Learning to cope: New methods help student deal with dyslexia

By Matlin Smith / msmith@lcsun-news.comlcsun-news.com

Posted: 06/05/2013 04:34:34 AM MDT

For most of her childhood and adolescence, school was a struggle for Karen Tillery. Reading caused painful headaches, teachers’ lectures were garbled with the voices of her classmates and new concepts didn’t register immediately, if at all, and the reasons why were a mystery.

“She wasn’t able to do questions, comprehension and had difficulty spelling. She was distracted and couldn’t focus,” said Lisa Tillery, mother of the 17-year-old Mesilla Valley Christian School student. When symptoms became especially noticeable, Karen Tillery was in seventh grade. A specialist eventually diagnosed her with visual and auditory dyslexia — disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters or other symbols — as well as Concept Imagery Disorder, which caused her to struggle with turning language into mental images.

“When I read, it would all jumble together and I would go blank. It wasn’t registering and my head hurt like crazy,” Karen Tillery said. Soon after, she began attending sessions with CC Manning, a certified dyslexia specialist in Las Cruces. “She basically had to go all the way back to the beginning,” Lisa Tillery said. “She had developed coping skills and her own way of learning and memorization. She (Manning) really encouraged her and helped her understand the way her mind thinks, and the way she needs to process things to remember them.”

“There is much misinformation concerning dyslexia. It’s all about education,” Manning said. “Part of my role as a provider, is to educate. I provide education within my office with each client.”

Manning said she helps clients from Las Cruces, as well as Alamogordo, Deming, Albuquerque, Texas and Mexico. To help Karen, Manning used methods developed by Susan Barton, who teaches several graduate-level courses through the University of San Diego and was inducted into the International Dyslexia Association’s Hall of Honor in 2009. Barton, who got into the field because of her profoundly dyslexic nephew Ben, gave a free presentation on the disorder during a visit to Las Cruces last month.

The presentation encompassed recent advances in research, early warning signs to watch for and local resources that help with treatment of dyslexia, which affects 20 percent of the population. Barton said that, recently, breakthroughs in genetic research have identified the genes responsible for dyslexia, making it possible to someday be able to genetically test for the disorder, which Barton said is one of the most inheritable traits out there.

She also emphasized the importance of early detection. Initial warning signs of dyslexia include speech issues and problems with math, among several things Barton recommends to watch out for before getting a child formally tested and into a teaching program specific to their needs. If caught early enough, dyslexia can be diagnosed by kindergarten.

“It would have been wonderful had we known it earlier,” Lisa Tillery said of her daughter. “She’s our fourth child and none of her brothers had it.” “The sooner we can identify, or at least strongly suspect it, we can step in and help them succeed in school, and life,” Barton said. After founding Bright Solutions for Dyslexia in 1998, a program that educates parents and teaches about the disorder, Barton now travels the country giving presentations on the subject.

“The big thing is that people (with dyslexia) put a label on themselves that, ‘I’m an idiot, I’ll never earn anything.’ I do it to myself and honestly, it’s not the case,” said Karen Tillery. “I discover things; I’m so smart in some aspects. Obviously, we will have struggles sometimes, but you’re not stupid and as dumb as you think.” Dyslexia does not impact IQ, and people with dyslexia are usually bright and gifted in many areas, but struggle in reading, writing and spelling, Barton said. “You work a different way and if you’re struggling in school, it’s because the way you’re being taught isn’t working,” Karen Tillery said. “You have to find your groove. Show you’re trying. Don’t give up and put a label on yourself. You’re better than that and you’re smarter. Use the challenge and figure out what groove works.”

After working extensively with Manning, Tillery’s grades have vastly improved and she has big plans for the future. “She’s come a long way and she moved very quickly,” said Lisa Tillery. “She is now a junior at Mesilla Valley Christian, which is a college preparatory school. She is a solid B student heading to college.” Between excelling academically, Karen Tillery also plays basketball, softball and is a student manager of the MVCS football team. She also has participated in school performances, and plays the drums in the worship band at the school and church. Going into her senior year, Tillery said she hopes to maintain all of the same activities, and throw playing volleyball into the mix, too.

Follow Matlin Smith on Twitter @msmith_lcsun.

A closer look at signs of dyslexia

• Difficulty isolating and identifying sounds in words, syllables and rhymes
• Difficulty with word identification
• Trouble comprehending what is read
• Difficulty with spelling, especially remembering the order of letters.
• Handwriting problems like reversing letters and being unclear of left or right handedness.
• Math problems, especially with the order of numbers and the sequence of steps in a problem.
• Difficulty with putting written or spoken thoughts together.
• Delays in learning to speak and using age-appropriate language.
• Confusion of directions in space or time (right and left, up and down and yesterday and tomorrow).

Famous dyslexics • Albert Einstein • Walt Disney • Thomas Edison • Leonardo da Vinci • Tom Cruise • Robin Williams • Pablo Picasso