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Dyslexia diagnosis rewritten: Parents form nonprofit


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The mix-ups were cute at first.

“Bisghetti” instead of spaghetti. “Aminal” for animal. “Hekalopter” rather than helicopter.

But when Max Mormino, now a third-grader at Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Campus, had trouble learning to read, what was once cute turned into concern.

Parents Adrienne and Brian Mormino later learned Max was switching the sounds and syllables in long words because he has dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a lifelong learning challenge that people are born with. It is a language-processing disorder that can hinder reading, writing, spelling and sometimes speaking. It is not a sign of low intelligence.

Max passed his IREAD-3 exam this year — which means he is reading on grade level — but his parents do not think that would have been possible without a monthlong camp in Carmel and weekly tutoring sessions in Seymour.

Their child is hardly alone.

One in five people struggle with dyslexia, according to The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, and 40 percent of those cases are severe.

So what happens to families who do not have the resources to drive the distance or pay the price so their child can get assistance?

The Morminos are trying to help them.

With individuals at Cummins and others in the community getting involved, the couple have formed a nonprofit organization to help children with dyslexia realize their full potential.

What do they see?

It’s hard to understand what somebody with dyslexia sees on the page. Here’s a simulation:

An old wom an dakeb some gin gerdreab. She hab some bough left ov er, so she mabe the sha be of a little man. She mape eyes, anoseand a smil ing mouth andpl aceq curra ntsbown his front to look like du ttons. Thenshe laib hi mon a qak ingtray and put himint he oven. After a while, som ething rattlebat theo ven boor. She ope nedit and out ju mped the littlegin gerdreab man. She triep to catch him duthes lippeb dast her, ca llingas he ran, “Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerdreab man!”

R.E.A.D.S., which stands for Recognizing, Educating and Advocating for Dyslexic Students, formed about a month ago and will mark the launch with a movie screening today.

“The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” will be screened at YES Cinema at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., with a question-and-answer session following each showing.

The event will give R.E.A.D.S. a good idea of community interest and will be a springboard for future efforts.

“It’s the most common learning challenge yet the most publicly misunderstood,” Adrienne Mormino said. “We are trying to get people’s attention.”

The diagnosis

The news of their son’s diagnosis, which came when Max was in first grade, was hard for the Morminos to fathom at first.

Brian Mormino is executive director of worldwide environmental strategy and compliance for Cummins. Adrienne Mormino, currently a stay-at-home mom, has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. The parents read to Max every night when he was younger, and they took him on educational trips to help him learn, such as visiting the Smithsonian museums when the family lived in Washington.

Why was their bright and vivacious little boy getting so frustrated by words?

“I trained teachers in D.C. to observe children,” said Adrienne Mormino, who provided early childhood professional development to other teachers in her area. “But here I am, a teacher aware of my kid, and I’m seeing things I’m not quite sure about.”

Brian Mormino remembers Max trying to read stories and having difficulty sounding out words his father had just read aloud several times. Sometimes Max would even mess up the character’s main name, his father said.

“I had no understanding whatsoever. I would just think that doesn’t make sense,” he said. “There’s a feeling of guilt (as a parent) associated with it.”

Max continued to struggle through kindergarten when the family moved to Columbus, and that is when his parents decided to dig deeper.

Adrienne Mormino was out with a friend who was talking about her own son with dyslexia, and she said red flags went up.

After spending some time on the Internet looking for more answers, the Morminos took Max to the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana on the north side of Indianapolis to be tested.

But that did not solve everything.

While they discovered the kind of learning disorder Max had, his parents felt he needed more attention than what Columbus’ public schools could offer.

“We’ve had so much great help, and I think the school is doing everything they can do for him,” Adrienne said. “But we just know, based on the severity of his dyslexia, he would not progress nearly as much if he did not have the one-on-one.”

The Morminos found that individualized attention with a private tutor in Seymour.

A proven method

Max came up to his mother one day this year and told her: “Mom, I’m not frustrated anymore.”

Adrienne Mormino said that is because he has been learning to read using the Orton-Gillingham method.

The reading program uses a multisensory approach that incorporates three learning pathways: auditory, kinesthetic and visual.

At his tutoring sessions in Seymour with teacher Martha Bloch, Max uses all three.

On the flashcards were words such as “deceitful,” “catsup” and “subtle.”

Max read most of them off to Bloch without a problem, but he got caught up on “drawers.” He pronounced it like the people who draw pictures, but he quickly corrected himself.

He used an iPad app to drag around letters to spell the word “responsible” and then “responsibility.”

Then his tutor pulled out a whiteboard and asked him to write some words with a dry-erase marker.

Using that learning method, Max increased his reading level by a year and a half in 20 sessions.

Reports from other schools in the state show similar success — and not just for students with dyslexia.

In Indianapolis Public Schools, a daily whole-class application of Orton-Gillingham in one semester resulted in

an increase in reading scores

in kindergarten and first-

grade classrooms.

The Dyslexia Institute of Indiana found one-on-one tutoring sessions resulted in a 20 percent increase in reading and spelling skills through the Wells Outreach Educational Program.

George Van Horn, director

of special education for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said the district offers

optional Orton-Gillingham training for teachers, but it’s

not mandatory.

At CSA Lincoln, where Max attends, one teacher has attended several training sessions and offers Orton-

Gillingham instruction to many students in the classroom setting and in pull-out groups.

Principal Chad Phillips said he only has anecdotal evidence, but that method has so far shown to be successful in increasing reading scores of students with special

needs and students in gen-

eral education.

But the Orton-Gillingham method is based on one-

on-one or small-group instruction. When there

are more than 700 students in some elementary schools, individualized attention is not always possible.

Van Horn said he would like to see more resources from the state or federal level for Orton-Gillingham instruction or other dyslexia support, but funding is competitive.

“What is the proportion of families that are able to drive to Seymour every day (for tutoring) or pay for camp if it’s not offered in their classrooms?” Brian Mormino asked.

Discussing dyslexia

Some of the brightest and most successful people have dealt with dyslexia — movie maker Steven Spielberg, computer expert Steve Jobs, automobile innovator Henry Ford and financial investment business owner Charles Schwab among them.

Still, Brian said a misconception persists that dyslexia is a sign of low intelligence.

“Dyslexia is really in the way the brain is wired,” he said. “Outside of that, kids with dyslexia have the capacity to do incredible things.”

So when a student is excelling in most areas in the classroom, how does a teacher know to address dyslexia as a possibility?

They might not, Brian Mormino said.

He said that is particularly concerning when considering the IREAD-3 exam, which students are generally required to pass to move onto the fourth-grade reading lessons.

He agrees that it is important for elementary students to learn to read at grade level before getting too far in school. At some point, students need to stop learning to read and start reading to learn, he said.

But he does not believe retaining a child is the

right answer.

“Isn’t that the definition of insanity?” he asked. “To try the same thing over and over and expect different results?”

So R.E.A.D.S. — starting with today’s movie screenings — is launching an awareness campaign so educators, students and families can understand dyslexia and how to identify the disability early.

They want the community to understand the struggles families of students with dyslexia face — such as the gap in policy. In Indiana, dyslexia is not an eligible category for special education. It is a specific learning disability, and schools determine what interventions students need on a case-by-case basis.

They also want the community to know what is available in the schools for students with dyslexia.

Phillips said it all goes back to Universal Design for Learning, a set of principles that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn and that is embraced by the district.

“Our teachers provide the services that are needed to each kid in their classroom, and that includes interventions,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can within the constraints to make every possible accommodation for each kid. UDL really allows for teachers to meet the needs of each student, regardless of if they’re identified (with a learning disability) or not.”

Film screening

WHAT: Screening of “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia,” followed by a question-and-answer session

WHEN: Two showings today: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and

4:30 to 6 p.m.

WHERE: YES Cinema,

328 Jackson St.

MORE INFO: Visit columbusinreads.org

Dyslexia Institute

of Indiana

How they help: Dyslexia Institute of Indiana offers direct educational services to individuals with dyslexia and training and support for family members, parents and educators:

  • Testing
  • Tutoring
  • Summer camp
  • School support programs
  • Teacher training
  • Small-group classes
  • Parent Group
  • Kids’ Group
  • Lending Library

Location: 8395 Keystone Crossing, Suite 102, Indianapolis

Contact information: 317-222-6635 or diin.org

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