by Bill Lohmann -
As a kid, Joe Oley didn’t exactly shine as a student.
He read poorly, worked slowly and struggled mightily. He got in trouble for forging his parents’ signatures on detention slips and twice appeared before his school’s disciplinary board.
And this was all by the seventh grade. ”I was failing out of school,” he said. “I was just a wreck.”
He wasn’t good in school or sports, so other kids viewed him with something less than respect. Teachers called him “lazy.” He felt stupid.
Roughly three decades later, you could say things turned out OK for Oley: He earned a doctorate in pharmacy, and he is president of Westbury Pharmacy. On Thursday, as part of Dyslexia Awareness Month, Oley, 40, will tell his story at a public program at New Community School, 4211 Hermitage Road. New Community is one of two Richmond-area schools — Riverside School is the other — that focus on teaching students with dyslexia.
There is another angle to Oley’s story: His 9-year-old son, Max, also has dyslexia.
“The way I explained it to Max is,” Oley said, ” ‘Think about a room full of red tables and one blue table. The blue one is still a table. You can still put stuff on it. It’s just a different color. That’s all it is. There’s no difference. You can learn, you just learn differently.’ “
Dyslexia, according to the International Dyslexia Association, is a language-based learning disability that manifests itself in symptoms that include difficulties in reading, spelling, writing and pronouncing words. Dysgraphia is a disorder that can make writing difficult. In either case, it is not simply a matter of seeing transposed letters as you read or writing words backward, which is a persistent misconception.
Research shows dyslexia can be traced to inherited differences in brain development, according to IDA, and is not due to a lack of intelligence or lack of desire to learn.
About 15 to 20 percent of the population is affected by dyslexia, according to the National Institutes of Health.
That’s a lot of kids struggling in school and a lot of parents struggling to understand why their kids are struggling.
“It’s sad because there are many parents who don’t know what to do,” said Nancy Foy, head of school at New Community.
Dyslexia is common but not necessarily uniform. “It looks different in many children,” Foy said. The key is identification. Once dyslexia is diagnosed, tutoring and a more personalized approach to teaching can make a huge difference, though it takes time.
“There’s no magic, and it’s not quick … but some of our best brains are dyslexic brains,” said Foy, for whom this subject is personal. Her father discovered late in life, with her help, that he was dyslexic.
“So, it’s not a curse, but you need to be taught differently,” she said, noting that 85 percent of New Community alumni attend college. “With help, the sky’s the limit.”
Joe Oley is a walking example. He entered New Community School in the eighth grade, reading, writing and doing math at a fourth-grade level. He left two years later performing work at a 12th-grade level. He compensated for his poor writing skills by learning to type — very quickly and very accurately.
“A whole new world,” he recalled. “I could get my thoughts out.”
[Via Richmond Times Dispatch]