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My Passion for Literacy

I don’t have a “my passion began at an early age” story. My earliest recollection of literacy is of a discouraged second-grade little girl struggling with vowel sounds. Try as she might, she just could not understand why one letter could make so many sounds. Or why one sound has so many different spellings. What are the rules, here? Any time she finally felt like she understood, the target was moved and the rules were broken.

She hated reading but wanted to read books like her friends. She hated to write because her spelling was atrocious but she had so many stories to share. She was embarrassed and felt so dumb. She was bright and clever but because reading and writing were so difficult, she hated school EVERY day. She was even smart enough to hide her struggles from her teachers and kept really good grades.

Eventually, things started to make sense and she learned strategies that made reading a little easier. She became an avid reader and now loves to write. Success was slow in coming and hard-won. I still shudder to think about how this girl worked so hard to compensate and cover up her learning difficulties and how it shaped her self-perception even through college and beyond.

My passion for literacy began as I was entering my final year to finish my undergraduate studies in communication disorders to become a speech-language pathologist. I attended a seminar about dyslexia and it caused me to reflect on how I learned to read. Sitting among my peers, preparing for graduate school, I remembered that little girl and remembered all of those struggles all over again. She has dyslexia... I have dyslexia. I was angry. Why didn’t someone help me? Why did I have to struggle for so long? How many other children struggle in the same ways that I did? How can I help?

Deficits in receptive and expressive written communication, or literacy skills, are nothing new. Here is a direct quote from someone who has been in the field for quite some time:

“American education is in a state of crisis. Learning disabilities abound in every school. Tens of millions of functional illiterates have been passed through the system, and their numbers are growing fast. Students in general are losing the capacity for written and verbal expression, as well as common mathematical computation. Even the competence of teachers is being challenged as we enter… the eighties.” [1]

“As we enter the eighties,” friends!? How much of this quote is still decried today by teachers, schools, parents, and even the casual onlooker?

Recent data indicate that 7.3 million public school students in the U.S. have some form of learning disability.[2] Only around 35% of fourth and eighth grade students tested demonstrate proficient reading skills.[3] A study conducted in 2003, found that around 93 million adults in the U.S. read at or below basic levels. These adults are only functionally literate with reading and writing abilities comparable to those of the average third-grade student.[4] American education is still in a state of crisis!

After more than a decade of providing speech-language therapy services across multiple settings, scouring through multiple literacy programs, advocating for students in schools who were struggling with literacy despite specialized instruction, and partnering with reading specialists, I founded Wests’ Way Therapy LLC. Language therapy and literacy intervention provided by Wests’ Way Therapy reaches beyond the struggling reader's outward symptoms and into the source of the struggle itself. Using a whole-child therapeutic approach that addresses the underlying cause of a child’s learning difficulty, I help children develop neural connections and engage parts of the brain that are not targeted using traditional literacy programs. When crossed wires and interrupted connections are “healed” children no longer need to rely on compensatory strategies, which only mask language and literacy deficits. These new connections improve overall learning abilities, global language skills, memory, coordination, and much more.

These are not new approaches to language and literacy development and intervention, though they may be largely forgotten. Nothing that I do in therapy is original or of my own making. Rather I have complied tried and true, evidence-based therapeutic practices and merged them into a more succinct, efficient, and effective language that can be easily implemented.

I wish I had the answers to help the masses and right the American education ship. Alas, that is beyond my grasp. I do know, however, that literacy skills are on the decline. Instructional methods are missing the mark and leaving behind a large number of students, some of whom are among our brightest if only they could get over the hurdle of written language.

Let’s look back at what worked before. Even a cursory glance and what was once considered children’s literature and the books in your child’s school library is discouraging. Why have we lowered the bar? My fellow professionals, have you noticed the decrease in normed outcomes in our standardized tests? I would love to see data comparing the expectations on language outcomes over the span of a few decades. I fear it would be very disheartening.

We have to do better. We can do better! This drives my passion to do things differently.

[1] Paul E. Dennison, Switched On (Ventura: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc, 1981), 6 [2] [3] [4] Mark Seidenberg, Language at the Speed of Light (New York: Basic Books, 2017), 5-6

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