By Addison DeHaven
The Brookings Register
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on dyslexia, a learning disability, and how students with dyslexia have struggled to be educated alongside their peers.
BROOKINGS – A learning disability prompted Kim Carson to re-direct her career and establish a center to help kids who have dyslexia and to teach others about the condition.
Kim Carson recalled her frustration. Her son, Justin, then a third-grader, was a good student. He raised his hand in class and answered questions all the time but had a problem: He couldn’t learn to read, write or spell. As a teacher, Kim, didn’t know what was wrong. Her older son had been just fine, no learning issues to speak of. Something didn’t add up.
Justin was an active, healthy student but spent a lot of his afternoons complaining about feeling sick. The school nurse suggested that maybe he was homesick.
“Wrong kid,” Kim joked.
But still, there was something that she couldn’t put her finger on. Justin could read long words but confused short words. He would read the word “the” correctly in one sentence and then be confused by it on the next. He would skip over words or insert words that weren’t there. Finally, a friend of Kim’s suggested that she use a transparency sheet to put over the words.
“What does that do?”
Kim’s friend said that some students like it and it can help them read a little better. Kim decided to give it a try. She brought home a transparency from school and had Justin try using it while reading a sentence or two.
“Whoa,” Justin said to his mom.
“What’s wrong Justin?” Kim asked.
“They’re all still.”
“My heart just dropped at that moment,” Kim said, realizing that the words had been “moving” on Justin.
Kim began to connect the dots. She and her mother, a former teacher, went to Barnes and Noble and looked for any book they could find on dyslexia. Kim started researching the subject and working with Justin, using some of the methods that she found in the books. Justin began to improve, and visits to the nurse’s office stopped, too.
“What I learned later after going through this process is that Justin became very disoriented from printed material,” Kim said. “When he was reading, the words would move on him.”
Kim decided that Justin had dyslexia and he needed professional help. They brought him to Arizona, where he worked with a former principal and trained professional for a weeklong program.
“(Going to Arizona and getting Justin help) just turned all of our lives around,” Kim said.
Once they returned, Kim began to take classes and became certified in helping students with dyslexia. She opened her own practice, Smart Start Dyslexia Correction Center, near downtown Brookings. Throughout her 18 years, she became known a across the nation as a renowned dyslexia tutor and had students travel here from Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Wyoming.
One of Kim’s students, Miranda Ysbrand, came from the Brookings School District. Ysbrand’s family had a passion for reading, but Miranda struggled and did not share that same passion. Her mother, who had a degree in education, asked Miranda if “the words on the page wiggled?”
Miranda, said “yes, of course,” thinking that the “wiggling of words” occurred to everyone when they read.
Miranda’s mother immediately went to Kim, having heard of her reputation as an excellent dyslexia tutor. There Miranda took a week off school to work with Kim, making clay figures and words, to help contextualize the words and letters.
(Dyslexia can take on a number of different forms, the “wiggling of the words,” experienced by Justin and Miranda, is just one of many symptoms.)
According to Kim, people with dyslexia are “3-D” thinkers, which mean they have to feel and touch words that do not have a picture. This is why clay is often used when helping dyslexic learners with their reading.
“For those that may not fully understand dyslexia, we read with the right side of our brains, opposite of ordinary readers who use the left side of their brain,” Ysbrand wrote. “The right side of the brain is associated with creativity, no-verbal information, intuition, and voice tones. This is what makes is so difficult since the left side of our brain is responsible for word analysis, logic, letters and numbers.
“Kim taught me strategies to remember the difference between “Bs” and “Ds”, my biggest struggle area. I left feeling more confident, but still had a level of shame from a hit to my ego that I was different,” Ysbrand added.
Ysbrand continued on throughout her elementary school years, learning to read and write through Kim’s help. In eighth grade, Ysbrand ran into a new issue. Her English teacher was assigning difficult vocabulary words each week, and despite being an excellent student, Ysbrand was bombing tests. She decided to go back to Kim for help, “writing” her vocabulary words in clay.
“People with dyslexia are much more visual learners, so making 3D letters to understand the full word helps a lot,” Ysbrand said. “Unfortunately, it is very time-consuming.”
Her English teacher said that while making clay letters were fine, Ysbrand still had to complete the normal assignment. Being a three-sport athletes while also being involved with orchestra and her church, Ysbrand did not have time to make 20 vocab words out of clay and then complete the lengthy assignment.
“I was not only crushed, but I also got a fire in my soul to never let someone treat me like that again,” Ysbrand wrote.
Once in high school, Ysbrand received an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for having dyslexia. IEPs can provide students with accommodations, specifically specially designed instruction, according to Ysbrand. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the applicable law for IEPs. States receive federal funding for students with IEPs.
“(IEPs) help with accommodations, among other things, so I could get longer times on tests,” Ysbrand wrote. “Long story short, I had to confront multiple teachers for not following my IEP or just simply being rude. I became my own biggest advocate.”
Once in college, Ysbrand was approached by Shelly Bayer, president of the International Dyslexia Association, Upper Midwest Branch, asking her if she was interested in becoming a board member of the IDA. Ysbrand became a member and began working with IDA at their annual convention, while also connecting individuals to tutors in the area.
“I will forever be grateful to Kim Carson,” Ysbrand wrote of her former tutor. “She was patient, kind and knowledgeable. She made me feel like there wasn’t something wrong with me; I just thought differently.”
Different way to learn
In years past, students who didn’t learn the same way as most other students were labeled as dumb, lazy or difficult. Since science has uncovered more information about how some conditions like dyslexia work, it’s better understood that these kids aren’t stupid or trying to cause trouble, it’s just that their brains work differently and untraditional methods need to be used to teach them so they can learn.
Justin Carson wound up as a four-year student-athlete at South Dakota State University, competing on the track and field teams, and now lives in Chicago.
When Kim Carson thinks back to Justin in third grade, someone who couldn’t read a first-grade sentence due to his undiagnosed dyslexia, she says “that picture doesn’t equate” with someone who went on to have the success Justin did.
“Had we as a family not done anything except for what the schools had to offer, and that is not to say that the schools aren’t good schools. He went to two schools that were very good systems, but if you don’t have training for dyslexia, which our classroom teachers don’t, and those dyslexic kids really need a one-on-one, I don’t know how it would have turned out,” Kim said.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees on how students with dyslexia should be taught, or even that the condition exists.
Contact Addison DeHaven at email@example.com.
By Addison DeHaven
The Brookings Register
Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on dyslexia, a learning disability, and how students with dyslexia have struggled to be educated alongside their peers.
BROOKINGS – Research has discovered more information on how people’s brains work when they don’t process information in the typically acceptable way. For people with dyslexia, the brain “sees” letters differently than the average person, making it difficult to learn to read.
More techniques have been developed by educators like Kim Carson of the Smart Start Dyslexia Correction Center of Brookings, but the law hasn’t always kept up, making it difficult for some students to get an education. Without an education, it limits their opportunities in life and puts a strain on society.
South Dakota dyslexia laws
In March 2020, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law House Bill 1175, officially defining dyslexia in South Dakota codified law, the last state in the country to do so, according to South Dakota Sen. Blake Curd.
The bill passed 34 to 1 in the South Dakota State Senate, the lone dissenting vote coming from Sen. Susan Wismer.
Before the vote, Wismer said that the passing of the bill “will not help.”
“May I suggest that this bill won’t really do anything,” Wismer said in March 2020. “Or at least not as much as something else we can do. Which would be to give our schools the resources to be able to adequately staff special education.”
Wismer noted that school administrators in the state did come forward as opponents of the bill because every “additional definition puts more pressure on our school districts to respond.”
“They do not have the resources to respond,” Wismer said bluntly. “I’m sure if they had them, they would gladly put on the additional staff to be able to help these students.”
According to Katie Greving, executive director for Decoding Dyslexia Iowa, adding the definition to law doesn’t require schools to do anything differently, but it does help in bringing recognition to dyslexia, one of the major hurdles in helping those who have it.
“It gives parents something to point to if someone told them (dyslexia) isn’t real,” Greving said, citing the definition as an important first step for dyslexia advocacy in legislation.
Currently, South Dakota does not have any laws that assist students with dyslexia beyond federal guidelines.
Federal guidelines, outlined in the IDEA Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, detail whether or not students are entitled to accommodations. Students who qualify are required to receive support in the school. The IDEA act governs special education, which is individualized instruction to meet the needs of a student with a disability, like dyslexia.
With a diagnosis or not, a school may require an evaluation to decide whether or not the students need specialized instruction, known as IEPs. IEPs are valid until the student receives their high school diploma.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law that states that no students can be discriminated against due to their disability. Oftentimes referred to as a “504 Plan,” students with a 504 plan may receive accommodations on test and other help, but do not receive individualized instruction, like an IEP. The 504 Plans are also valid for students in college.
An official diagnosis for dyslexia is helpful when a student is trying to get an IEP or a 504 plan, but a diagnosis, or no diagnosis, does not automatically qualify a student to either one.
In eastern South Dakota, the only clinic that is designated to diagnosis dyslexia and follows the International Dyslexia Association guidelines, is the University of South Dakota Scottish Rite Children’s Clinic for Speech and Language Disorders in Sioux Falls. According to Stacie Carlson, the clinical director for the Scottish Rite Children’s Clinic, the waitlist to be evaluated is “typically” six months long.
To qualify for an IEP, South Dakota takes a three-pronged approach, according to Carlson. A diagnosis is just one prong.
“You have to have a diagnosed disability, you have to show it impacts (the student) academically, and you have to show that they need specialized instruction,” Carlson said. “So it’s three pronged and needs to be part of a multidisciplinary team.”
Battle in legislation
In 2016, South Dakota State legislators attempted to pass a bill that would require each school district to adopt a plan to provide for students with specific learning disabilities. That bill was deferred to the Senate Education committee before dying.
As a response to the bill, the South Dakota Department of Education created a task force composed of parents, educators, legislators, and DOE staff. According to the SDDOE handbook, “the task force developed a five-year plan to develop guidelines and tools to help school districts respond to the needs of all students struggling with characteristics of dyslexia.”
In January 2017, the task force presented a five-year plan to “support struggling readers including students with dyslexia.” The plan stated that public districts throughout the state identified 6,735 students with a “specific learning disability.”
Outlined in the “Summary of Progress” portion of the plan, it was stated that the state is working with South Dakota Association of School Psychologists (SDASP) “to ensure local evaluation teams have the knowledge and capacity of evaluate and diagnose dyslexia.”
Trainings were open to all districts in South Dakota and required each district to send a team of two people. The December 2020 update states that trainings were held in the fall of 2019 and virtually in 2020. According to Carlson, these local evaluation teams, along with the Scottish Rite Clinic, are the only two ways to get a dyslexia diagnosis.
According to Ruth Raveling, information specialist for the South Dakota Department of Education, “staff from Brookings attended the Dyslexia Assessment in South Dakota training in 2019.”
Raveling said that the SDDOE “continues to offer trainings on evidence-based literacy instruction for all students, including those with learning disabilities. The department has provided summer training in Foundational Literacy for the past several years, and through the 2021-22 school year, we are offering a Struggling Reader Support training series that includes seven sessions on research and practice in improving results for all struggling readers. We have also begun developing a statewide literacy plan that will include strategies and supports for students with a variety of literacy needs.”
Identifying the condition
To identify students who are struggling with reading and may be dyslexic, the state put together a list of identification methods. In the “Summary of Progress” of the five-year plan, it was stated that a list of screeners used to identify students with characteristics had been developed in partnership with the (SDASP) and the Oregon Department of Education. The list of screeners, which are assessments tools via computer programs, is up to date on the South Dakota Department of Education’s (SDDOE) dyslexia page. Screeners do not diagnosis dyslexia and are used to target students who could be at-risk for “reading failure.”
The SDDOE also offered guidance and support through professional development, outlined in the five-year plan. This included specific programs focused on structured literacy, “face-to-face dyslexia workshops,” as well as other resources and tools to support struggling readers and students with dyslexia.
The five-year plan also provides connections to universities in the state. The SDDOE worked with university programs “to ensure structured literacy and dyslexia are taught in elementary education, special education and reading endorsement programs.”
The 2020 update states that universities were surveyed to garner the current coursework to instruct students with dyslexia, “Based on the results, the (SD) DOE will continue to engage with (Board of Regents) to identify gaps and strategies to improve coursework.”
Another point of emphasis with universities in the state was “to ensure (SD) DOE professional learning opportunities will meet the requirements for university reading endorsement programs.” The 2019-20 update states that Dakota State University is offering credits for training.
Iowa’s dyslexia laws
Across the border in Iowa, Katie Greving, executive director for Decoding Dyslexia Iowa, has been fighting for dyslexia awareness for some time. The first dyslexia law passed in Iowa was similar to South Dakota’s – it put the definition of dyslexia in codified law. That law passed in 2014 and was the “first step.”
The next significant dyslexia law that was passed was the creation of a Dyslexia Task Force in April 2018.
“Essentially what that did was create a body that had to study the issue of dyslexia in Iowa and make recommendations,” Greving said. “The idea was those recommendations would go into further legislation which they did.”
The task force was a group of parents, teachers and educators. Greving was part of the task force and said the group met during 2018-19 and submitted a final report to the Iowa legislature in November 2019.
“Fortunately, we got the law passed, but it happened right before COVID,” Greving said. “We had a lot of momentum going, but then schools shut down and it was very difficult.”
The recommendations that were passed into law included the creation of a standing dyslexia board in Iowa.
It also required the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners to create a Dyslexia Specialist teaching endorsement. According to Decoding Dyslexia Iowa, the requirement for this new endorsement was finalized in March 2021and is currently being offered at the University of Iowa.
Other requirements included all Iowa educators to complete the Iowa Reading Research Center’s online dyslexia training module. The law also required the Iowa Department of Education to employ dyslexia specialists.
“The major finding, in my opinion, from the task force was that dyslexia expertise is lacking in Iowa, and there really wasn’t a system to create expertise here,” Greving said. “Very few people have credentials in teaching students with dyslexia, and pre-service teacher training isn’t covering it.”
According to Greving, the biggest thing that came out of the recommendations was the addition of the dyslexia teaching endorsement.
“I think overall (Iowa’s dyslexia laws) are going in the right direction, but I will say, legislation doesn’t change people’s minds,” Greving said. “Even if we had the perfect law, we can’t change people’s minds who are diametrically opposed to things. There’s still a group of people who, because of their education and training, believe that dyslexia isn’t real, and that it’s an excuse. The larger issue is how reading is taught in our schools.”
Still fighting the problem
Kim Carson went through a lot of frustration before she figured out her son, Justin, had dyslexia. As a result, she established the Smart Start Dyslexia Correction Center of Brookings to help others with reading problems.
Carson explained that it’s difficult for teachers to identify dyslexia without training, because it can take on so many different forms. She remembers tutoring a family of students, where each child exhibited dyslexia in a different way. This is why one-on-one dyslexia tutors are so important, Carson said.
“It’s a money issue,” Kim said. “When you are working one-on-one with students, that costs money, and the schools aren’t running with lots of extra funds. Not in South Dakota, anyway.”
Carson and Barb Rounds, another Brookings-based dyslexia tutor, both said there are “lots” of undiagnosed cases of dyslexia in the school system.
According to the Dyslexia Center of Utah, one in five students, or 15-20% of the population, has “a language-based learning disability” which includes dyslexia. This is troubling to Carson because she says “if you can’t be successful at school, you’re going to learn to be successful at something, and it’s usually not good.”
This has translated to a large percentage of dyslexics in prison. According to a 2000 University of Texas Medical Branch Study, nearly 48% of prisoners are dyslexic, twice that of the general population.
Carson sees the two biggest issues for dyslexia in the state as funding and training, both of which are lacking. Carson said that dyslexia training is “not quick and not fast,” adding to the difficulty in training qualified dyslexia tutors.
More than dyslexia
Shelly Bayer, president of the International Dyslexia Association, Upper Midwest Branch, sees dyslexia as a “complicated situation,” but she remains hopeful.
“Ultimately, I believe this comes back to effective reading instruction,” Bayer said. “Reading instruction based on the science of reading will benefit all readers but will especially benefit dyslexic readers.”
Bayer says it is more than just a dyslexia issue but rather a much larger issue about how reading is instructed in the school systems. She says that there is curriculum material that still exists that is being purchased and used in school districts that “don’t necessarily match up with what we know in terms of the science” in regard to reading instruction.
“At this point in time, we should be able to do better,” Bayer said. “I think we all should. That’s why we keep advocating.”
Carson retired from dyslexia tutoring earlier this year but continues to be a dyslexia advocate. The location of her practice, Smart Start Dyslexia Center, is now home to a new dyslexia tutor, Rounds, whose practice is called “Thriving Minds SD.”
Miranda Ysbrand was one of Carson’s students and knows what a difference specialized learning can make to a child’s self-esteem.
“I am huge advocate for calling dyslexia, ‘an alternative way of thinking,’” Ysbrand said. “I know it’s considered a disability, but for young, smart students that can be detrimental to their learning experience. Dyslexics see the world in a way no one else can. We are unique, capable, and just seen as ‘disabled’ in the current world. I would love to see a shift of thinking to dyslexics being ‘alternative thinker.’”
For more information about dyslexia in South Dakota, visit the South Dakota Department of Education’s Dyslexia page.
Contact Addison DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org.