As parents of children with dyslexia, we understand firsthand the struggle that millions of Americans with the condition face as they try to reach their full potential.
Dyslexia can be remediated with good education, but it is a persistent, lifelong challenge. This is not, and should not be, a Democratic or Republican issue.
Prompted by concerns about our own children and our constituents’ children, we set out to learn as much as we could about dyslexia and were amazed at how much is known and yet, far too often, not incorporated into policy. As a result, we’ve formed the bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucus to educate other Members of Congress and advance policies to break down barriers faced by dyslexics.
Dyslexia affects as many as 10 million children in the United States — boys and girls from all ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic regions of our country.
The day-to-day concerns of families with a dyslexic child are considerable. We have both heard from constituents about schools ignoring or failing to make or accept the diagnosis of dyslexia or to provide proven, effective reading instruction.
Parents have shared their frustration: They have been told my daughter was too bright to be dyslexic; my child’s school doesn’t believe in dyslexia; I am fighting to have an evaluation for my child. Dyslexics pay a high price for the ignorance surrounding them in our educational system.
The roots of dyslexia lie in a difficulty getting to the basic sounds of spoken words. As a result, a child trying to retrieve a word will pull up a sound that is very similar or just say a string of uhms. For example, someone wanting to point out the Cloisters museum might say, “Oh, look at the oysters museum.” The frustrating thing is the person knows the word but just cannot reach in and come up with the correct sound.
This leads to spelling problems, affects the ability to read and makes learning a foreign language a daunting task. Imagine you are a young person, especially one who has not been properly diagnosed, struggling to read in front of classmates who giggle and smirk with each mispronunciation. As your classmates progress to reading smoothly and automatically, your reading remains trying, tiring and slow. While peers are having fun on the playground, you stay back in class finishing up your work.
The challenges facing people with dyslexia do not end in grade school. Our children’s futures are often dictated by performance on high-stakes exams. On tests, dyslexia robs a person of time because that person cannot quickly recognize words. Fortunately, with accommodations such as extra time, dyslexics can complete tests and have the results reflect their knowledge and aptitude, rather than their condition.
Testing accommodations are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, many testing companies routinely ignore diagnoses of dyslexia and refuse to offer accommodations. We have heard numerous examples of bright, hardworking dyslexic young men and women who, with accommodations, have succeeded in school only to be stopped in their tracks because they’re refused accommodations on tests. This has to stop.
Without a doubt, there are successful dyslexics. Attorney David Boies, financier Charles Schwab, Nobel laureate Carol Greider, cardiac surgeon and Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos Cosgrove are extraordinary people who overcame dyslexia.
But they are the exceptions. There are a far larger number of individuals who have the potential to contribute to society, but through lack of diagnosis, early intervention or needed accommodations, find their lives — and our nation — unnecessarily and unfairly diminished. We must take action, not only to ensure that we do not lose future Cosgroves and Greiders, but to ensure we do not lose the potential of even one dyslexic child.
As a start, we formed the Congressional Dyslexia Caucus. Just last week, we had our first event in the halls of Congress. We welcomed the overwhelming response to our screening of “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” with more than 150 attendees.
Just as we are able to come together on behalf of the children we love and the nation we serve, the country must come together to ensure that every dyslexic child and adult has a chance to read, to learn, and to demonstrate and realize his or her full potential.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.