Battling barriers to literacy Dyslexia: International association, book chain launch effort to increase understanding of learning disability.

October 11, 1998|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Eileen Peri looked at the reflection of her hand in a mirror mounted inside a large cardboard box and struggled in vain to direct it through the motions of drawing a star and writing her name neatly on a sheet of lined paper hidden from her view.

Teri Bond stammered through reading assignments, haltingly deciphering coded words and stumbling over words typed backward on sheets of paper.

Had the two women been schoolchildren, their efforts might have earned them the disapproval of their teacher and the ridicule of peers. But this was a simulation, and when they walked away from the desk, they left behind the frustrations that come every day to people who have dyslexia.

The demonstration and a talk on dyslexia were held at Borders Books & Music store in Towson to begin a nationwide effort by the International Dyslexia Association and the Borders chain to promote literacy, encourage early intervention for dyslexia and increase understanding of the neurological learning disability.

About two dozen people attended the event, which featured hands-on activities that offered insight into the stress faced by those with dyslexia. It is estimated that up to 15 percent of Americans are dyslexic to some degree.

For those who tried the simulations, reading and writing became difficult.

"It was embarrassing," said Peri, 40, of Frederick. "It was a challenge trying to perform something that you know you can do and yet be unable to do it. I felt confusion and frustration over why I couldn't complete it properly."

Her difficulties helped her realize that more patience and understanding are needed with dyslexic children as they struggle to write, spell and read, Peri said.

"I was trying real hard to figure out the words," said Bond, 45, of Annapolis. "I was trying to figure out a strategy to make it work and thinking how sad it is to have children who can't read. I don't think people understand or appreciate how hard it really is for them."

Dyslexics are often labeled unintelligent or lazy, misconceptions that are unfair to them, said J. Thomas Viall, executive director of the International Dyslexia Association.

Dyslexics exhibit the full range of intelligence. But because of their difficulties, an assignment that takes other children 30 minutes could take a dyslexic child several hours.

"These children go to school knowing they'll be called upon to read out loud," Viall said. "All eyes will be on them, and they know they're going to do poorly.

"It's like that day in, day out, every day that they go to school, every time they go to the blackboard, every day of their lives. They have stomachaches, headaches, and they're afraid to go to school. It's terrible."

Among the guests at the event were two students from Odyssey School, a private school for dyslexics in Roland Park.

"It's frustrating when you can't get the words," said 11-year-old Laura Apicella. "And it's hard to write sometimes. Sometimes I think good, but I can't write it down on paper. But that doesn't mean you're stupid."

Fellow Odyssey student Patrick Kern, 14, agreed.

"I wish everyone knew that dyslexia is just a different way of learning," he said. "I look at it as an obstacle that can be overcome."

Oct. 28 has been designated as A Day for Dyslexia, with events scheduled at Borders stores nationwide. Call individual stores for details.

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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