Thursday, May 26, 2022

A recent bill spearheaded by a Dyslexia Advocacy group to test elementary school children for dyslexia and other learning disabilities has been making significant headway toward passage by the New Jersey legislature.  The bill has changed significantly over the past months in order to reduce costs and gain votes by the Assembly.  Originally it had proposed testing for all students by the end of kindergarten and now proponents have moved back the deadline for screening to the middle of second grade.  This testing would be suggested only for children who already show signs of reading difficulties.

As an educator, I was pleased to read of this development and I hope by the time this article has been published, the bill will have gained passage. Learning problems can be detected even at a young age and, when evaluated, the youngster can receive the help necessary. A child with learning disabilities can be and often is quite intelligent, but the fact is that he needs to learn differently than his peers. Yet, I can already imagine some of the parental response to this proposal.  In my many years of teaching and in conversations with other teachers and administrators, the sad fact of parental denial of learning disabilities and aversion to testing is a common issue.  How many times have I personally heard parents’ comments similar to these:

He just has to try harder.

He’s lazy just like I was when I was little.

I don’t agree with the teacher’s evaluation of my child.  I am his mother/father .  Who knows my child better?

How can I allow my child to have a label like “dyslexia,” or ….

My child is a gifted musician.  How can he have a learning disability?

There must be something wrong with the class if my child won’t listen or learn.  He’s such a good kid at home.

And of course, in our Yeshiva environment, it’s never too early to worry about the most important of issue of all, obviously more prevalent in high school.  How will my child find a good shidduch if he is labeled learning disabled?

This Dyslexia Screening Bill, if passed, will no doubt come with significant costs to the schools, but its importance cannot be underestimated.  So many children with learning disabilities have been helped and have grown to become successful and productive contributors to society (think Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein).  Others, unfortunately, have languished in the system and been punished both in school and at home for behavioral issues stemming from their frustration in the classroom.  Even if the bill fails to pass, parents should take the iniative and support administrators and teachers who suggest early testing as a way to help their children.  There is no need to fear any stigma that might be associated with testing and early intervention. It would be shameful, however, if we allowed the needs of our children to be ignored because of our own prejudices.

By Estelle Glass

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