by Jamie Richardson
President Barack Obama signed the READ Act into law in February. To get a full understanding on what this means for parents of children with dyslexia, we spoke with Representative Lamar Smith, Chairman of the Science Committee.
What does the READ Act mean for students with dyslexia? What does it change?
Rep. Smith: Targeted research funding will help advance our understanding of dyslexia and enable educators, parents, and students to work together more effectively. The READ Act would focus NSF-funded research on practical issues such as early identification of children and students with dyslexia so that every dyslexic child can get the learning assistance he or she needs as early as possible. Research under the READ Act also includes better training and preparation for teachers and administrators of students with dyslexia and development of effective curricula and educational tools for children with dyslexia. As progress is made in these areas, there is also work to be done to determine the most effective ways to implement dyslexia interventions across entire school systems.
What is the history of the Bill? Who was involved in getting it signed? How did the Science Committee get involved?
Rep. Smith: The House Science Committee, which I chair, held the first congressional hearing in 2014 on the science of dyslexia. Experts testified how research in the area of neuroscience has led to practical ways to better diagnose and deal with dyslexia but that more research is necessary.
At a second Committee hearing in September 2015, we heard from experts who work directly with dyslexic students and their teachers. They know firsthand about the obstacles these children, parents, and educators face, and they stressed the importance of research in developing practical tools.
To address these needs, I introduced the bipartisan READ Act last summer along with Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif). We also serve as co-chairs of the bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus, which comprises more than 100 members of Congress. The bill introduction was the first step toward making the READ Act a law. The House Science Committee approved the READ Act unanimously last year, and the House of Representatives followed suit last fall. The READ Act was then referred to the U.S. Senate for action. After a few tweaks to our legislation, the Senate also approved the READ Act unanimously early this year, and it was signed into law a few weeks ago.
Was there a specific passion that made you want to help with the READ Act?
Rep. Smith: I have met hundreds of children and their parents in my Congressional District in Texas and others across the U.S. who are affected by dyslexia. Many are friends of mine. And, they have shared their personal stories with me.
People with dyslexia often have academic strengths in other areas that tie to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. There have been many brilliant creators and innovators who have struggled with dyslexia but have not let it limit them. We need to enable those with dyslexia to achieve their maximum potential. The READ Act will help accomplish this.
What additional needs do you see in the area of dyslexia legislation?
Rep. Smith: Dyslexia affects an estimated 8.5 million school children and one in six Americans in some form. It causes these individuals to have difficulties with reading, though they often have normal or above-average intelligence. Despite the prevalence of dyslexia, many Americans remain undiagnosed, untreated, and silently struggle at school or work. Too many children with undiagnosed dyslexia have difficulties in the classroom and sometimes drop out of school and face uncertain futures. The READ Act is a great first step, but much more needs to be done.
What role can parents play in getting additional laws passed? Are there any Bills currently in the works for which parents should actively advocate?
Rep. Smith: Senator Cassidy of Louisiana has been working on dyslexia legislation for his entire career in Congress, and he and I and other members of the House Dyslexia Caucus are glad to have any help we can get. Parents and advocates play a critical role in bringing attention to this serious issue. Nothing makes a bigger impression on a member of Congress than hearing directly from parents and children whose lives have been touched by dyslexia. So, I urge parents to continue to write to their representatives in Congress, share their stories, and continue to raise awareness. Together, we can better the lives of millions of children and adults with dyslexia.
Jamie Richardson is a Content Editor of Dyslexia Connection, a freelance writer and editor, and a homeschool mom to three kids.
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