What It's Like to be a Dyslexic Student in Austin
High school freshman Ben Shrader was in kindergarten when he realized he learned differently than other kids.
“I’d be pulled out of the class at nap time and at break time and those were the best times of day besides recess," he says jokingly. Instead of napping, Shrader received reading therapy to help his severe dyslexia, which made it extremely difficult to read. “It was also as if the letters were 3-D – as if you were wearing 3-D glasses and you were trying to read," Shrader remembers.
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that makes it difficult for people to break words into single sounds. That can make it hard to read, write or spell.
Shrader's parents decided to homeschool him through elementary and middle school. This fall, he started high school at St. Michael’s, a private school in Austin, but he still reads at a second grade level. Through his passion for science, blogging, and even video production, he’s found a lot of success. But he says there were times when it was challenging and he became unmotivated. He says for dyslexics, learning to read requires repetition, persistence and teachers that can connect.
“[It's like] the analogy of you can give a man a fish but once you teach him to fish he can fish for a lifetime," Shrader explains. "With dyslexics, you can teach them how to fish and they forget how to fish. And then you have to give them half a fish – for bait – to learn how to fish again. You have to teach them how to fish 100 times before they learn how to fish … poorly.”
Doctors told Shrader his dyslexia is unusually severe, but for any child with dyslexia, experts say it’s extremely important to catch the disorder early – between kindergarten and second grade. In the Austin School District there are about 2,000 students who suffer from dyslexia.
Rachel Robillard assesses AISD students for dyslexia. She says if a child’s dyslexia isn’t caught before third grade, it makes it much harder for them to catch up.
“We’re teaching them to read K, 1 and 2 and we’re reading to teach after the second grade. So we’re expecting them to have those fundamentals - we don’t teach those directly onward,” Robillard explains. AISD requires each campus to have a faculty member that specializes in dyslexia.
Texas is one of two states that requires schools to assess and provide services for students with dyslexia, which can be as simple as giving a student more time to take a test.
“We’re not changing anything we’re asking them to do we’re just accommodating their learning difference," Robillard says.
But depending on the severity of the child’s dyslexia, services could mean special instruction or tutoring, which can be expensive for schools to provide. While Texas requires schools to provide dyslexic services, the state doesn’t allocate any money to implement the law.
“Schools are implementing the dyslexia program but they’re implementing the program in the context of very stressed budgetary restrictions," says Jose Martin, an expert on disability laws in Texas. "If they weren’t under that kind of budgetary stress, I think they could do more, provide dyslexia services more days out of the week and to a greater intensity."
In Austin, there’s talk of increasing services for dyslexic services. The Austin School Board has discussed creating a school specifically for dyslexic students at the empty Allan Elementary campus. And next year, the UT Charter School is opening a campus specifically for dyslexic students.