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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Two Valley moms behind new Arizona dyslexia law

Jen Kasten, dyslexia law, Arizona

When Jenifer Kasten testified before the Senate Education Committee, she asked the audience to raise their hands if they were there to show support for the dyslexia bill.

A serendipitous meeting of two Valley moms resulted in SB 1461, a new Arizona law that offers a first step toward providing support to kids and families struggling with dyslexia.

Decoding Dyslexia, Arizona dyslexia law, Meriah Houser, Maddox Houser

Meriah and Maddox Houser (10).

Meriah Houser and Jenifer Kasten met during art therapy for their kids, where they discovered that their children’s anxiety at school was caused by the challenges of dyslexia and a school system that was not prepared to diagnose or treat it.

When Houser’s son, Cole, 12, was in kindergarten, he struggled with reading and language. Houser suspected something was wrong, but nobody could identify it. Her son was intelligent, but language and reading caused him anxiety and stress. Eventually, a teacher suggested her son might be dyslexic.

When Kasten’s daughter, MJ, 8, was in kindergarten, she couldn’t rhyme. Dr. Seuss books made no sense to her. She didn’t get the relationship between Sam and ham. She struggled to retrieve words like peanut butter or pencil—words she knew well. Language, reading and school caused her so much anxiety and frustration that her mother withdrew her and homeschooled her for a year.

Jen Kasten, Arizona dyslexia law

Jen Kasten and her daughter, MJ (8).

Houser, whose boys are both dyslexic, became a dyslexia tutor, helping other families handle the challenges of dyslexia at home and school. In 2013, she started Decoding Dyslexia AZ, which provides support and advocacy for kids with dyslexia.

A year later, Kasten co-founded Parents Education Network (PEN) Phoenix, which provides support and information related to all types of learning and attention issues. Kasten, an attorney, specializes in direct representation, policy analysis, and consulting in the areas of education, mental health, disability and criminal justice. She blogs at JK Voices LLC.

What the new dyslexia law means

SB 1461 defines dyslexia in statute and:

  • Allows parents to exempt their child from the state’s Move On When Reading requirement that students be held back if they are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
  • Allows teachers to include dyslexia training toward their required continuing education credits.

Ultimately, Houser and Kasten hope that all K-4 teachers will be trained to diagnose dyslexia early so that appropriate interventions can begin and that all schools will provide programs
necessary to teach dyslexic kids to read and process language.

Arizona, dyslexia law

Grace Ellingson (9), Quinn Lathrop (13) and Ella Morelli (9), students with dyslexia, testified before the House Education Committee.

Signs of dyslexia

According to, signs of dyslexia at various stages in school may include:

  • Preschool: speaks like a younger child, has trouble calling things by the correct name, struggles with rhymes, can’t seem to follow directions.
  • Grade school: has trouble sounding out new words, seems bored or confused by books, can’t remember details of books he or she has read.
  • Middle school: reads very slowly, often can’t find the words to say, struggles with writing assignments, struggles to fit in.
  • High school: doesn’t get jokes, has trouble expressing ideas, lacks a sense of direction, struggles to learn a foreign language.

Free screening resources

If you suspect dyslexia in your child, visit Arizona Literacy and Learning Center (ALLC), which provides free screenings at various Valley locations.

Find details on upcoming screenings.

You can also request in writing that your public school evaluate your child. The school must do so within 60 days.

Poetry in the Park, Arizona dyslexia law, MJ Kasten

MJ participates in a poetry reading at Poetry in the Park.

Advice to parents

Don’t let dyslexia define children, Houser recommends. “Give them hugs and point out their strengths. Give them opportunities to build up their strengths and their self-esteem. [Look at] the whole child.”

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Alexandra Muller Arboleda

Alexandra Muller Arboleda is a freelance writer and the mother of Isabel (14) and Nicolas (11). She has worked as a water lawyer and a law and logic teacher. She is also certified to teach yoga. 

Copyrighted material. All rights reserved. This content may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or redistributed without permission of the publisher.

12 Responses

  1. Catherine Kolodin says:

    May I share this important article with my parents?

  2. Debbie Nunez says:

    I praise your drive to make a difference. I also have a dyslexic son (20) who bears the scars of traditional schools. I would love to talk to you one day. I hope his story can be told one day to make a difference in others views on dyslexia.

    Debbie Nunez

    • Karen Barr Karen Barr says:

      Hi, Debbie. We will relay your comment to the remarkable women who shepherded this legislation. I am working on a several-months-long series of stories on learning and attention differences, and trying to interview as many families as I can to gain insights. If you would be willing to share your family’s experience with me, please write: [email protected]

  3. Lisa Davis says:

    Such a great step by two amazing moms. I had the pleasure of meeting Meriah at the dyslexia conference, love her passion and she’s my idol as a mom of a son with several learning disabilities. I draw from her passion and ability to believe in making a difference.

  4. A Practicing School Psychologist says:

    As a school psychologist, I must point out that, contrary to what your article states, schools do not have to conduct an evaluation within 60 days of a parent request. They do have to convene a meeting with the parent and consider the parent request for an evaluation but in context of all other “existing data” regarding a student. If there is evidence of a suspected disability, the school should honor the parents’ request; however, it is not uncommon for parents to request an evaluation in the absence of data that suggests a disability – in such a case, the district is within their legal right to refuse to evaluate.

    • a concerned parent says:

      I have to agree with your response. I am learning this with my own son. He is reading at 2 grade levels behind and is going to be held back. I have been told by the school they will not test him because his grades are to high. I help him a lot so I have essentially helped him out of being tested for dyslexia. Even though the more I research this, he is absolutely text book. I am at my wits end with the public school system.

    • Jewell Livers says:

      I raised my children in Louisville , Ky. I realized my daughter was having difficulty reading in the third grade. Teachers and counselors continued to ignore and blame the under achievement on behavioral issues, which by the way is not ever mentioned in symptoms. They refused a request for testing. Fortunately. Louisville has a distinguished school for children with dyslexia. The DePaul School, although the cost was equal to college tuition in those days it was worth every penny. It is unbelievable that Arizona has just recently recognized this prevailing disorder. My girls are now 40 and 41. I would never place a child in the public school system in this State. Our population here in general seem to have little interest in quality education.

  5. For those parents who are concerned about obtaining an evaluation as quickly as possible, I’d like to offer just a little more clarification of the comment above by the Practicing School Psychologist.

    The Arizona Center for Disability Law has, online, an excellent guide (linked below) that explains the procedures for requesting and obtaining an evaluation. The following is an excerpt:

    IDEA 2004 requires the school system to complete an evaluation within 60 days of receiving parental consent for the evaluation, or within the time frame set forth in state law. The Arizona administrative rule on initial evaluations requires the school to
    complete the evaluation “as soon as possible” but not to exceed 60 calendar days. If you are interested in moving the process forward as quickly as possible, we recommend that your initial letter requesting an evaluation includes language such as: “This letter
    constitutes my consent to the evaluation.” This means that the 60 day period in which the district must complete the evaluation starts on the day it receives your written consent. If the district refuses to conduct the evaluation, the district must provide parents with written notice. See Chapter 5U of this guide for more information about written notice.

    • Thank you Jen Kastner for the clarification. The law is the law. Because we underfund education in this state school districts hold the money “very close” and do not give anything away. Parents must know the law when speaking with school personnel. I don’t believe anyone goes into education dear practicing school psychologist to do wrong by our kids but after years of limited resources and “instruction” from their administration, well it appears to resemble the childhood game of “telephone.” I suggest parents bring their smartphones into the IEP meeting, place it on the table and record everything that is said. You would be amazed how things change when everything they tell you is being recorded.

  6. MontieR says:

    I have HAD it with the public mal education system. My daughter has dyslexia, evidenced by letter reversal, difficulty pronouncing certain words, extreme difficulty with writing assignments, yet she can read Dean Coonts and explain it correctly to me. It should NOT be up to a lazy 6th grade teachers opinion whether a child needs to be tested for dyslexia. Her mother and siblings have dyslexia.

    We as parents should NOT have to resort to legal proceedings to get our children’s educational needs.

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