Free documentary explores dyslexia

Showing at 7 p.m. tonight at Chartiers Valley Stadium 18 theater in Bridgeville

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People with dyslexia can be very successful. That is the message Christine Seppi, chairwoman of the Pittsburgh region of the Pennsylvania branch of the International Dyslexia Association, hopes viewers of "The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia" come away with.

The free showing will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at the Chartiers Valley Stadium 18 theater, 1025 Washington Pike, Bridgeville. No reservation is required.

As defined by the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a specific learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.

Proving that dyslexia is a neurological issue and not a measure of one's ability to create, think or solve problems, the film illustrates that -- while an obstacle -- the condition also carries advantages.

Included are interviews with business magnate Richard Branson and financier Charles Schwab, who credit their dyslexia for their natural aptitude for entrepreneurship.

The film explores the array of critical thinking abilities and creativity found in dyslexics and highlights the latest scientific and psychological research, such as the role of Magnetic Resonance Imaging -- or MRIs -- in identifying a neural signature for dyslexia.

The documentary will be followed by a question and answer session.

The event is sponsored by the association and the planned Provident Charter School for Children with Dyslexia. If the Provident board can secure approval in a local district, the school would become the only one in Western Pennsylvania specifically for children with dyslexia. In June, North Hills School District turned down its application.

Here are some stories of those diagnosed with dyslexia:

Maura Bogler, 13, began experiencing problems with reading in first grade.

"I was really scared because I did not know what was going on," she said. "I would be the last one to finish because I was trying so hard to read."

Today, the seventh-grader at Franklin Regional Middle School in Murrysville, receives help: tutoring, and early-morning sessions with teachers twice a week.

The Delmont girl is also aided through assistive technology programs, such as text displayed on computer screens with each word highlighted as it is read aloud so that she receives the information auditorily and visually.

"[AT] helps them keep the pace. They can do everything other kids can do but it takes longer," Maura's mother, Christina Bogler, said.

"We have no schools in Western Pennsylvania to teach these kids in a specific manner. What they need is multisensory, direct and explicit instruction," she said. "Teachers do their best, but they are not trained to do this."

She also said her daughter views her dyslexia as a "gift" because it results in her thinking differently from her peers.

"I'm usually the one with the clever ideas in my Girl Scout troop," Maura said.

"Dyslexia forces people to tap into higher-level thinking skills to compensate for their difficulties with language," Mrs. Bogler said.

According to the association, dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling struggles.

Early intervention is the key to helping. The signs of dyslexia include difficulties in acquiring and using language; the processing and expression of information; learning letters and their sounds; memorizing math facts; spelling and reading.

When children have problems with these skills, parents should seek out a certified school psychologist. Proper testing is the only way to confirm a diagnosis.

"Someone who is dyslexic will probably never read fast or spell well, and will have to work harder in school," Ms. Seppi, a reading specialist, said. "But they can get remediation and learn to deal with it."

For her son, Jonathan Seppi, a 2011 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, that help arrived in middle school: the Orton-Gillingham method that utilizes the teaching styles through which people learn: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

"It's a lot of flash cards and repetition and spelling drills, and speaking aloud and tracing and listening," Mr. Seppi, 23, of Bloomfield said. "It's a way they can get your brain to make connections with the words."

"I've adjusted to it," the manager-in-training at Verizon Wireless said of his dyslexia. "I barely notice it anymore."

Valerie Gardner, 19, struggled until she was introduced to the Lindamood-Bell reading program in third grade.

"It retaught me the principles of learning by breaking it down into the sounds of the letters and words and how they are supposed to be put together," the former Lincoln Place resident said.

Today, the Ms. Gardner lives in the state of California and attends cosmetology school, where she maintains a 4.0 grade point average.

"Teachers sometimes think we're stupid or lazy," she said of her early years. "We can learn, but it takes longer."

Change in how dyslexics are taught may be on the way, if the grass-roots Decoding Dyslexia PA has its way. Composed of parents of dyslexic children, the group advocates the statewide implementation of a universal definition of "dyslexia" in the state education code; mandatory teacher training on dyslexia; mandatory early screening tests for it; mandatory dyslexia remediation programs; and access to appropriate helping technologies.

For now, Maura is hoping "The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia," changes perceptions one attitude at a time.

"I want kids in school who are dyslexic to be proud, not ashamed" she said.

For more:

• International Dyslexia Association: www.interdys.org or 410-296-0232.

• Pa. Branch of the International Dyslexia Association: www.pbida.org or 610-527-1548.

• Decoding Dyslexia PA: decodingdyslexiapa.org.

• Provident Charter School: providentcharterschool.wikispaces.com.

neigh_east - neigh_south

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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