Monday, May 13, 2019

An informative resource and advocacy tool for Iowa families of children with dyslexia is available online at no cost.

The Iowa Reading Research Center’s eLearning Dyslexia Overview is an interactive introduction to the learning disability. The goal is to provide those who take the module with a basic understanding of dyslexia by knocking down myths, exploring neurobiological factors, digging into common symptoms, and taking a preliminary look at classroom instruction for students with dyslexia in mind. 

Samantha Zehms, a mother of four, has two children with dyslexia, daughter Gretta and son Adam. Samantha and Adam participated in the development of the Dyslexia Overview module. Zehms had the opportunity to complete the module prior to its launch and provide feedback. She believes the module can be useful to families and educators as a first step to gaining a better understanding of dyslexia and becoming more aware of how it affects students.

“I am very excited about the module as a parent of two children with dyslexia,” Zehms said. “The module is successful at sharing information about dyslexia in engaging and interactive ways. As someone who has previous knowledge of dyslexia, I still took away a great deal from the module.”

Previously, the IRRC provided dyslexia learning primarily for college students studying to become educators (to fulfill requirements implemented by the Iowa State Board of Education) through a limited number of licenses to complete training from a third-party website. The new Iowa Reading Research Center eLearning platform allows complete control over content and access, meaning the Dyslexia Overview module can be made available for anyone in Iowa to take. This makes learning about dyslexia accessible for all, including future and current educators and, importantly, families of students with dyslexia.  

“This module provides a comprehensive overview of dyslexia that we hope will be of use for any family with a child experiencing reading difficulties or already identified as having dyslexia,” said IRRC Director Dr. Deborah K. Reed. “Family members want to understand their child as best as they can, and this module acts as a starting point toward a fuller understanding of this learning disability.”

The Dyslexia Overview module was written by Reed in collaboration with other literacy experts, developmental pediatric scientists, and families like the Zehms. The module uses common language that is understandable for people who may not know anything about dyslexia or have in-depth knowledge of literacy development and neurobiology.  

Information is delivered in various engaging ways throughout the module. There are cartoon animations of real-life scenarios exemplifying how dyslexia can cause children to struggle with reading accuracy, fluency, comprehension, writing, and spelling. There are video interviews with literacy experts, school counselors, and educators that discuss the educational and social factors associated with dyslexia. The module also features videos with researchers at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, such as Dr. Amy Conrad, that provide information about the neurobiological factors of dyslexia that are being uncovered through ongoing studies. Samantha and Adam are featured in the video, talking about their participation in such studies and also sharing their personal stories. The module takes approximately one hour to complete, and there is a posttest to assess and review what the user learned.  

Educators and pre-service teacher candidates who complete the module will increase their awareness of the issues their current or future students with dyslexia may experience. Zehms believes students with dyslexia will be taught more effectively and treated better in the classroom if their educators complete the module.

“For educators, this module would be beneficial because it can provide them the knowledge to integrate current science and research into the classroom, rather than basing their teaching strategies off instinct,” Zehms said.

For families, the Dyslexia Overview module can provide a base of knowledge that can prepare them to confidently discuss dyslexia with teachers, counselors, and other service providers. This will be helpful when it comes time to work with educators on an Individualized Education Program (IEP). From experience, Zehms noted that it is difficult to go into meetings with educators when the family members do not feel confident about what will be discussed.

Zehms believes most importantly, the Dyslexia Overview module can be an advocacy tool for families.

“When families are familiarized with dyslexia tendencies, they will be able to better advocate for their child and their needs, which may not always align with an educator’s philosophy,” she said. “The module provides information regarding traits and behavioral patterns associated with dyslexia that can be seen and observed. Being aware of behavioral patterns and symptoms of dyslexia can allow families to identify and understand their children’s behaviors.

“If a student is becoming discouraged during an assignment, this module may prompt them to consider dyslexia, rather than assuming bad attitude, laziness, or a lack of interest. This module can provide a new ‘why’ behind student behaviors.”