Parents Find Dyslexia is Often Unrecognized by Schools

Studies have shown that up to 15 percent of the population has some dyslexia but only five out of 100 receive help.

Studies have shown that up to 15 percent of the population has some dyslexia but only five out of 100 receive help.

by Sonja Haller -

The teacher said it was too soon to test her son for dyslexia. He was only in first grade.

But Nicole Quinn worried that if her son, Adam, didn’t get help soon, something deeper than reading below grade level would take root and grow.

“The other day, he said, ‘Mom, why do you tell me I’m smart? You know I’m not.’ “

Her voice cracked, and Christine Zahn offered a steady, rocking nod.

The two women huddled in the children’s section at Phoenix’s Burton Barr Central Library amid a sea of blue carpet, lime-green computer tables and a Cajun-red wall. They whispered, tucked behind a wide concrete column. Adam was being screened in the next room for reading issues.

He’s not like his sister, Quinn told Zahn. Reading came easy for her, and she’s now a seventh-grade honors student.

“And you’ll hear, ‘Don’t compare him to his sister,’ right?” Zahn asked.

Quinn unfolded her arms, exhaled and nodded. “And, of course, I wouldn’t,” she said. “I just want him to be successful.”


The first Saturday of every month at Burton Barr Central Library, the Arizona Literacy and Learning Center screens children in Grades 1-3 for specific reading delays that may include dyslexia.

Zahn doesn’t screen children, but is the center’s client-services manager, answering questions from parents.

“Christine speaks the parents’ language,” said Linda Barr, the center’s program director.

Zahn knows what it’s like for a parent to have concerns waved off by well-meaning teachers and friends.

Zahn had noticed her first-grade daughter, Aubrey, struggling to spell “dog” or “saw.”

School officials told her not to worry, that her daughter eventually would learn.

Zahn volunteered in her daughter’s Gilbert classroom, but at the end of first grade, her daughter was no better at reading than when she started.

Now, seven years later, she winced, recalling those after-dinner evenings on the couch. “Come on!” she badgered her then-6-year-old. “We’ve read ‘hot dog’ on every single page, and you’re still not getting it!”

“The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!” wasn’t a delightful story. It was an emotional tug-of-war between a mother determined that her child learn to read, and who she believed then was her brilliant, but oh-so-ornery little girl.

She sought help despite assurances that everything was fine. Barr tested and determined Zahn’s daughter was dyslexic.

“Ugh! I felt awful,” Zahn said.

Studies have shown that up to 15 percent of the population has some degree of dyslexia but only five out of 100 receive help, the Dyslexia Research Institute reports.

This leads to self-esteem, behavior and achievement issues. About 25 percent of the state’s third-graders failed the reading portion of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test. Third-graders who do not pass are not promoted to fourth grade.

The Arizona Literacy and Learning Center, founded in 1987, is working to reverse the trend.


The center can diagnose and treat language-based learning disorders, such as dyslexia. It often starts with the free 30-minute screenings at the library.

About a third of more than a dozen parents who brought their children to be screened recently wanted to know if their child was learning above his or her grade level, so they would know what books to choose.

Another third feared their children may be lagging, among them Martha Leyva. Screeners tested her daughters, Jasmine, 9, and Laritza, 8. Both third-graders were right on target.

“Oh, yes,” Leyva said, clapping her hands together. “I don’t speak English very well, but I want to make sure they are at the right level.”

Still another third know at some level that their child is having issues. One parent, also a teacher, whose daughter’s screening showed signs of dyslexia that day in the library declined to speak about it.

“Dyslexia is still a dirty word,” Zahn said with a sigh.

Research has shown that dyslexia is a neurological disorder and affects children regardless of social background or intelligence.

For Quinn, her son’s screening confirmed what she already knew. Her son isn’t reading at the first-grade level. His frustration over reading is high. She went home with packets to help elevate his reading.

But what Quinn found most valuable is the advice Zahn shared with her before the results were official.

Zahn’s hands issued a non-stop succession of karate chops, swats, waves and hammers to make her points.

“What is your son good at?” she asked. “Make sure you do that and you recognize that. A lot of times, these children are struggling all day in school. They need to feel good about themselves.

“Many times, dyslexic children have average or above-average intelligence.”

Also, schools don’t test for or diagnose dyslexia, she said, but they can and many do test for achievement and IQ, two measures the Arizona Literacy and Learning Center needs before performing its own definitive dyslexia test.

“You have to advocate for your child,” she said.

Adam’s lack of reading comprehension, flipping of letters and numbers, and forgetting words he read in the previous sentence might not be signs of dyslexia.

But if dyslexia is present, Zahn told his mother, there’s hope.

Sometime during the morning’s screenings, a child left a stack of books at the sign-in table. The top book featured a perky, familiar-looking pigeon and the title “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”

“They love those pigeon books,” one parent said after Zahn swatted the top of the book.

“Some of us don’t,” Zahn said with a laugh.

Read more at Finding some direction on the road to literacy.

[Via the Arizona Republic]

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