W ilson Anderson has taught all sorts of kids. He currently does tutoring and consulting work, and teaches two times a week at St. Paul’s Lutheran School. His target is a very specific issue that he’s seen students struggle with for his entire teaching career: dyslexia.
When Anderson started teaching in 1962, he noticed a lot of students who were struggling with reading.
“If students can’t read, they can’t write, and they can’t spell,” he said. “One hundred years ago, that wouldn’t have made that much of a difference, but this day and age, it’s much harder to be successful without reading.”
It turns out that 15 percent of people struggle with dyslexia, according to an estimate from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Once these students enter fourth-grade, there comes a tipping point when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. It’s around that time that dyslexic students can get left behind and become bored, frustrated and disruptive in class.
This problem has been around and documented for a long time. The Orton Society, formed in 1949, dedicated itself to studying and devising approaches to treating dyslexia.
“At the time, kids who couldn’t read were labeled as aphasic or oppositional and defiant,” Anderson said.
Since then, the Orton Society has reformed as the International Dyslexia Association, and Anderson is a four-time past president of its Upper Midwest branch. He’s also a current board member.
“There are very few of use with appropriate training south of the river,” he said. That’s the main reason why he’s still doing all he can to help out, even well into his 70s.
The International Dyslexia Association’s main fundraising activity is the TeamQuest Marathon, which raises awareness and gathers donations for dyslexia programs. Anderson wanted to participate, but completing a marathon is a task generally reserved for someone not in their 70s. So, he thought of another idea to help out.
“Why not be natural and do it at the library?” he said.
Rather than hopping on a bike or lacing up some running sneakers, Anderson will be completing a reading marathon at the Prior Lake Library on May 26, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. He’ll be onhand with a stack of books to read to children and a stack of literature on dyslexia. He can’t solicit actual donations at the library, but his hope is that some people will follow up, visit International Dyslexia Association website and make a donation on their own time.
His main objective, however, is informational. Most people know dyslexia in name only, and there are plenty of misconceptions and misinformation floating around.
“People think that it’s an eye problem,” Anderson said, giving an example. Some dyslexics see letters as rotated 180 degrees, turning their “u”s into “n”s and their “w”s into “m”s. There are plenty of people, Anderson said, who take that to mean that the cause of dyslexia has everything to do with vision, and will prescribe eye exercises to fix it. The problem is that dyslexia has nothing to do with the eyes.
“We’re dealing with perception, not vision,” he said. In actuality, eyes actually perceive everything to be upside down, because images are refracted through the lenses. The brain does the work of processing the image and flipping it rightside-up again. So, unfortunately, working on eyes won’t fix dyslexia. That’s an issue that occurs in the brain.
Another common myth: that it takes a doctor to spot a child who may have dyslexia.
“A common symptom of dyslexia is when children don’t want to be read to — they’d rather be doing other things,” he said. “That’s a very telling tale.”
And, arguably, the most important: that dyslexic children will just outgrow the learning disability and read normally once they get older. Once they get past that fourth-grade fulcrum, he said, it’s extremely hard for a dyslexic child to catch up. The key is addressing the problem early rather than waiting for it to go away.
“We essentially have five years of failure to pick up on it,” he said. “We have to get out solid, reliable, research-based information to parents and schools.”