Brooklyn Lawmakers Advocate For Dyslexia Awareness (UPDATED)

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (Downtown Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill) joined over a dozen advocates, doctors and Borough President Eric Adams at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights yesterday to champion a bill she recently introduced shedding light on dyslexia as well measures to recognize and treat the learning disability.

Dyslexia involves difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. For example, someone with dyslexia may spell words backwards or recognize letter upside down.

If the state approves the Simon’s bill it will “require school districts to diagnose students as having dyslexia, to acknowledge the diagnosis on their Individual Education Plans (IEP), and to provide dyslexic students with teachers trained to instruct such students”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams
Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams

“This issue is a public safety issue. There was a number that startled me,” Adams told the audience. “That close to 50% of the individuals at Riker’s Island are dyslexic. That tells me that when you don’t identify dyslexia at the early stage, you are creating an environment of a lifetime of crime for a young person. And that’s a legacy we can’t continue.”

Approximately 15%-20% of people have a learning disability and 85% of children with a learning disability have dyslexia, according to statistics given at the forum. 

The bill would also “require training of teachers and school administrators in the area of dyslexia and related disorders” that would contribute to the five pillars of reading which are identified as: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency vocabulary and comprehension.

The federal enabling legislation, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), classifies children with disabilities into 13 categories one of which is “learning disability” which is the broader category for dyslexia. Due to this classification and the current state education laws, schools have been implementing programs for learning disabled students, which include dysgraphia (graphomotor disability) and dyscalculia (math difficulty), targeting a broad range of learning disabilities instead of targeted educational programs specifically for dyslexics to overcome their reading difficulties.  

New York University Professor Carolyn Strom, who studies reading and literacy development in young children and adolescents, stressed the significance of properly trained educators to properly addressing dyslexia.

“Often times I’ll talk to teachers and they will say, ‘I don’t really know what to do with him. He has dyslexia. I wasn’t trained for that, I’m not special ed [ special education], I’m just a second grade teacher. I know how to teach reading but not if they’re struggling’. And that should just not be the case. If so many kids in this city and in this country are struggling to learn how to read then teachers need to be trained to teach kids that are struggling to learn how to read,” said Strom.

State Sen. Marty Golden
State Sen. Marty Golden

Another goal of the bill is early recognition of dyslexia in elementary school children. Early recognition is crucial as research shows that if students aren’t reading on grade level by third grade, they only have a one in eight chance of catching up to their peers.

State Sen. Marty Golden (Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach) co-sponsored the measure on the senate side.

Earlier this year, legislators presented bill J3936 to Governor Andrew Cuomo to make March 15th Dyslexia Awareness Day.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Assemblymember Simon herself suffered from dyslexia when she was younger. We regret the error and apologize to the Assemblymember.