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Dyslexia: Our Children Deserve an Honest Chance!

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"You can be extremely bright and still have dyslexia. You just have to understand how you learn and how you process information. When you know that, you can overcome a lot of the obstacles that come with dyslexia." -- Tim Tebow, NFL Baseball player, in an interview with ESPN New York.

Reading and writing are fundamental rights that each of our children should be able to enjoy. Yet, as many as 15 to 20 percent of students in the United States may have dyslexia according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the International Dyslexia Association. Shocking statistics in itself, but even more stressing is that only about 5 percent of dyslexics are recognized and receive the necessary assistance. This, while many people with dyslexia can learn to read and write well, if identified at an early stage.1

Another fundamental right -- in my opinion -- is the right of every child to feel happy and confident. This is challenging enough for most of our children, but for those who struggle with dyslexia, this can be even more challenging. Many children with dyslexia -- especially when they don't get the appropriate help -- feel left out, depressed, have a low self-esteem, lack motivation to go to school and learn, and some of them might even end up with having suicidal thoughts.

There is yet also another connection between reading, writing and feeling confident and happy. Not only are they all fundamental rights, they are also all skills which can be learned. What Tim Tebow says related to dyslexia -- you just have to understand how you learn and process information -- also counts for Happiness and Confidence: we just have to understand how you can build it.

So why don't we all learn those skills and why do only 5 percent of our dyslexic children receive the necessary assistance?

Experts in the field, point out, that there is a lack of teacher training and awareness amongst teachers and schools. In my opinion, this is not only valid for dyslexia, but also for building happiness and self-confidence. In any case, if we want to give our children an honest chance, this is something that has to chance.

I recently came across the Unlocking Dyslexia campaign, initiated by the International Dyslexia Association, which seeks to provide one resource kit to every public elementary school in the United States for every donated dollar. The kit, Dyslexia in the Classroom:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know, will help raise awareness, share best practices, and be a resource to the school's administration and staff.

"The biggest concern we hear from parents is that the teachers assigned to help their child in school know little to nothing about dyslexia. Without the basic understanding of what dyslexia is, what it isn't, and the signs, symptoms, and next steps involved, they are paralyzed. That is why the International Dyslexia Association created this campaign -- to help every child reach their fullest potential." -- Kristen Penczek, IDA Interim Executive Director (in a written reaction)

Reaching out to schools is an amazing start to get our children the appropriate help with dyslexia. During my recent school visit to Fortune Academy, I saw for myself, how children with dyslexia can thrive, if they do get access to the appropriate skills, as well as the attention and the encouragement they need.

"Unfortunately, dyslexic children are well aware of all the things they don't do well. It is our responsibility to help them realize their strengths and then provide opportunities to shine. Diagnostic, prescriptive, multi sensory , explicit  teaching is required for all dyslexic children to learn." -- Janet George, Head of the Fortune Academy (in a written reaction)

Supporting schools to get the necessary resources and training, is thus one way to help our children, but there are also a couple of things you can do as a parent.

1. Consciously build your child's self-confidence

In my children's book and the free Maks & Mila school program, I use a secret suitcase to store children's successes, as well as their happy moments. This helps children to remember those moments, and by making it a ritual to 'fill' this secret suitcase, you also strengthen your child's self-esteem. You can easily do this at home by making a secret suitcase with your child (click here for examples and ideas) and take one (or more!) moments a week to sit with your child to fill it with their successes, good qualities and happy moments.

2. Meet your child at his/her level and celebrate every little success

If we as a parent, constantly convey the message that our child should be able to do more than he/she can, our child will also constantly feel that he/she is not good enough. Meeting your child at his/her reading or writing level, and constantly say "well done," will not only give your child the feeling of encouragement he or she needs, it will also increase his/her motivation.

3. Look for the right support

Children with dyslexia can often learn to read and write well, if they get access to the right skills. There are specialized schools like the one I visited in Indianapolis (Fortune Academy) or like the Kildonan School in Amenia, New York, who are teaching children these skills. There are also 50 Dyslexia Centers, in 13 states, where children can get free tutoring.

Reading, writing, happiness and self-confidence are all fundamental rights and skills that can be learned. We just have to understand how and make them accessible to those who need our help!