Conquering dyslexia, step by step

This Saturday, Jacob Stevens, a freshman at Western Reserve High School, will be walking five miles at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
Each step of the five-mile Inaugural Teddy Bear Walk will benefit the Masonic Children's Learning Center in Youngstown, which helps children with dyslexia.
For Jacob, each step he will take Saturday will represent all the small, incremental steps he took at the Learning Center, overcoming his struggle with dyslexia.
"I remember it vividly," Jacob's mother, Loretta said. "He was in third grade."
Jacob came home from school crying every day.
"It was difficult for me," Jacob said. "I was frustrated."
While the rest of his class was reading fluently, Jacob was still having trouble identifying his letters and associating sounds.
Tasks took longerfor him to master
Loretta had known there was a problem.
"It took him a long time to learn his colors," she said. "It even took him longer to learn to ride a bike."
In first grade, Jacob's teacher shared her concerns.
"His teacher pulled me aside and said he has a learning disability," Loretta said. Even after repeating the grade, Jacob continued to struggle.
He was placed in classes for the learning disabled but Loretta wanted a more specific diagnosis for her son. It was suggested she get his eyes checked.
"She told me there was nothing wrong with his eyes," Loretta said, remembering being told at the doctor's appointment. "She said I didn't have the discipline of sitting down and working with him."
As is often the case with dyslexia, the frustration of the learning disability is compounded by ignorance.
Loretta took Jacob to another eye specialist who diagnosed his dyslexia.
One of the most telling moments of Jacob's eye test came when the doctor asked him to draw a picture representing a series of dots.
"The dots were the shape of a candy cane," Loretta recalled. "Jacob drew his sideways."
Getting help throughMasons program
Once Jacob's problems were professionally and accurately diagnosed, Loretta was determined to find assistance for her son. That is when she found the program run by the 32nd degree Masons in Youngstown.
"Dr. Biggs is from heaven," Loretta said, referring to the director of the center. "All the people at the center have the patience of angels."
One of the first exercises Dr. Margaret Biggs asked Jacob to perform was putting the alphabet in order.
"To Jacob, "W" and "M" look the same," Loretta said. "He would mix them up every time ... every time."
The same was true for the letters "H," "N" and "R."
"Every time he went in he had to put the alphabet in order," Loretta said, recalling the routine. "He did that for a long time."
After conquering the letters, Jacob moved on to sounds. The center uses the Orton-Gillingham Approach with the students.
"It is a highly structured, multisensory, phonetic approach," Dr. Biggs explained.
Two days a week for one hour, Jacob worked on his phonetic sounds.
"They go over it, over and over and over again," Loretta shared. "Those tutors can pull things out of Jacob that just makes me cry."
Self-esteem improvesin the learning process
Today, Jacob is a reader, though he still struggles with comprehension and fluency.
But perhaps more important than his reading skill is what the center did for Jacob's self-esteem. Long gone are the days when the frustration and failure in learning brought Jacob to tears.
"It's all right," Jacob said, sharing a level of comfort in dealing with his learning disability. "The center changed my confidence in school. It gave me self-esteem."
XThe Youngstown Walk to Help Dyslexic Children is Saturday at the Canfield Fairgrounds. Registration is $15. The walk begins at 9 a.m. For information about the center, call (330) 743-7789.

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