Tonia Spriggs would read to her son Brandon Johnson four days a week and help him with his homework.
But that was not enough for him. Neither his pronunciation nor his reading improved.
"I got frustrated and I was tired of his teachers telling me that he was lazy, that he was immature and that he wasn't trying hard enough," says Mrs. Spriggs. "So, I started calling around to different schools and associations to have him tested."
She found help in 1993 when the Maryland Associates for Dyslexic Adults and Youth Inc. diagnosed Brandon as dyslexic.
After a year of being on the agency's waiting list, Brandon was matched with tutor Martha Crutchfield. When he first started working with her, Brandon was reading well below his fifth-grade level. Since then, the 11-year-old has advanced three grade levels.
"Brandon's very motivated and I'm very motivated," says Ms. Crutchfield. "And, when the tutor and the client are very motivated, it's good for the child."
Dyslexia is associated with the transposition of letters such as "b" and "d," but it is also characterized by poor language skills. Dyslexic people have difficulty reading and spelling because they cannot remember whole words by sight. Often they are gifted and productive, yet they can't manage words they wish to speak and may have problems with directions and organization.
While dyslexia is more common in males, it affects people of all ages. There are about 500,000 illiterate people in Maryland, about a third of whom have been diagnosed as dyslexic, according to the agency.
The agency, known as MADAY, serves 125-150 students working with more than 125 volunteer tutors and comes into contact with many others each year, says executive director Nadine Weinstein.
"About two-thirds of our clients are under 18 and the rest are between 19 and 70," says Mrs. Weinstein.
Roger Saunders, a psychologist, founded MADAY in Southeast Baltimore to help youth in trouble with the law, Mrs. Weinstein says. He is now a director at the agency. In 1985, it became an independent nonprofit organization, providing free services to low- and moderate-income dyslexic people throughout the state.
"Most of our clients come from the city and surrounding counties, Howard, Harford, Baltimore and Carroll," says Mrs. Weinstein. But with its only office at the Rotunda on W. 40th St. in the city, "we're only convenient to those in the metropolitan area," she says.
"It's been a big help for us," says Mrs. Spriggs, who lives in West Baltimore. "They didn't make me feel like I was alone in the world, as far as getting help. It gave me hope for Brandon just to know that he can be successful even though he has dyslexia."
Brandon proudly points out that he graduated earlier this month from Sinclair Lane Elementary School.
Another MADAY client, 14-year-old Tykey Manley, started sessions last November. Twice a week all year long -- even when school is not in session -- he catches two buses to MADAY.
"Just last November, he wasn't reading well at all and if you could see him now, it's just miraculous," says Joan Friedel, Tykey's tutor.
Although no two sessions are alike, tutors design their lessons around the same basic multisensory phonetic approach to teaching reading. Tutors must take 15 hours of training offered by the agency.
Ms. Crutchfield's "recipe for reading" consists of encoding words into syllables and hand-tracing letters to pronounce words, while Mrs. Friedel also uses a variety of competitive games to encourage Tykey.
"I try to split a lot of the skills we work on," says Mrs. Friedel. "I may start out with reading, then move to spelling. . . . I try and change [lessons] often to keep it interesting."
Tomorrow, MADAY clients, tutors and supporters will celebrate its 10th Anniversary at the B&O Railroad Museum from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. The event includes a buffet and a silent auction. Tickets are $100 per person and attire is casual. Call MADAY at (410) 889-5487.