My Journey Into The Field Of Dyslexia
I started my career as a public school Speech/Language Pathologist immediately after completing graduate school way back in 1981 (i.e., the dark ages). I absolutely loved what I did which was help kids by providing speech therapy and language intervention. I also enjoyed being part of my student’s “team,” by partnering with the classroom teacher, parent and sometimes special education teacher to ensure we were all on the same page and providing exactly what this student needed to overcome his speech or language difficulties.
Most of the time the plan worked and one-by-one my students were able to “graduate” from speech. However, I started noticing that a startling number of students that no longer needed speech therapy were having difficulty with reading development. Some of them even required specialized reading intervention and qualified for Special Education resource support. I would see their smiling faces going by my classroom door on their way to the Learning Disabilities classroom ( which was right across the hall from mine). It took me awhile but I finally started wondering if there was some type of connection between early speech ( articulation) weaknesses which may contribute to reading disabilities as the student progressed in school.
I started delving into what the research had to say about the causal relationship between speech disorders and reading development. Overwhelmingly, the professional journals, websites and research papers reported that early speech difficulties were frequently an early risk factor for dyslexia. I learned that SLP’s could begin to lay a reading foundation by promoting phonological awareness, which is critical in reading development, during speech therapy sessions. I began implementing those techniques with a lot of my students and realized just how much they struggled to perceive and segment sounds in words. If a student can’t “hear” sounds, how can they begin to learn to read or spell words in the English language which is based on an alphabetic principle. Anyway, that sparked my interest in reading development and I discovered my true passion – helping teach reading to students who learn differently.
Even before retiring from the public school system after 25 years of service, I began attending various workshops to learn the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching dyslexic students to read. The stars were in perfect alignment when I just happened to attend a workshop with Dr. Denise Gibbs, director of the Scottish Rite Foundation Learning Centers. Having a Speech/Language Pathology degree from the University of Alabama ( just like me) and our desire to help those with dyslexia, we became fast friends. She trained me and mentored me as I learned to administer a battery of tests specifically designed to identify dyslexia.
Immediately after I retired from the public school, I began testing for Scottish Rite and tutoring students privately. I also provided contract testing for Greengate School, a private school for students with dyslexia, for approximately 15 years before going full-time into private practice. I have found my true calling and still consider myself a “team member” with the parents and students I test. Nothing makes me happier than receiving emails from parents letting me know how their child has progressed in reading development, their accomplishments and sometimes their challenges. I am eager to “lend an ear” and brainstorm ways to help these students get beyond their difficulties.
My husband frequently asks me when I am going to retire ( yes, I am that old) and I just give him ”the look.” As long as I’m physically and mentally able, why would I ever give up something that makes me get up every morning and think “Yeah, I get to help a student today!”