Through systematic instruction incorporating interests and strengths—A star is born

Alison is a middle-school student who is an avid reader and outstanding verbal communicator. She also has dyslexia. She began receiving services in second grade. At that time, she would not attempt to read aloud because she was so self-conscious.

Her phonemic awareness, one of the key underpinnings of reading and writing, was in the first percentile on standardized testing. Despite her many creative ideas, her writing was indecipherable much of the time, due to poor spelling and handwriting that floated across the page. Alison was discouraged much of the time in school and thought that she was not as smart as the other kids. As with many smart students with dyslexia, she found ways of coping, such as following what other kids were doing and focusing her energy on “looking like” she was learning. Nonetheless, she experienced growing anxiety as she failed tests and assignments because she did not understand the directions or was confounded by the visual presentation.

Alison began receiving services to address the building blocks for reading and writing. She obtained explicit, step-by-step instruction on how to break apart and blend the sounds in words. Her interests, learning style, and strengths were fostered and were utilized to work on her weaker areas. For example, Alison is creative and is passionate about helping people. She read about people who did not have access to clean drinking water in Third World countries, and she decided to write a book that would illustrate the plight of these children. She learned how to spell, edit, and use assistive technology in the process. After two years of intensive literacy therapy, Alison discovered that she liked to read. Her phonemic awareness had improved to the high average range, as did her reading fluency and comprehension.

By sixth grade, Alison had a much stronger foundation for literacy, although she still struggled with spelling, test taking, memory and math, all stemming from the underlying neurological processes associated with her dyslexia. Her speech-language therapist provided intervention in these areas and taught Alison strategies and self-advocacy skills to help her navigate the ever-increasing demands of middle school. In addition, the therapist and Dr. Pierson advocated for Alison and her family in school meetings to help her receive necessary support and accommodations.

Today, Alison is a young woman who is confident about her intelligence and can explain dyslexia and advocate for herself. She aspires toward being on Broadway someday.