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.
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.
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.
Signs of dyslexia
According to Understood.org, 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.
You can also request in writing that your public school evaluate your child. The school must do so within 60 days.
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.”