Dislecksia: The Movie is a light-hearted documentary with a serious purpose. It will give viewers a better understanding of the condition itself, the problems it makes for individuals and families, and the programs that are needed to deal with it. It will help dyslexics and their families get the assistance they need. It will give them hope – as well as a crash course in how to laugh at their own condition.
While estimates vary somewhat, reading disability is a massive problem. A study by the Mayo Clinic estimates that 15-35 million Americans are affected, to some degree, by dyslexia. A survey by the US Department of Education found that nearly 38 percent of fourth graders had not achieved even basic or rudimentary skills in reading. An estimated four-fifths of all learning disabilities are reading disabilities.
The individuals, social, and financial costs are almost beyond calculation. Kids who don’t learn to read face frustration, humiliation, and battering of their self-esteem. Many adopt counter-productive responses, from getting sick when they have to read to becoming “class clowns” to hide their embarrassment. They drop out of high school at double the rate of other kids. With limited reading skills, poor education and damaged self-image, many dyslexics are set up for a life of frustrated hopes and limited opportunities. They are blocked from utilizing their talents to realize their aspirations.
The costs to society are equally devastating. The ability to read is a prerequisite for contribution to society both as a worker and as a citizen. Yet our communities and workforce are filled with adults who cannot read – a recent study estimated one million non-readers in the New York City workforce alone. Many are talented people whose potential contribution to society is lost because of their disability. A disproportionate number of those with reading disabilities fill our juvenile detention facilities and prisons.
The good news is that these tragic outcomes can be almost completely forestalled. As the many highly successful dyslexics demonstrate, even those with severe dyslexia can learn to function as high levels that take advantage of their full rage of talents.
If they receive the right kind of help early enough, all dyslexics can improve their reading and most can learn to read with competence. Yet most dyslexics are not identified until third grade at the earliest. Only a small proportion – less than one-third – receive treatment. Often the treatment they receive is inappropriate and/or inadequate.
If treatment is delayed, the brain becomes less malleable for rerouting neural circuits and treatment therefore becomes more difficult. Children who don’t learn how to read fall further behind their peers because they miss out on additional reading practice. For many, the pain and shame of failure instill an aversion to even trying.
These consequences are unnecessary. They can all be corrected by means of changes in public knowledge about and attitudes toward dyslexia. Indeed, many experts in the field of dyslexia believe that changing public awareness of what dyslexia is and what can be done about it is the key to eliminating this unnecessary scourge. If those at risk for dyslexia could be identified, diagnosed, and provided the special instruction they need, the “problem” of dyslexia could be largely eliminated
The mission of Dislecksia: The Movie is to provide a critical tool for creating that public awareness. It will educate a wide public on what dyslexia is – not a sign of stupidity as so many believe, but of a need to learn in a different way. It will tell parents of dyslexics what they can do to ensure that their children are properly diagnosed and given the kind of instruction they need. It will help schools understand what they need to do to identify those at risk for dyslexia and to provide the instruction that will allow them to learn. It will help educators gain support from parents and the community to provide what dyslexic kids need. And it will help dyslexics themselves understand that they have the potential to learn successfully, but that they have to learn in a different way.
Almost everyone in America has a dyslexic in their family, has friends and colleagues who are dyslexic, or is dyslexic themselves. I hope that after seeing this movie, every one of them will say, “Now I know why Tommy can’t read – and I know what to do about it.”