In the popular series of books, royalty in training at the
The 9-year-old girl has devoured all but one of the slim tomes, each decorated with a picture of a young girl in a crown and sparkles.
“I love reading,” said Emily, clutching her cache of “Tiara” books.
That wasn’t always the case. Four years ago, Emily could barely recognize letters in the alphabet despite three years in preschool and a year of kindergarten.
Emily suffers from dyslexia, a hereditary learning disability that makes it hard for her to match printed letters with sounds, read with ease or recall specific words even if she knows the definitions.
Her parents, Judy and Tom Davies, searched long and hard for programs aimed at helping dyslexics but found few options.
“When I found there was nothing available, I was really upset,” Judy Davies said.
After three years of homeschooling and tutoring, the couple decided to start a school of their own.
If it opens this fall as planned, the Hope Academy for Dyslexics in Concord, Calif., would become the first school in Contra Costa County, and one of the only in the Bay Area, to cater to those with the reading disorder. Tuition is $9,000 a year. They have yet to find a teacher, but have already rented a space at a local church.
“It’s a wonderful idea because there are very few resources in the area to help children with dyslexia,” said Leah Roche, a mother of two dyslexic children.
“They have all these special education programs in the public schools. But there is nothing in this area for dyslexia.”
Despite a rash of publicity in the 1980s, few districts in the nation test for the disorder or provide help tailored to dyslexic students, even though as many as one in five students may be dyslexic. The
The California Education Code recognizes dyslexia as a learning disability, but the state does not require testing or have established programs for dyslexics, said Christine Pittman, an administrator in the special education division at the California Department of Education.
“There’s a misunderstanding of what it is,” said Sally Shaywitz, Yale professor of medicine and codirector of the university’s Center for the Study of Learning and Attention. “Some people inappropriately question whether it’s real. They don’t know what to look for.”
Young dyslexics often fail to learn which sounds accompany which letters. Spelling poses a great challenge.
While those with a severe form may find their disability early on, students with less pronounced symptoms often go undiagnosed until college.
“Because of that, many children are harmed,” Shaywitz said. “It’s critical to have children identified, the earlier the better.”
Humans typically read using the left back side of the brain; dyslexics rely more on the right side and front.
“The brains of dyslexics are wired differently,” Shaywitz said.
That affects how they learn language in print. Before words can be identified, stored in the memory or retrieved, they must be broken down into small pieces that dyslexics find difficult to identify.
However, dyslexics are often creative and good with tasks that require the right brain, such as higher math. The list of gifted dyslexics includes Charles Schwab and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein.
Like many intelligent dyslexics, Nick Maclean, 16, concealed his inability to read from teachers and friends for years.
“I got pretty good at hiding it,” said Nick, who will be high school junior this fall.
As a young child, Nick memorized what he needed to know in order to respond properly during class. When he got older, he listened to books on tape rather than reading them, for school and pleasure.
“I’m just glad the Harry Potter books and Eragon books are on tape or I would have died,” Nick said.
As a freshman, Nick’s parents enrolled him in a tutoring program at one of the five schools in their district that offer special tutoring. Three times a week, Nick visits