For families, dyslexia conference provides a gateway to new resources

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When Christine Seppi's son was diagnosed with dyslexia about 15 years ago, she sought help from teachers, tutors and learning organizations, but it seemed like almost no one in Pittsburgh knew much about the disorder. The national dyslexia organizations she contacted referred her to experts in Philadelphia.

"I kept saying, 'I don't live in Philadelphia. I live in Pittsburgh -- that's across the state. How about someone in Ohio? That'd be closer,' " Ms. Seppi said.

The lack of local expertise led Ms. Seppi to get training in helping children with dyslexia. Today, she's a reading therapist and chairwoman of the Pittsburgh branch of the International Dyslexia Organization.

Pittsburgh has more resources for dyslexia now, including the Pittsburgh Children's Dyslexia Center, which tutors students with the disorder. But there's still progress to be made, Ms. Seppi said. That's why she helped put together the Pittsburgh Dyslexia Today 2014 Conference, which will be held Saturday between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree.

The conference will include lectures and exhibitions to give parents, teachers and administrators more knowledge about the disorder. It will link them with resources such as textbooks, iPad apps, schools and summer camps for dyslexic children.

One of the exhibitors at the conference will be Daphne Uliana of Bethlehem, who is dyslexic and has three children who have dyslexia, too.

As a student, "I was labeled as lazy, stupid," Ms. Uliana said. "I couldn't understand why it seemed so easy for everyone else to read a book, and it was so difficult for me. Once my children were diagnosed, I was determined they'd get the help they needed."

Ms. Uliana helped form the Dyslexia Legislative Coalition, which is pushing for statewide reforms to raise awareness of dyslexia, to train teachers to better handle it and to improve identification of the disorder.

The coalition backs state House Bill 198, which would create a series of tests designed to spot reading disorders, including dyslexia, in kindergarten students. Introduced last year, it has passed the House and is now in the Senate appropriations committee.

At the conference, Maria Paluselli, a special education teacher at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School, will receive the Christopher Gardner Award for Excellence in the Field of Dyslexia for her work with the disorder. She helped found the local branch of the International Dyslexia Organization in 2001, and she served as director of the Pittsburgh Children's Dyslexia Center for a decade.

Now she's working on spreading awareness of the disorder. One of her ways of doing that is an exercise that simulates the experience of having dyslexia. Participants -- often teachers or parents -- are asked to memorize a string of random code and spot it in a line of text, an imitation of what it's like for dyslexia sufferers to identify words.

The participants become embarrassed by their inability to find the string of code, she said, their faces flushing red. After the exercise, they understand the frustration of students who are dyslexic.


Richard Webner: rwebner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903.

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