New font shines light on dyslexia difficulties

Tuesday , June 30, 2015 - 8:59 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

LAYTON – A graphic designer from London designed a new typeface that depicts what reading is like for people with dyslexia.

Natalie Pollard is a tutor for dyslexic children in Layton. She feels the font is “eye-opening” to the challenges people with dyslexia face. Pollard is not dyslexic herself, but believes the font accurately portrays dyslexic reading issues. However she acknowledges dyslexia does not manifest itself the same for every individual.

“Anything that can help others to know what people go through is great, but there is definitely so much more that dyslexia entails,” Pollard said.

Phoebe Beacham, the cofounder of Decoding Dyslexia in Utah, sees all types of dyslexia simulations as essential to increasing awareness. “It helps you feel the helplessness a child (with dyslexia) might feel,” Beacham said speaking of the font. However she feels the font is more of an emotional representation than what a dyslexic person actually sees.

“We don’t want people to think you just can change a font and it will cure dyslexia,” Beacham said. Pollard agreed that dyslexia includes much more than just difficulty recognizing letters.

“It’s not seeing things backward,” Pollard said. “The eyes functions just fine, it’s more of an issue of manipulation of language. It can affect more than reading or spelling.”

Pollard’s 9-year-old son is dyslexic. She decided to take action at an early age to help improve her child’s reading. “It’s not really a disability, it’s more of a learning difficulty, but it has definitely made school difficult for my son,” Pollard said.

She tutors based on the Orton-Gillingham approach to dyslexia. For two years Pollard has used the approach to help children in her area improve their reading, writing, and language skills. She feels early detection and remediation is key to ensure children with dyslexia do not fall behind in school.

The 2015 legislative session passed Senate Bill 117 to institute an early detection pilot program. Sen. Aaron Osmond sponsored the bill. “We have a growing problem of special education students in Utah,” Osmond said. “We often have a wait to fail system, where we don’t find out about a disability until the student is in third or fourth grade.”

The pilot program aims to counteract this trend.

Beacham explained, “We don’t have a knowledge gap, but an action gap.” She hopes the pilot program’s success will fuel more widespread change. She sees the early detection program as a proven answer to helping dyslexic students.

The bill appropriated $350,000 to five Utah school districts. The money will go toward training current teachers how to help students who have difficulties reading in general education, not a special education setting.

“One problem that we run into in the world of dyslexia is that people think it’s a Special Ed problem,” Beacham said.

She further explained that only one-third of dyslexic students are in special education, which leaves two-thirds in general education.

School districts can apply for the grant money starting July 1 until Sept. 30. “We hope the results are so powerful that we will be able to get a statewide implementation,” Beacham said.

“I think there needs to be something done in three areas: the family, the schools, and the legislation,” Pollard said. She advocates more public awareness on dyslexia as the best way to implement change. “A common misconception is that they are falling behind because they are lazy or not trying hard enough or it’s just their personality type,” Pollard said. She feels the more people who understand dyslexia, the more they are able to help those struggling with it.

Beacham cautioned parents against waiting to intervene. “Don’t wait to get help, don’t wait to get information,” she said. “We are told that a lot in the school systems, but it’s crucial to get help we need as soon as we can.”

Beach and Pollard agree that the early detection pilot program is the best method for improving reading skills for dyslexic students. They hope the program will also help with dyslexic student’s self-esteem. Pollard described when doctors diagnosed her son how relieved he felt to know “he wasn’t dumb.”

“There was a lot of anguish and anxiety just going to school,” Pollard said speaking of her son. “They are just so scared to be made fun of. It really is a legitimate concern.” She hopes more dyslexia awareness will stop children from going through what her son had to go through.

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