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YOUNGSTOWN Two-hour program offers look into dyslexia

By Peter H. Milliken

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Participants developed empathy for students with learning disabilities.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A group of about 130 teachers and other professionals, parents and university students experienced firsthand what it's like to learn while struggling with the learning disability dyslexia.
The group participated in a two-hour program of timed exercises, "Walk in the Shoes of a Dyslexic: A Simulation," Tuesday night at the Scottish Rite Masonic Children's Learning Center at the Masonic Temple, 223 Wick Ave.
Dyslexia, an impairment of the ability to read, is often caused by a genetic defect or brain injury. It makes reading, writing, spelling or language processing difficult.
"They really made you feel what someone with a learning disability would feel like. You feel frustrated. You get tired. You have a headache. You want to give up," said Julianna Wellington, a teacher of learning-disabled students at Poland Seminary High School and at the learning center.
"You gain empathy. It helps you relate to your students," she said, adding that, in her years in college and as a teacher, this is the most in-depth learning-disability simulation exercise she has experienced. "I think every educator should experience it."
What parent said: "For the longest time, I have wanted to see what my son sees through his eyes, and this experience tonight was frustrating," said Lu Anness of Poland, whose son is a junior at Poland Seminary and is tutored at the center. "It just must be a very long day at school for any child with any learning disability."
The 5-year-old center, which operates with Youngstown State University's special education department, is funded by the Scottish Rite Masons.
It provides after-school tutoring to dyslexic children, free of charge, as well as training for teachers, said Margaret Biggs, center director.
Workshop participants rotated through six simulation stations, including one in which they were to write down words spoken on an audiotape with distracting background noise to simulate a hearing loss or auditory processing difficulty.
Another exercise, simulating a visual-motor and writing task problem, forced participants to cover their writing hand, then trace and write while viewing their writing hand in a mirror. Another exercise forced them to write with their nondominant hand.
Board chairman: Phil Snyder of Boardman, a 33rd-degree Scottish Rite Mason and chairman of the center's board, said the children the center serves are of average or above-average intelligence.
He added that it's rewarding to see them go from reading far below grade level to reading at or above grade level after being tutored at the center.
"It gives you a real appreciation of the challenges that kids with disabilities are having in just coping with a classroom situation," said Dr. David Reed, a Boardman ear, nose and throat specialist.
"You've got to remember these are first- and second-graders that are being thrown these challenges. They don't have the coping skills."