When her first-grader was struggling to read, Amanda Dickinson was worried.
“He’ll grow out of it,” teachers told her. “Just give him some time.”
But by third grade, her son Josh was still behind his peers. Dickinson, who has mild dyslexia, recognized some of the difficulties her son was having — transposing letters or numbers, struggling with multisyllabic words, confusing similar words (saying “sunset” instead of “sunrise”).
Her hunch turned out to be right: Josh was tested and found to have dyslexia, too.
Dickinson, a teacher at Mountain Home Junior High School, jumped into action to help her son: she researched and read; she connected him with resources; she sought out extra support from experts.
Today, Josh is a successful student who’s learned to advocate for himself in the classroom. But not every child has a parent like Dickinson, who already had knowledge of and experience with dyslexia.
But now, there should be at least one adult in every child’s life who does.
In 2022, legislators unanimously passed a new dyslexia screening and training requirement designed to help educators identify and help children with dyslexia, a reading disorder affecting about one in five Idaho students.
For now, districts are paying for the training with their own budgets, but lawmakers recently proposed allocating $1.5 million to cover training. The measure now must pass the House and Senate.
What the new law requires
In addition to required screening for dyslexia, the law requires the following:
—By the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, K-5 instructional staff members are required to have received professional development on providing instruction and intervention to students with characteristics of dyslexia.
—By the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, all 6-12 teachers, administrators, and counselors are required to have received professional development on the characteristics of dyslexia.
—By the beginning of the 2025-2026 school year, many educational professionals in grades K-8 (see page three of the bill text for a full list) will be required to earn one or more credits of dyslexia-related professional development in order to re-certify.
Even with potential funding up in the air, a number of districts and charters have started focusing on and offering dyslexia training.
And organizations like the nonprofit Lee Pesky Learning Center (LPLC) have risen to meet the need with newly created, in-person hybrid and online classes designed for school staff.
The strategies LPLC offers will help not just those with dyslexia, but all students, to learn to read. And that’s essential, because reading is the gateway to a lifetime of learning.
“The tools that we provide children with at the early stages give them that confidence and the resources that they need to navigate and reach their full potential,” said Andrea Sanders, the advancement director at LPLC.
‘What’s at stake is literacy:’ dyslexia training helps all students read, educators say
According to the National Center on Learning Disabilities, one in five individuals faces an obstacle to their learning.
That means either you or someone you know has had to overcome extra hurdles on their path to education, Sanders said.
“If our teachers are uninformed about how to identify dyslexia or other learning differences, that becomes a big problem, because then the students are not receiving what they need to reach their full potential.”
And futures depend on the ability to read and learn.
“What’s at stake is literacy,” said Lindy Crawford, the executive director for LPLC. “If we don’t teach using evidence-based, research-based practices, we’re going to have a society of people who are underperforming, who end up not being able to graduate high school or get a position and have a career. We’re going to end up with more people in prison.”
And dyslexia training helps all students. Only about 5% to 8% of children pick up a book and learn to read.
“So 92% of children need to be taught with structured literacy approaches … we have to teach the mind to read,” Crawford said.
In districts that have already started implementing the training, teachers seem to be grateful.
A mom and teacher with dyslexia lauds the new training requirement
A few weeks ago, Dickinson attended a training on dyslexia (put on by LPLC and hosted by her district). It was familiar information to Dickinson — dyslexia runs in her family. Dickinson, her father, and both of her sons are dyslexic, with mild to severe cases.
But to many of her fellow teachers and co-workers, the information about cognitive processes in the dyslexic brain was enlightening.
Some of those teachers, who have Josh in class, turned to her as if a light bulb had gone on for them.
“This makes so much sense and we understand him better,” they told Dickinson.
Seeing other teachers and education professionals learn more about a disability she has come to know so well “just warms my heart,” Dickinson said.
And she wasn’t the only one to feel that way.
Jeff Johnson, the director for instruction at Mountain Home School District, said that since his district announced they were contracting with LPLC for a two-day training on dyslexia, there’s been a high level of interest — more than expected.
Dyslexia training debunks myths and helps teachers reach all students
One major benefit of dyslexia training is that it helps debunk common myths, said Brian Smith, principal at Moscow’s West Park Elementary and Paradise Creek Regional High School.
For example, dyslexia is more than just switching the order of letters or numbers.
In general, the training helped staff better grasp “the realities that our students with dyslexia face day-to-day within instructional settings.”
In his district, primary teachers and staff took an in-person training, and secondary staff participated in an online training. At the secondary level, students with dyslexia “have either learned to navigate to best succeed as they could or still struggle with reading and come to get an adverse relationship with reading at school.”
Smith emphasized that it’s never too late for students to learn strategies that will help them the rest of their lives. Still, it’s always best when dyslexia is caught early on.
Heightened dyslexia awareness is important, but just a first step
By the time students leave kindergarten, they should be reading, said Jillian Ochoa, a kindergarten teacher at Moscow’s West Park Elementary School.
If they’re not, it could be due to a variety of reasons — and dyslexia is one of them. When kids are diagnosed early, they are less likely to fall far behind their peers as they grow up. And they’re more likely to get the help they need to become strong readers — which is essential.
If kids do fall behind, Ochoa said the new training will help teachers beyond kindergarten become equipped with the tools needed to teach basic reading skills.
For her part, Dickinson tries to raise awareness of dyslexia within her classroom by talking openly about her own struggles.
One day, for example, she was reading aloud to her class and accidentally said “tornado” instead of “volcano.” She just laughed at herself, corrected the mistake, and explained to her students that the mix-up was part of having dyslexia.
“It’s a teaching tool because the kids notice and they’re afraid to read out loud as well,” Dickinson said. “I look a little more human to them and it … opens up a lot of conversations.”
Students are then more likely to come to her with their own learning struggles or concerns, and it could help them to notice dyslexic tendencies within themselves.
The heightened awareness and training have helped, but are also just a first step, Crawford said. “We have a long ways to go. We are expecting a lot from schools with this new bill, and I’m not certain we have provided schools with adequate resources to enact everything we’ve asked them to do.”
“We have a long ways to go. We are expecting a lot from schools with this new bill, and I’m not certain we have provided schools with adequate resources to enact everything we’ve asked them to do.” — Lindy Crawford, executive director, Lee Pesky Learning Center
For example, children with dyslexia often need trained reading specialists, a small class size, and a teacher “who understands research-based instruction and intervention.”
But, the costs of funding just this “first step” have already garnered criticism from legislative budget-writers.
While the funding for dyslexia training remains in limbo, Dickinson’s son, Josh, now a junior, is making plans to go to college and become an airplane pilot.
Dyslexia is more than a setback — it can be a gift, too
When there’s too much pressure — like in a timed test or a tense situation — Josh often becomes confused, Dickinson said.
For that reason, he never wanted to do team sports “because he was afraid of messing up the plays or being confused in the moment.”
Instead, Josh turned to individual sports like cross country and bodybuilding.
He’s also learned to advocate for himself over the years. He was recently assigned to do a crossword puzzle in class, and went to the teacher and asked if he could just write the answers to the side — placing the words in the puzzle was too overwhelming.
But it took time and professional help for Josh to learn to navigate the world in a different way — one that works for him.
But Dickinson said her family also views dyslexia as a gift. Josh, for example, is a skilled mechanic and can envision things his mom can’t — like how to perfectly lay out her garden each year.
“He has this beautiful way of looking at things that really makes you stop and go ‘Wow, I never considered this before.”