we organized ALIDA, the Alabama Branch of the International Dyslexic Association. Under the leadership of our first ALIDA president, Dr. Denise Gibbs, Director of the Alabama Scottish Rite Foundation, and our board, we were soon having conferences with great speakers, promoting dyslexia awareness month activities, and helping parents, and all these things contributed to increasing awareness about dyslexia in our state.”
“Parents need to know that their efforts can make a huge difference in their state, even if it takes time,” she said. “There is no better advocate for a dyslexic child than his or her parents.”
To see these changes happen, Hood said patience is essential. “When I started in 1999 on this dyslexia road, I never dreamed that we would make progress as quickly as we have. Some of the younger mothers wanted change yesterday, and they wanted our group to be more aggressive, but we older folks knew that all our efforts until now paved the way to make these dyslexia amendments to the code happen.”
Having a mentor is also a big help. “We were blessed with Dr. Denise Gibbs to bring together all the different parent groups, and the professionals, as well as the public school administrators and teachers who make up this coalition. Without her, we would not be at this point today in Alabama.”
With the help of the Dyslexia Friends and Dyslexia Advisory Council, Hood is ready to tackle the next big challenges: training teachers and advocating for adults with dyslexia. She wants teachers to be trained to work with dyslexic students before they receive their degrees. “Teacher training will make all the difference in the classroom. Teachers need training to know what works best for dyslexic learners.” Contact has been made with at least one state university and creation of a dyslexia therapy training program for teachers may become a reality in the very near future.
She also wants to help the population of adults who were never diagnosed with dyslexia. “I know we could make a difference in their lives and careers, because I am sure that they still feel dumb,” Hood said. “I am hopeful that we can continue to make a difference for Alabama dyslexic children and adults.”
Jamie Richardson is the Editor of Dyslexia Connection, a freelance writer and editor, and a homeschool mom to three kids.
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