A law passed this year aims to help children with dyslexia by getting schools to assess for the learning disability early.
House Bill 1461, which was signed into law in May, requires every school district, regional education association and special education unit to include phonemic awareness, spelling and decoding in its reading assessments.
The goal is to help children with dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading more difficult. Some scientists believe that a focus phonemic awareness — the ability to match a letter or group of letters with a particular sound — is a way to help children with the condition learn to read.
There’s an additional goal with the law. It also establishes a pilot program for dyslexia screening programs.
Rep. Michelle Strinden, R-Fargo, was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Her interest comes from personal experience with her son.
Strinden’s son is going to be a senior in high school and attends a private school. But for years he was homeschooled, because he had dyslexia and teachers weren’t able to help him learn to read.
He was diagnosed fairly early, and Strinden has a background in education, but that wasn’t enough.
“Even with that, I was struggling to find him help in any school system,” Strinden told the Williston Herald.
She found out about a company that provided help in Moorhead called Reading Therapy Center. That was where she found out that there are strategies to help children with dyslexia to learn to read.
To make sure students who need that extra help get it, the bill calls for pilot programs to help assess phonemic awareness early on and get students into programs where specialists can teach them the skills they need.
“What we need to do is start identifying them early,” Strinden said.
One of the resources Strinden has learned about was an organization called Decoding Dyslexia. The group, originally founded in 2011 in New Jersey, has spread across the country and into Canada.
Anna Hoover, who lives in Williston, is an outreach coordinator for Decoding Dyslexia North Dakota. She’s a teacher and she has experience on the other side, as well — she was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was 4 years old.
She said the pilot program will help keep younger students from falling behind their peers. She said there are good methods available to teach children with dyslexia to read, and she tries to assure parents of that.
“It doesn’t need to be the end of the world because your child learns differently,” she said.