Yale Initiative Raises Dyslexia Awareness in Latino Communities


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By Melanie Williams
“People who are dyslexic cannot read.” “People who are dyslexic cannot perform well in school.” “A child reversing their letters is a sure sign of dyslexia.” These are all common myths about dyslexia that the Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative (MDAI) wishes to dispel in an effort to raise awareness about the learning disability across all communities, including Latinos.
Dyslexia affects one in five people, and many people in Latino communities are often left undiagnosed and not offered the proper services, which is a trend the MDAI hopes to change.
The initiative was created by the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity to promote awareness of dyslexia to Latino and African American communities in an effort to eliminate these misconceptions and enhance understanding of the “hidden” disability. It is comprised of a team of Yale professors and volunteers who hold prominent positions in the community.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, said she hopes the MDAI, along with its national awareness campaign launching next month, will help educate the Latino community on the signs of dyslexia to lead to proper diagnoses and intervention.
“Somehow when [Latino] children have difficulties, it becomes so easy to say ‘Well, what do you expect?’, or they are sort of not paid attention to,” Shaywitz said. “So what we have created in this initiative, the MDAI, is to try and bring about knowledge and awareness to these two communities about what dyslexia is and how to recognize it.”
Shaywitz, an Audrey G. Radnor professor in Learning and Development at Yale University School of Medicince, shares her co-director title with her husband, Dr. Bennett Shaywitz. Both are professors and doctors who have been selected annually as America’s Best Doctors regarding their expertise in the cause and the treatment of dyslexia.
Working as a behavioral pediatrician, Shaywitz recalled her shock when she saw how devastated parents were when their children were not making typical progress in school. “We as physicians need to do something about that,” she said.
In addition to her role as director of the MDAI, Shaywitz is the author of Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems At Any Level. The book examines her frustrations with the lack of dyslexia identified in students in urban communities, simply because Latino and African American students are “expected” not to do well academically rather than being tested for the learning disability.
Amanda Harmon, a private practitioner in Westport, has worked in the field for ten years. With 60 percent of her clientele being non-whites, and 30 percent being Latino, she has witnessed first-hand the number of families who truly are not aware of what dyslexia is.
“I think dyslexia, like many learning disabilities, isn’t often talked about. So many families I meet with don’t understand what the diagnosis means. Also, being diagnosed with an issue is often a stigma on and of itself so some families I meet with are in denial at first, struggle to accept that their child may learn in a way that is very different from other children or in a way that didn’t fit into the families’ ideas of learning,” she said.
MDAI is launching a campaign that aims to hold meetings throughout the country, work closely with federal and state legislators, and most importantly increase awareness within the communities directly.
“Our hope is to educate educators, but we also know nobody is a stronger champion of a child than their parent. If a parent becomes educated, they will fight for their child,” said Shaywitz.
The launch will be held August 4-5 with a two day symposium bringing together educators, legislators, policy makers, scholars, and philanthropists at Yale University.
The symposium will begin on Sunday evening with a dinner honoring entertainer and social activist Harry Belafonte and notable British space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, both of whom live with dyslexia. Celebrities, lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors and other professionals who have been diagnosed with dyslexia will also attend.
The MDAI will follow up the New Haven conference with additional gatherings in Washington, DC; Cleveland, OH; Atlanta, GA; Houston, TX; and the California Bay Area.
For more information about the MDAI visit http://dyslexia.yale.edu/MDAI/
(Photo by niXerKG via Flickr)