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State Task Force Starts Work on Resource Handbook for Dyslexia, Other Reading Disorders

A state task force is creating a resource handbook to help Oklahoma’s parents and teachers help kids with dyslexia.

Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma founder Michelle Keiper said it’s not too difficult to identify kids with some reading difficulties.

"But we don’t really know much about dyslexia. Our teachers will say, 'I didn’t learn anything about that. I haven’t had any professional development in that. I really don’t know what that is,'" Keiper said.

Dyslexia is not reading or writing letters backwards, nor is it caused by poor eyesight or hearing problems. It’s a neurological disorder affecting word recognition. Dyslexia affects roughly equal proportions of boys and girls, though Keiper said boys with the disorder tend to have behavioral problems while girls tend to become more quiet.

In recent reading tests, 25 percent of Oklahoma students scored below basic level, or unsatisfactory, while 28 percent scored proficient. Those numbers were worse for kids with identified learning disabilities like dyslexia.

"Fifty-nine percent were labeled as 'unsatisfactory,' and another 27 percent were labeled as 'limited knowledge.' We only have 14 percent proficient at reading or above," Keiper said.

Besides lower academic achievement, Keiper said reading problems can push sufferers into other social problems, including substance abuse, crime or worse.

"Ninety percent of children who commit suicide and leave a note, they could have been identified with a learning disability based upon that note," Keiper said. "There’s something in the writing, there’s something in their sentence structure, there’s something in the way they wrote that note."

The task force includes educators, speech therapists and state agency representatives. Its handbook, which includes ways to identify students with dyslexia and evaluating interventions, is to be done by July 1, 2019.

The task force was established by the Oklahoma legislature in 2017 but had not met before this month, and lawmakers extended its sunset date during the 2018 session.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.