assistive technology

Photo of Brian Meersma, Cornell Student and AT expert

My Three Favorite AT Apps

There are three AT apps that come to mind for me, as a college student with dyslexia, that are really helpful. The first is Bookshare, which I use to read many of my books. I can download a book very quickly and listen with a text to speech voice. There are over 400,000 titles in the Bookshare library. It’s a great thing for me, as it opens up a lot of doors and allows me to explore my interests.

Learning Ally is also great, and is similar to Bookshare, except that books are narrated by human voices which some people prefer. Having the ability to use the Learning Ally app and download books in it is really helpful for studying or reading for pleasure.

The third app I really love is Voice Dream Reader. It’s really amazing! Just being able to throw any type of file into the app, whether Bookshare file, PDF, webpage, whatever, and to be able to tap “play” and have it read to me has been really great. Voice Dream Reader is especially useful in college where many of the materials are online. Just having the VDR app to put these materials into and then have them read to me is huge. The new VDR 4.0 update is also really great. Having the ability to use the available split screen, which enables me to multi-task is really helpful. I can have VDR on one side of my screen and read my textbook, while also having something else on the other side, like a flash card application which I can use if I’d like to make flashcards from the reading.

Other Apps I Like

A few other apps I like are KNFB Reader and Prizmo. Both are apps where you can take a picture of a newspaper or page of a book and the apps read it back to you. These are very helpful when I’m at a talk and the material is not available to me online. To be able to just take a picture of something and literally, within a few seconds, have that text be digitized and able to be read with text to speech Is really great. KNFB Reader and Prizmo are on my list of my most used assistive technology apps on my iPad or on my iPhone, and Bookshare and Learning Ally can be used across most devices. I have access to whatever I need wherever I need it.

The Student Disability Services (SDS) and Academic Life

My university’s Student Disability Services office (Cornell University - SDS) has been very supportive with respect to my accommodations, understanding my needs, and helping me to communicate these needs to my professors. The office staff seems to really stay on top of things which is very helpful because things can get really busy. In general, the SDS staff makes sure I have what I need in terms of accommodations. Most of my instructors are supportive and have a good respect for the SDS, so when I give them my accommodations letter, they have an understanding of what I need and why I need it, including extended time, etc.

These days, I find it is much easier to blend into the college classroom while using assistive tech on my iPhone or iPad. It’s so common, and almost all students use some kind of technology, so I can use my devices and not draw attention to myself.

I find the letter of accommodations from the Student Disability Services office helps me to create relationships with my professors. My accommodations letter, which I must present to each professor at the beginning of the semester offers me a nice excuse to make an appointment with each professor during office hours to get to know him/her a little bit better.

Some Accessibility Challenges

One of my professors had chosen to use an online quiz taking software which was inaccessible to me, so I couldn’t use my technology tools to read the quizzes and complete them . It was pretty frustrating trying to figure out a solution. It took a lot longer than I expected and I fell behind on several of the quizzes which was frustrating. I was able to work with the SDS office to get the material converted into an accessible format. Then rather than using an on-line, interactive feedback system, which was inaccessible, the Cornell SDS office got the answer key from my professor, and would grade my quizzes. It was a bit of a longer process to get the quizzes returned to me, but in the end it worked out. I guess it just shows that the SDS office is willing to do what it takes to get the items you need and to make these items accessible if they aren’t already.

Beyond College: Requesting Accommodations in the Workplace

One thing college students with dyslexia can do to help prepare themselves for the world of work is to become comfortable asking for accommodations and being clear about why they need them. That way, when they enter the workplace they can then request these accommodations without hesitation to help them be their best. In terms of the interview process, I think it would be helpful for college career services centers to discuss with students the right time to disclose their disabilities in the job interview. Knowing when to disclose can be difficult, but it can also be essential for some to have accommodations during the interview process so that they may perform their best to get the job.

It’s important to get comfortable with the technology available before entering the workplace. For young students, it's a good idea to get started as early as possible, beginning at the elementary level, if appropriate, and continuing throughout the high school and college years. This way, when it's time to enter the workforce, you won’t have to worry about learning and integrating this technology into your workflow, as you’ll already be comfortable using it.

HR personnel need to know about the various types of technology available, so that they can recommend something which would be most beneficial to an employee. It’s also important for employees to know that they can ask for this type of technological support from HR. Beginning the process of self-advocacy early in one’s academic life will help make a difference in your ability to communicate your needs as an adult in the workplace.

Future Plans and My Blog

I’m looking forward to interning with Microsoft this summer, so I’ll be taking a bit of a break from reviewing any new Assistive Technology apps and products on my Assistive Technology Blog, located at

Brian, Thanks for sharing your insights with us!

You can visit Brian’s blog at to read some great reviews on Assistive technology apps and tips on how to use them!

The new Voice Dream Reader 4.0 update to be released soon (March 21, 2016)! Headstrong Nation Chairman, Larry Banks, Interviews Winston Chen, the developer of Voice Dream Reader and Writer.

Photo of Larry Banks, Headstrong Nation Board Chairman Photo of Winston Chen, Developer of Voice Dream Reader/Writer

For Winston Chen, what was initially a hobby has turned into a full-time job and passion.

Larry: OK! This is fantastic! So I guess I’m going to jump right in here. You live in Boston, right?

Winston: Right.

Larry: Let's go back to the beginning. How did Voice Dream get started for you? What inspired you to create this piece of Assistive Technology?

Winston: I would say it started accidentally, very accidentally. It goes back to 2011, five years ago now. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. My family and I took a year off and we went to live on a small island just north of the arctic circle in Norway, population 180. I Learned how to fish, to dry fish, to salt fish, and how to haul them into the boat.

Image of house in Norway with the midnight sun - Winston Chen

But I am a software person, so when it got dark, (The sun went down at 2:30 PM) I wanted to occupy myself with something in the evenings. I spent my timecoding then, and had a simple idea that I had a lot more stuff to read than I have time to read it. I decided to build a text to speech app so I would have the ability to catch up on articles and whitepapers while I was driving or at the gym. It was mostly a hobby and didn’t think it would turn into anything.

New Voice Dream Reader Logo Open book

Full Time Job

Winston: A few months later, Voice Dream Reader was a simple app available in the App Store. It was very rough, basic, with one voice and no word level highlighting. It could only read web articles, and it read PDF very poorly. At this point I thought I was finished and it was time to go back to fishing and dreaming of the next startup.

However, the e-mails started coming in. I don’t know how people found the app. I gradually realized that Voice Dream Reader was an important piece of assistive tech. Teachers of students with dyslexia and the visually impaired reached out and asked for more features. What was once a little hobby gradually turned into a full blown obsession. There were days where I could not leave the app as I was so busy.

Our year of living in Norway came to an end and my family and I headed back home to Boston. I began working on big data projects and the next startup. In my spare time, I continued working on the app. I found that I could not get away from it. It was becoming larger and larger.

The app started generating enough revenue to keep the lights on in the house and about four to five years later, I have found that working on Voice Dream Reader has become my full time job. What other job working in technology could give me this much personal satisfaction? My decision was to make Voice Dream my life, my career.

Voice Dream Writer

voice dream writer logo of pencil voice dream writer screen shot

Larry: When did Voice Dream Writer come into the picture?

Winston: Voice Dream Writer was developed just over a year ago, in the Fall of 2014. I had the idea of creating a writing app based on feedback from customers who were doing their own writing somewhere else and then transferring the text in the little editing box within voice dream reader. They were attemptng to proofread their work by listening to it to detect mistakes. These users were actually using the product for a purpose it was not intended for. I realized there was a great need for this writing tool. I talked to some of my friends who were also users who would tell me, “I write, but it’s hard for me to proofread what I just wrote.”. That was where the idea of the writer was born. One of the luxuries of having my own business is that if an idea comes to me and I like it, I can pursue it. It took some time to create it and get it released, but it is available, and people seem to be liking and using it.

Larry: It is really powerful. Ben Foss turned me on to Voice Dream Reader. I had been using multiple apps across different platforms to address my reading requirements. Many of them were clunky and I was not happy with the voices on them. Ben encouraged me to use Voice Dream as he told me it can work in many realms, across many platforms, so it serves as an “All in one”. I downloaded it to my iPhone and after using it said, “This is incredible!”

voice dream reader on iPhone photo ipad screen shot with voice dream reader listing books loaded on device

A Universal Reader

Winston: The goal is to have a universal reader. We just don’t read Bookshare books or PDF’s or web articles. I thought to myself, "Wouldn’t it be nice for your reading to get done in a single environment that you have full control over?" This was one of the ideas behind the development of the product.

I met Ben Foss at Landmark College when he was speaking about his book. After the event, we chatted and I introduced him to Voice Dream Reader as he wasn’t using it back then. This was about a year and a half ago. I didn’t hear from him for a while. Later, on Twitter, I saw a tweet from him which read, “Love Voice Dream, Live it, Love it!” So it turned out that after we met he decided to give it a try and really liked it!

Larry: Yes! I think it has had a large impact on the dyslexic community which is related to what this conversation is about. I am the Chairman of Headstrong Nation, and as an organization run by dyslexics and for dyslexics, we are interested in technology that will help the adult dyslexic to become successful. As I had mentioned before, Voice Dream Reader is a piece of assistive technology which is in a lot of ways, an “All in one.” It helps us. Most of the time we are running between so many different apps. For a long time, there weren’t that many that were available to us. Those that we did use were not very portable, and the voices were often terrible!

Winston: If you are using text to speech for GPS it really doesn’t matter how good the voice is as long as you can understand it. But, if you are spending hours every day reading, listening to a TTS voice, you really want to have a personal affinity toward it, which is why having a lot of choices in voices is really important and that was something that I put a lot of effort into very early on in the product.

Larry: Managing workflow for some of can be an issue. I’m dyslexic but in academia. I need to be able to work as efficiently as possible on tasks such as reviewing student papers, and reading a high volume of emails. I receive about 50 emails per day. The short ones are easy to get through but the longer ones which come from my Dean, and others, can get quite involved with ideas and theories that I really need to be able to “lock on” to. Therefore, I really need to fully listen to them and to hear them in a clear, cogent fashion. I like to do as much of my work as I can while I’m moving. I’m rather slow with the writing but I find my time when I can. The ability to read papers and check on my email by listening with my ears while on the move is really helpful to me, and having a decent voice on my reader makes a big difference in me being able to effectively manage these tasks.

Winston: Yes! These voices, I found that they almost become your friends. You get used to them. I also work with the visually impaired community, and as you can imagine for a lot of vision impaired individuals the TTS voices become their buddies. They get used to them and don’t want to change them. Many people got used to the older, very robotic voices but they like them because they have grown accustomed to using them.

Larry: Listening becomes part of a pattern. Once you understand the voice then it becomes clearer for you and easier for you to listen to it at a variety of different speeds. This is another thing which is really nice about your Voice Dream Reader. You have a greater variability in voice speeds compared to other systems which is very important if you must listen at a high speed to get through a lot of material.

Winston: People may need different speeds for different items that they may be reading, for example, a slower rate of speech for a research paper, and a quicker rate for reading a novel like Harry Potter. In the end, it is all about people reading more efficiently and the small features within Voice Dream reader help individuals achieve this. Voice Dream is available in iOS and Android. The Android version is not as “feature rich” as the iOS version that I’ve written, but the Android developer is working on this. The app is available in 24 different languages. Virtually every major language around the world is supported by the Voice Dream Reader.

Larry: That is fantastic! So it is truly an international product!

Winston: Yes!

Larry: So where are you going with this? I think it is a great app for my mobile device. I’m looking at the writer. I would sure love to get this writer on my lap top!

Voice Dream home page - photo of ear buds - text read with your ears - download on app store

Huge Update - Voice Dream Reader 4.0

Winston: As always, as you can imagine, I find I have too much to do, and not enough time. Right now I’m working on huge update to the Voice Dream Reader app version 4.0., which has been an all-consuming project for me over the past year. It’s huge in the sense that I’m trying to provide many features people have asked for and I want to roll it into a single update. Beta testing has started and the projected release date of the update is March 21, 2016.

One new feature is the ability to look at e-books, HTML files, and WORD docs in their original layouts. In the current app, for everything except for PDF, the app extracts the text from document and then basically throws the document away so you can listen to the text. But, for a lot of students, that was not good enough because the original material might contain images. So right now with this new PDF support, you can flip back and forth between a pure text view and the original PDF view if you want to look at the pictures, and this now carries forward with every document type, which is a big deal particularly in education. A lot of Bookshare books have images now, even children’s books contain images, and those obviously would not work well if you were not able to store and show the images. So that is one major area. The second feature is synchronization across multiple devices so you have loaded one file on your iPad it gets synchronized to your iPad and to your multiple devices. They all stay in sync.

There is another feature I am really excited about and I have been working on it for a while with dyslexia researcher, Matthew Schneps of MIT, formerly of Harvard. What Matthew discovered is that when you listen to text to speech with highlighting (imagining the highlighting cursor as a Pac Man that eats away the words) each word basically disappears from the screen as it is spoken. In fact, even before it is spoken the word is gone. When this happens, you are forced to read visually ahead of the sound, and then the sound then catches up with you a fraction of a second later.

What he found was that this drives your attention forward and it gives your brain two passes at reading, where the first pass is your visual reading, and the second pass is your audio reading. As you gradually turn up the speed, almost everyone, those with dyslexia or not, can double their reading speed with virtually no loss of comprehension. Matthew has dyslexia himself and he is now reading at roughly double the speed of the average neuro-typical reader. I am really excited about this new feature and I cannot wait for people to get their hands on it and try it out!

Larry: Well, I am very excited too! I am familiar with Matt’s work. I was very excited to find a dyslexic researcher working on this kind of research. I saw a blog on your website about how he worked on the spacing and alignment characteristics of text, and how he found that this was an easier way for dyslexics to handle the information.

Winston: In Voice Dream Reader, I give people the option to change all manner of spacing and margins. This really makes a huge difference.

Larry: For many of us, reading up and down is easier for us than from side to side.

Winston: Right. Finding the beginning of the next line is hard for the eyes when travelling across the page. In Voice Dream there is a mode where you do not need to do that. The spoken word is always in the middle, and the page is auto-scrolled every time a line advances. You do not have to find where the beginning of the next line is. It is always on the same line.

Some of the other features… We have a brand new UI (User Interface) and if you have a document/PDF file that has a cover image, you can look at it in a grid just like you would in kindle or iBooks. The app also has a finger-reading mode which I am very excited about, because for a lot of young readers, the feedback is that the text to speech is still too fast even at its slowest speed. The younger readers like to set their own pace by sliding their finger under the word and to advance at the speed that their finger is moving similiar to how parents and teachers show children how to follow text while reading.

Larry: Yes! They are tracking it themselves with their own finger. That is fantastic!

Winston: Yes, there is a lot of cool stuff!

For the future… I have been thinking about a product for those who cannot afford remedial programs. People with financial means can hire private tutors for remedial programs. But there are also a lot of people who cannot afford these programs. So I am thinking whether it would be possible to create an app, which is not a reader or productivity tool but a product which is more of a teaching tool. It would be one where we capture the best of our knowledge on dyslexia and reading so it can teach reading in a way that is effective, but obviously very low cost.

Larry: I am sure you have spoken to Matt about that.

Banner -Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE - presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation

Adult Literacy XPRIZE

Winston: Yes. I am working on this with Matt and a couple of other developers. We are attempting to do this within the context of the “XPRIZE”. There is an adult literacy XPRIZE that’s going on right now. We are a team and have signed up. The challenge is about how to teach illiterate adults to read. Our hypothesis is that many illiterate adults, in fact, have dyslexia. If we can be effective with this population, the same set of tools and techniques may work with children too.

Larry: Could you tell me a little more about this XPRIZE?

Most of the XPRIZE's we know about involve sending a man into space and future techno-stuff. This is an XPRIZE for adult literacy. The competition is open to any team who wants to build an app that they can put into the hands of adults who are illiterate. The prize will measure the participants’ literacy score at the Beginning of trial and then after one year they will measure it again. Whichever team can affect the largest increase in these test scores wins the prize. It began in January and the development period ends at the end of the year. This is a project which I want to devote some time to.

Larry: Has your involvement in Voice Dream Reader increased your interest in general in Assistive Technologies? You’ve grown to becomea bit of an assistive technology guru.

Winston: I wouldn’t say I was a guru! I help out in an Assistive Technology class at MIT. I do attend conferences to learn about the latest thinking. It is definitely an interesting, fascinating, and rewarding field. Rather than building a game that keeps people busy while they’re riding on the subway, I am developing products that make a big difference in the daily lives of people. It is definitely a field I would like to stay in.

Larry: It is definitely a rewarding field! You have found an area that is in the midst of great change right now. Technology is actually at a place where it can begin to really make some differences for groups of people, particularly dyslexics, and you have caught that wave just as it is really developing. I think these tools are going to be the wave of the future for young dyslexics moving forward. Voice Dream Reader is very affordable compared to other larger format tools, and reading applications on mobile devices make a big difference.

Winston: As a society we will probably have less and less space for paper. There will always be a place for Voice Dream Reader as a highly tailored reading experience. The future development will enable others to read more and more types of reading materials, and to allow people to read in many different ways, like the speed reading technique that will be available in the new version.

I also forgot to mention that in the new version it will make reading webpages a lot easier because in Safari, there is now going to be an extension – “Save in Voice Dream”. You can save it as a PDF file which keeps all the photographs, or you can just save the article as pure text, and then choose save and open Voice Dream right there so you can read it right away. That should be helpful.

Larry: Yes that would be. So that is going to be based in the mobile devices right?

Winston: That is correct, on iPad and iPhone. It will come as a free update for people who already have the app except for one feature, a synchronization which will be an in app purchase. Besides that, the other features are free.

Larry: That is fantastic! Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the future?

Winston: I am actually excited about wearables. I think this is going to be the next generation of assistive technology. Not sure what products are ultimately going to be successful on these new platforms, but one thing I can promise is that Voice Dream will be there, once we understand it, and we will build products for these new platforms.

Larry: That is fantastic! Thank you so much Winston, for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us and for the great products that you have developed. I hope to speak to you in the future about the new things that you will be exploring. Headstrong Nation is a group of adult dyslexics and we are very keen on learning about the different types of technology which may support us as we go forward in different areas. Voice Dream is one of the strong ones which can make a huge difference in helping us to keep up with and be productive in the technological society that we live in.

Winston: Thank you, Larry. All the best to you and Headstrong Nation!

The Voice Dream Reader Update 4.0 will be released very soon (March 21, 2016)! Visit the Voice Dream Website at You may purchase the app in the App Store for iOS devices and in the Google Play Store for Android devices.

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of Kellie Green by photographer Kellie Elmore

My Teachers Didn’t Think There Was Anything Wrong with Me.

It was always hard for me to keep up with other students but all my teachers didn't think there was anything wrong with me because I was a good student. I turned my work in on time, I listened in class, and I answered questions when called on.

Kellie Green with family

I was told I had dyslexia.

Things started to get really bad in the 4th grade when I was told that I had Dyslexia. I think my mom (who is an occupational therapist) knew before I was diagnosed but she wanted to be sure. We also learned that my dad and little brother have dyslexia as well. I was evaluated and given the diagnosis of "learning disabled". I have an ISP which stands for Individualized Service Plan because I go to a private school. The schools that I have been in haven't really helped me. My grade school tried but they didn't really understand what was going on but they did try hard to help.

 Photo of Kellie and three friends dressed up for dance/occasion

Middle School was Hard. My last year of High School is the Hardest.

My middle school years were hard but I pushed through. The hardest year is my last year of high school (this year) because they do not want to help me. When I have offered to do whatever it takes to help them understand my dyslexia they haven't been open to listening. They keep telling me to read more and I should get better. They also do not understand what ear reading is, at all. My high school has changed the resource teacher that was working with me to another person that they make work at lunch and not help other kids. They also don't try to help me when I really need it. They are really set in their ways and they are not open to little changes.

Photo of Kellie and classmates, group shot

My Challenges, Tools, and Strengths

Texting and emailing people is challenging for me. Emailing is more for people like places I would like to work and teachers. Texting is hard for any person I am texting. My close friends usually understand what I am trying to say. Some of the tools I use which help me are Read 2 Go, Notability, Textgrabber, Voice Dream, and istudiez pro. My IPad and iPhone have been life savers! One of my strengths is my ability to understand people. I have helped a lot of friends’ work through hard times. Also, my creativity is a strength. My hobbies and passions include acting, music, reading, being with people, my pets and so much more.

Photo of Kellie Green and a friend sitting at table

Moving Forward

I plan on getting my degree in Mortuarial Science at Kansas City Community College.

My message to others? Know that it does get better, and if you fight for what you need you will get it.

Many thanks to Kellie for sharing her story with us! All the best to you Kellie, Class of 2016! Keep us posted on your progress in college and beyond!

A special thank you to Kellie's aunt, also a "Kellie", Kellie Elmore, Professional Photographer from When I Grow Up Photography, for permission to use the great photos submitted! -

Do you have a story to tell? Want to share it with us? If you are an adult dyslexic age 18+ and would like to share your story living as an adult with dyslexia please contact us at You can discuss your strengths and your struggles, any dyslexic hacks you'd like to share, your favorite assistive technology, and how you "Own" your dyslexia. Your story may inspire another person to share theirs too!

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation. We need your help to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Self Advocacy Part two banner know what you need Headstrong Nation #weownit

Self Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Two - Know your Needs

If you are an adult with dyslexia or another LD, and you've obtained a formal evaluation, you may have a very clear idea of what types of supports you may need in an academic setting or on the job. If you have not obtained a formal evaluation, you may still have a pretty good idea based on the struggles you experience and how they impact on your life. Are you overwhelmed with the amount of text and reading requirements that you have on the job? Do you struggle with spelling or getting your thoughts down on paper in email correspondence or in report form? You may have developed some daily work-a-rounds too, in an attempt to manage at home, but perhaps you haven't explored using these same tools at the workplace or in your college classes.

Assistive Technology can help

Many dyslexics find the use of assistive technology valuable. Assistive Technology, or AT, may be defined as any item, piece of equipment software product or system which is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of an individual with a disability. It does not include a medical device which is surgically implanted or the replacement of such a device. Assistive technology can be low tech, moderate or high tech. A highlighting pen is an example of a low tech choice, a moderate or high tech tool might be an electronic spell checker or speech recognition software.

Some adults are unsure of where to start with assistive technology and are reluctant to embrace it. If you are interested in exploring assistive technology and learning how it may be of help to you on the job or in the higher ed setting, visit Jamie Martin's Assistive Technology website HERE.

Try this exercise. Jot down any tools that you currently use that help you to manage on a daily basis. This might be a spell checker, a built in text to speech on your phone or another item. Also jot down any tools you may have seen or heard about but havent tried yet that you'd like to explore. A sample list might look like this:

  • I find it easier to record notes in the class or at business meetings.
  • I find I work best with digital notes in doc. form that I can refer to and a text to speech product with.
  • If notes are in PDF form, the use of an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) app or scanner is helpful to me to prepare text for text to speech.
  • I find it easier to jot down key points and graphics when I take notes in meetings or in lectures so a note taking device like a note taking pen might be helpful.
  • I need to sit in the front of the meeting room close to the presenter or in the front of the class during a lecture for better focus.
  • Background noise really bothers me, so the use of noise cancelling ear-buds or headphones would help me to concentrate on my work.
  • A Screen Reader and/or text to speech software program would help me to access text more efficiently.
  • Calendar apps on my phone and desktop help me to stay organized.
  • A voice to text program for professionals might help me to effectively keep up with email and written correspondence on the job or to write papers for class.
  • Spell checkers, word prediction software and grammar checkers would help me to function best.
  • Apps to help me to stay on task (timers, etc...) might help to increase my productivity.
Getting clear about how you learn best and which supports and tools can help you perform best is extremely valuable. As adults with dyslexia/LD, we may need some assistance in the form of accommodation and tools, for those areas in which we struggle, but we must also remember that we have great strengths too. One way to get in touch with your particular strengths and attitudes surrounding dyslexia is to complete Headstrong Nation's Strength and Attitude Assessments . Below is a graphic of a sample strength star showing high social and visual skills based on responses to the assessment.
Graphic example of Headstrong Nation Strength Star result  showing skills such as musical, verbal, mathematical, spatial, etc...
In Self Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Three, Getting What you Need, I'll discuss some ways to start a conversation with your employer or your professors, to help you to get what you'll need to be a successful employee or student.

Recommended Resources:

Jamie Martin's Website -

Headstrong Nation's Strength and Attitude Assessments -

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part One - Know Thyself -

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Three -Getting What you Need -

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of note pad on table with the words - New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions?


Noun. A firm decision to do or not to do something.

It’s January, 2016. Have you made any resolutions for the new year?

January is the first month, the beginning of a new year. It's a time of beginnings and promise. We reflect on the past and desire to ring in the new. We may desire a new body, a new job, or decide to reinvent ourselves in some other way. The act of making resolutions can feel exciting and inspiring, but also stressful depending on the kinds and amounts of resolutions made. For those of us with dyslexia/LD, the idea of adding anything else to our plates in addition to our own daily routines and challenges can be kind of daunting!

Studies have shown that less than 10% keep their resolutions. Why is this? Perhaps we make too many, we reach too high, we make resolutions based on what someone else is doing or what we think we should be doing. Perhaps the resolution isn’t a good fit or true to who we are inside. We might make them for the wrong reasons and destine ourselves to failure. Perhaps we become impatient and expect results too quickly. Lasting change takes time and can’t be expected overnight. So, before you consider jumping on the path to self-improvement in the new year, remember this. Do one thing. Just one thing. You don’t have to complicate it. Don't know where to start? Here are some suggestions...

Exercise? Just do it. Get off the couch. Go take a walk. It doesn’t have to be a full-year gym membership with all the bells and whistles. How about a free-trial week? Get your foot in the door. See if it’s a good fit. Take a friend or family member with you!

Do you want to nurture your Relationships? In a 75 year Harvard study, Robert Waldinger found that the quality of our relationships have more far reaching positive effects on our health and happiness than status, money or other external things. – Check out Waldinger’s Ted Talk HERE. Now, that’s an idea worth spreading!

How about health and diet changes? If you are in need of a physical and have been putting it off, go ahead and schedule one. It’s one positive thing that you can do. Are you considering a change in your diet? Before you go vegan or gluten-free, ask yourself why the diet appeals to you and do some research online on the best ways to start the process which won’t turn you and your kitchen upside down. Wanting to shed some pounds? Are you overeating? Get in touch with why you might be. Too much stress, feeling unfulfilled, feeling exhausted and run down? Exploring your patterns and speaking with a health professional may give you valuable clues to what’s “eating you” and may also help you to search for alternative ways to address your negative of patterns of behavior surrounding food. Blood work and other routine lab tests may indicate hidden medical conditions which need attention to get you back on track and feeling your best.

Interested in body and mind stress reduction? Consider booking a massage, trying a free yoga or meditation class or exploring other methods of allieviating stress. When you decrease your stress level you will feel better both physically and emotionally, may learn better and function more effectively at work and in relationships. Try this guided meditation from The Art of Living -

Interested in learning about and finding solutions which can help you with reading, writing and productivity? Check out some of the latest assistive technology apps, software options, and tools to help you thrive from Jamie Martin's website,

If you are considering making a resolution related to your job and career, small steps can reap big rewards. Be proactive. Learn something new everyday. Here is a short list of some low or no cost suggestions for learning and career self-improvement for the new year:

Making new resolutions can help you to get out of your comfort zone. Do something that you have thought about trying but haven't done so because you feel lack the necessary skills. This could be just about anything. Do a Google search, watch some videos, challenge yourself. There are many benefits to having a bit of positive anxiety from getting out of your comfort zone, including harnessing creativity, developing resilience, and increasing productivity. Read more on this from Life Hacker - HERE. You might just surprise yourself.

Are you searching for a purpose? Consider volunteerism. It’s good for the soul! Explore local opportunities with non-profits in your area. In addition to helping others, volunteering can help you learn new skills to help populate your resume if you are in the market for a career change. Volunteer Match can give you some suggestions of organizations in your area.

You may encounter eventual roadblocks or detours along the way as you explore new things, and this is totally OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it. If something speaks to you strongly, you may revisit it at a later time. Trying new things opens up a world of opportunity. The most important thing you can do is to approach the new year in a positive way, setting small easily achievable goals for yourself, not worrying about the past, but looking forward to what your future holds. One new thing. One day at a time. Stretch yourself! Wishing you a new year filled with lots of exciting things.

Robert Waldinger Ted Talk -

The Science of Breaking out of your Comfort Zone – And why you should -

Headstrong Nation Mission Statement - Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

We would like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation, as we need your support to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Thank you very much! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of Artist Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux, Artist,

Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux is a Saint Louis, Missouri Artist who creates large-scale abstract paintings in acrylic on wood. Her work is ornate and full of life and movements. Mary is an artist who likes to tell stories, and many of her paintings are inspired by poetry, literature or iconic figures. Each painting has an original handcrafted frame which is built by Mary's dad, Michael Radcliff. Mary agreed to share her story, her work and experiences as an adult dyslexic with Headstrong Nation.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

"Four & Twenty" - Acrylic on Wood - By Mary Radcliff- Harnetiaux

Photo by Robert Bullivant/Bullivant Gallery

Dyslexia as a child

I struggled in school. I never received support as a student nor was I understood by my teachers. I was unable to connect to my work, which made me feel helpless and isolated. I was viewed as lazy and unmotivated. When I look back at my educational journey, I remember all the things my parents had to do in order to protect me, and I'm incredibly grateful they never gave up on me.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

“The Kaleidoscope” – By Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Discovering Art and the Creative Process

I discovered I was an artist when I was six years old. I won a coloring contest in my community and that smidgen of recognition felt so right and reaffirming that I gave myself the title, “artist.” At the start, my creative process with painting served to pacify my feelings of inadequacy in other areas. I always looked to tell a story and the stories in my heart inspired me the most. During a typical school day, or later in life while working at my job, I would see the painting I wanted to paint in my head and I would come home and try to capture it. I intuitively knew that I had this other “thing” that I was really good at. I’d dive into my paints and I would find myself.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

“Eve” – Acrylic on Wood - By Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Photo by Robert Bullivant/Bullivant Gallery

What My Dyslexia Looks Like

I forget passwords all the time and find myself locked out of accounts—very frustrating. When I put things away, I can’t find them. I stack things neatly and within sight. I get rid of clutter. I have large glass apothecary jars that I keep pencils and crayons and paint brushes in. I would say that my days of working in retail actually helped me learn how to “display” items in an “artistic” way around my house—no one would know that I have problems with organization.

Paperwork/forms in doctor’s offices (or anywhere) is very hard for me to fill out. I have trouble staying on the right line and I always have to draw arrows indicating that I reversed lines. My dyslexia also reveals itself at times through my speech. People who know me well will attest to hearing me say on occasion, "I can't get my words out." If you have ever seen me in a yoga class or witnessed me dance, "The Electric Slide," during a wedding reception—you’ll notice that I have profound left and right issues. I work around these problems directly, without apology, and through humor.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

“Unexpected Journey” – Acrylic on Wood – By Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Photo by Robert Bullivant/Bullivant Gallery

Tools Which Help Me to Be my Personal Best

GPS is my closest friend. Voice to text is also a close companion. Spellcheck is my secret weapon. I ear read like a fiend. I have a voracious appetite for books and information. Ear reading is by far the most important tool in my life. People ask me if I miss the feeling of a book in my hand—like I’m missing out on something. I’m just fine with my Learning Ally or Audible apps, and tech. I wonder if a typical reader can paint their bathroom while eye reading? You see, my reading experience is pretty 3D. For instance, I planted all of my tulip bulbs while ear reading the novel, “The Signature of all Things.” I completed my most recent painting as I listened to, Neil Gaiman, narrate his own book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” I would never view my ear reading experience as lacking in any way. These tools help me live a better quality of life as they help me accomplish more than I ever thought possible.

Success and How I own my dyslexia

To me, success as a dyslexic adult is understanding how I work—how I tick—knowing my areas of weakness and strength. My success is not about success in other people’s eyes. I've spent years battling that internal dialogue that constantly tells me I can’t do something, that I’m not good at anything, or that I shouldn't be a part of something important. Success is learning to control that negative narrative. It is being brave and curious enough to do that thing that fills me with a sense of accomplishment and purpose. It’s writing without worrying about the red line that highlights my errors. It’s painting that story inside of me without asking anyone for permission. To me, success is understanding that struggle and failure are a learning curve and that the bigger picture is owning it all while honoring my true nature in the process.

“Your road may be a jagged uphill trek, but you have heart, brains, and courage. If you look closely, you'll realize your purpose in life has been with you all along—sort of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers.”

Words for the Young Adult Dyslexic

Understanding your limitations is a form of intelligence, it's not a weakness. Own your personal story—even if it's not a success story right now. Believe it or not, your failure story is a blueprint for your success story to follow. Own it all. Find your joy and creativity. Don't allow others to fill in the blanks of what they think you are capable of. Fill every blank with your own personal narrative. You are no longer that voiceless, powerless child in the classroom. You are supposed to be here, and your perspective is wanted and valued. As long as you're trapped in a place of silence and shame, you are missed. Surround yourself with other adult dyslexics whom you feel are positive mentors. Never give up.

“Your road may be a jagged uphill trek, but you have heart, brains, and courage. If you look closely, you'll realize your purpose in life has been with you all along—sort of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers.”

You may visit Mary's website at to enjoy her beautifully intricate artwork and read her personal blog.

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

We would like to invite you to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic through a tax-deductible donation to Headstrong Nation. Please consider donating through our RAZOO PAGE HERE: Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Thank you very much! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Jim McCarthy realized that his true passion was found in creating art. He’s a self-taught artist, and is currently pursuing a degree in art at Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork, Ireland. Jim agreed to collaborate on an interview for Headstrong Nation and the following are responses to questions about his life, both past and present, as a creative dyslexic man on a mission to spread awareness and change how dyslexia is viewed by the public.

photo of artist Jim McCarthy with paintings

(Artist Jim McCarthy in his studio - Copyright, Jimmy McCarthy -

Early Years.

My early years in school were very challenging and not a very pleasant experience. Corporal punishment was very prevalent, and I often found myself on the receiving end. I don’t think dyslexia or other SpLDs were fully understood. There wasn’t any specific help given to a person with dyslexia at that time. I enjoyed certain aspects of school, but always wanted to leave and find a job as early as possible. I left school at the age of 14/15 and then worked in construction for over 30 years as a carpenter/joiner.

Jim McCarthy's sculpture entitled fighting with words- Sculpted image of man cut out of pages in a book arms raised in fighting stance Portrait of a grieving mother wearing veil, dust covered painting of antique Morris automobile entitled "Redundant Morris" by Jim Mccarthy

(From left: Fighting With Words - Medium: Paper Sculpture, Grieving Mother - Oil on Canvas 40cm x 40cm, and Redundant Morris - Oil on Linen 240mm x 300mm -

Self Evaluation and Higher Education.

In 2012 due to a major recession in Ireland, I found myself out of work for the first time. I applied for jobs in everything I could, but never had any luck in securing long-term work as the lowest qualification for work in factories was a degree. Looking at my skills, I decided that the best path to get a degree would be in the arts. I have always had a passion for art. In order to achieve my goal of getting accepted into art college. I first had to attend a college of further education due to my leaving school so young. I found I was strong in the practical subjects, but found the academic subjects to be a serious challenge for me.

Inspiration and Information.

After about two months, I attended a lecture and viewed a documentary about the artist Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg spoke openly about his dyslexia. I could relate to everything he had to say. After this lecture I went and spoke to staff at the disability support service, who sent me for an educational psychology assessment. The assessment confirmed that I had specific learning disabilities that significantly affected my ability to access the college curriculum. The psychologist congratulated me, stating my IQ was well above average and this was probably the reason why I wasn’t identified earlier.

Painting entitled The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - (What do you see?) - Oil on Canvas 200mm Diameter - )

The Truth Can Set You Free. The Education System Let Me Down.

Truthfully, I suppose I always knew I was different and suspected I had dyslexia. When I got the results, I found the information freeing and liberating. It was like my past life made sense and everything fitted together. In addition to feeling liberated by understanding my dyslexia, I also felt angry and betrayed by the education system because it had not acknowledged that picture thinking people learn differently than linear thinking people. I had only wished that all of my old teachers were there to witness the results. After figuring out how I learned, I used this information to study my academic subjects. At the end of my time at this college, I had achieved top grades and was later accepted as a 2nd year direct entry student into a Fine Art Degree course at Crawford College of Art and Design.

Daily Challenges and The Need for Public Awareness of Dyslexia.

As an adult with dyslexia, I have found that there are still major challenges for me. I have found that society and education systems are designed specifically for the linear thinker. I believe it is essential for the public to be educated about dyslexia as this would help to alleviate any misconceptions. Dyslexia is not just about reading or writing. Dyslexic people tend to have a different perspective of the world. They have a gift of viewing problems from multiple angles. I find I can visualize the end product and most of the time, foresee any problems that might occur, even before any work has begun.

Tools I Use.

I use certain tools to help me work more efficiently. I use Dragon Dictate, Read and Write Gold and a LiveScribe Pen . I would recommend any of these to help dyslexics. Because I am a visual learner, I also use documentaries to learn the information I need.

Hand cut image of a distorted fountain entitled Distorted Fountain by artist Jim Mccarthy

Distorted Fountain - Hand Cut Image -

Art as a Constant and a Solace.

Art has always been a constant part of my life, and no matter what life had to throw at me, it has been my solace. My earliest memories of doing art are when I lived with my grandparents, sitting at their kitchen table drawing what I saw in books or around me. Later while going to school I would get disciplined by teachers for drawing on my copybooks or school books.

Frustration - Holism Art painting of man covering his ears screaming out in frustration by Artist Jim McCarthy

(Frustration - Oil on Canvas 405 x 557 -

Holism Art and Concepts as Related to Dyslexia.

“Holism Art” is a name I came up with for my art. People with dyslexia think and view the world holistically and are primarily picture thinkers. Rather than using self-talk (words, sentences, or internal dialogue), they specialize in mental or sensory imagery. This method of thinking is subliminal. Since dyslexic people think in pictures or imagery, they tend to use global logic and reasoning strategies. looking at the big picture to understand the world around them. Thinking primarily with images, dyslexic people also tend to develop very strong imaginations. They use a picture or feeling based reasoning process to solve problems rather than a verbal one. If they are at first confused (or intrigued), they will mentally move around an object and look at it from different viewpoints or angles. From this thought process, they develop many unique abilities and talents. For this reason and others, I believe ‘Holism Art’ is the appropriate name for my art.

Painting of English Market - Cork Painting of Paul Street by Artist Jim McCarthy

(From left: Margadh Bearla, Sraid an Phrionsa, Corcaigh 2011 (English Market, Princes St., Cork) - Oil on Canvas 20" x 24", and Sraid Pholl, Corcaigh 2011 (Paul Street, Cork) - Oil on Canvas 20" x 24"-

The Power of Art and Success as an Artist.

Art is more than something on a wall or a sculpture, it has the power to change things and bring joy. Art can also start a discussion and educate. If you can gain some material wealth, experience job satisfaction and also help to change a person's outlook on life or help highlight an injustice, what more can you ask for of life? When I conceive an idea for a piece I never consider whether it will be successful or not. My first protocol is the concept and if it’s relevant to me. The second is how relevant it is to the world in which I live. Thirdly, do I have an emotional contact with the piece?

Of course it would be a dream come true to be a successful artist and to have a steady income to support my family. I have had a certain amount of success in which I have sold my art and have received commissions. I've also had my work in group exhibitions in Ireland and Brittany in France and have pieces in private and corporate collections in Ireland, England, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, New Zealand and United States. All of this has been achieved with no formal education in the arts.

Some of my art is inspired by my own life experiences. By using myself, I hope not to offend others. Many dyslexics can relate to this work and its emotional content. Through my work I have highlighted the injustices and discrimination against dyslexics and have been successful in creating discussion to challenge misconceptions.

After setting up my website earlier this year, I received thousands of views and much feedback from dyslexics, parents, families and friends of dyslexics from around the world. Some of my work has been used for educational purposes and through this work I have spoken to teenagers who dropped out of school early and are now going to return to college. If I had been told in 2011, while still working in construction, that I would find myself out of work, that I would return to college to pursue a degree, and that my art would help in some small way to change the perception of dyslexia, I would never have believed this.
What the future looks like.

Painting of Craftsman's Tools on table entitled "The Craftsman's Tools" by artist Jim McCarthy
(The Craftsman's Tools - Acrylic on MDF 455mm x 400mm -

It is quite hard for me to think of the future, as like many dyslexics I have a problem with the concept of time. Since 2012, I have found myself back in the alien world of academia, where each day brings new challenges. I hope to achieve my goal of getting a degree, but where this will lead, I’m unsure! I really hope that along the way some doors will open for me and I might get that lucky break of becoming a successful artist. If not, I hope to secure a permanent job and continue making art as I have done previously. No matter what the outcome, I will continue to promote the positives of dyslexia through my art.

I believe it is very important for anyone who may be having problems or falling behind in school to get an educational psychology assessment. Because I really do believe dyslexia is a learning difference. Getting assessed for dyslexia has opened up a new world to me. Understanding and acknowledging my dyslexia and why I have to work so hard to achieve, has given me a better understanding of myself.

I think dyslexic people will always have to work harder to achieve in the linear world. However, with advancing technology and the help of science this may become an easier process in the future. Science, with the help of MRI scans, has proven that the dyslexic brain is different and is wired differently. Dyslexia is an invisible disability which needs to be understood completely, and until this occurs discrimination will continue against a portion of the population. Society needs holistic viewing people to enhance the world and help in the future of our society.

Jim McCarthy, September, 2015

Jim created a video entitled -This Apple Doesn’t Fall Too Far From The Tree - (SpLDs and what can happen), illustrating what can occur if Specific Learning Disabilities (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia/DCD, ADHD, 2e-Twice Exceptional) are not identified early and whose needs are not met.

You can view Jim's uniquely personal and meaningful artwork and read his blog HERE.

Please LIKE us on Facebook and FOLLOW us on Twitter. Thank You! The Headstrong Nation Team

Big thanks to Jamie Martin of the Kildonan School for his recommendations! Watch his webinar below about the best iPad apps for dyslexics!

Great post from The School of Dyslexia by our friend Sharon Plante, Director of Technology, Eagle Hill-Southport, Southport, CT:

Sharon Plante

Dyslexia is often referred to as the hidden disability (I use the term dyslexia to include all forms of language based learning disabilities). Difficulties with mobility, vision, and hearing, along with other disabilities, are often more obvious to the world, especially to those of us in education. Accommodations for these children are imperative to their functioning in the classroom and in their learning. For dyslexic students, the same accommodations are often given repeatedly, with the hope of improved academic performance, but those accommodations are often not considered imperative for their learning.

This week, I listened to a student talk about his path to learning, leading to his enrollment at our school. This boy is a sixth grader who was identified as being dyslexic in the third grade. Despite that identification, year after year, teachers gave him the traditional work that required a trip to the resource room for him to even attempt it. He talks of spending days in the resource room just playing on the computer because he knew he had to be in school, and he found his time in the traditional classroom to be a waste of time. Now that he is in an environment that understands his learning needs, he is doing his work, he is making gains, and he is showing his strength as a learner. He didn't want to hide from learning; he just needed someone to understand his less-than-visible disability.

Continue reading post here...

You are 9 years old. It’s Monday morning. You walk into class and see a tall man with glasses instead of your teacher, Mrs. Taylor. You see a fat folder of paper handouts sitting on his desk.

You take a deep breath, march to the front of the room, and introduce yourself to the new sub. You pull a worn ID card from your pocket that tells him you are dyslexic and lists, on the back, the key components of your IEP.

The sub pauses for a moment and takes it in. Understanding, he nods and hands you back the card, before going to his desk and emailing you a PDF of the handout.

You take a seat, open your laptop and get ready to ear-read along with the rest of the class.

Dyslexia ID card
Because of the work of Dr. John Frauenheim, this kind of stuff actually happens.
Dr. Frauenheim caught our eye when we learned about an unusual support strategy offered by the Center where he works: personalized dyslexia identification cards that help students a way to explain their dyslexic identity and self-advocate for what they need in class. Before dyslexics are able to confidently tell their story, in their own words, without props, we can imagine how a signifier like this could be extremely helpful, especially in the early years.
Dr. John Frauenheim is the Associate Director at the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital in Berkley, Michigan. There he provides multidisciplinary assessments and treatments/strategies to the dyslexic and LD community.
We were curious about what other ideas and insights Dr. Frauenheim might have for us so we sent him a list of questions about his experiences.
Dr. Frauenheim answered, naturally, from a medical perspective. While this perspective differs slightly in how it talks about dyslexia, the shared emphasis on community and self-advocacy as key stepping stones to being an empowered dyslexic is very encouraging. Go team.
Read on for highlights from our interview. Thank you Dr. Frauenheim!
Note: All links and bolded text have been added by Headstrong Nation. :)

Headstrong Nation: You've mentioned that you selectively give individuals with dyslexia a card that identifies them as experiencing difficulty with reading and spelling. Tell us the history behind the card.
Dr. John Frauenheim: As one simple step toward self-assertiveness and empowerment we give dyslexic individuals an ID card that identifies them as experiencing dyslexia and looks rather official, i.e., hospital title and signed by a licensed psychologist. We do this for elementary school aged children as well as adolescents and young adults.
The use of the card can be very helpful at all of these levels. Elementary students, for example, will at times write the elements of their IEP on the back of the card to be able to present to teachers when they make a request for accommodations.
It can be very helpful, for example, when a substitute teacher comes in and wants students to individually read aloud in class. The dyslexic student can produce their card quickly and ask to be excused from that activity. The card can also be helpful for college students, for example, when they have a need to discuss certain issues or accommodations with an instructor. The card breaks the ice and allows for meaningful discussion.
We have had others where a formal statement given had to be signed, i.e., in the police department, and they are uncomfortable with what the printed version of their comments state. Examples are endless. The availability of an ID card for dyslexic individuals was something we saw a need for 25 years ago. The card has been in use since that time and, to my knowledge, we are the only facility that utilizes this particular support strategy.
HN: What kind of changes have you seen in the medical community around dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities?
JF: Cases of dyslexia have been well-documented for over 100 years. Research has steadily increased to a level where we now have a much greater understanding of dyslexia and how it impacts life. This has led to a growing awareness in the medical community.
Schools, however, have been slow to recognize dyslexia, feeling that it is some type of "medical condition."
On the plus side, programs for children with learning differences have improved over the years. Most recently, at least here in Michigan, school districts are approaching the concept of learning differences within the context of a "response to intervention" (RTI) approach, which implies that a young child in elementary school, where problems are noted, should have appropriate resource strategies available to them to address those concerns.
The importance of understanding dyslexia includes the fact that it is more than simply an eye-reading problem. We frequently note, for example, an extension into the area of math where dyslexic individuals find it difficult to memorize basic math facts, such as the times tables, that can impact functioning.
There is a frequent finding associated with immediate auditory memory/working memory that may affect the consistency with which one retains directions, multitasking, etc. More subtle language issues have also been described such as naming, word finding, and language organization, or the expression of ideas in an organized fashion. Spelling, of course, is affected with further impact on written expression.
HN: How important is early identification?
JF: Early identification, of course, is important. It may be difficult to specifically identify a very young person as experiencing dyslexia; however, risk factors should be closely examined and where there is some difficulty experienced, then appropriate intervention should be provided.
Dyslexia does not go away. It does, however, present on a continuum that may range from severe to least severe. At the severe end of the continuum, we see adults whose eye-reading skills have not progressed above an elementary level. These individuals are often ignored in the literature on learning differences/dyslexia.
Specific treatment for dyslexic individuals must be approached along at least four avenues:
1. Specialized instruction in language arts areas should be provided utilizing appropriate and well-documented evidence-based strategies such as the Orton-Gillingham Method.
2. We must introduce assistive technologies* very early in a child's education. As we work at improving eye-reading skills, we also provide ways to work around the interference of skill weaknesses.
Textbooks, for example, should be made available through some type of audio format to assist with reading fluency and, subsequently, comprehension (e.g. Learning Ally, Bookshare). The use of a computer with word processing becomes important with regard to written expressive language activities. Other computer programs that are available include those that allow for dictation as well as provide reading assistance. Another example would be the Intel Reader.
*Check out Headstrong Nation's Tools page page for a list of current assistive technologies.
3. We must review curriculum requirements as they might impact the dyslexic individual. The learning of a foreign language, for example, in the presence of dyslexia tends to be quite difficult. The frequent recommendation is to waive such requirements. Some school districts will allow sign language to replace a formal language requirement. The waiving of a foreign language can be accomplished even at the college level in many instances. Other accommodations, such as increased time for testing becomes important. Oral testing should be allowed as indicated, etc.
4. Universally, young dyslexic individuals entertain the notion of being "dumb." They compare themselves with their peers and/or siblings and realize that they are not achieving at the same level, which produces concern. They worry that they are not meeting the expectations of significant others. Early efforts at assisting in understanding dyslexia and how it impacts functioning are very important.
Dyslexic individuals need to become "experts" and learn how to appropriately assert themselves in terms of the accommodations that will be meaningful for them. Empowerment starts at an early age. It is extremely important to assure that success experiences occur both academically and non-academically.
HN: We believe that finding community and being honest about one's dyslexia is the key to becoming empowered. How do you support individuals that are struggling with coming to terms with their dyslexia?
JF: Recognizing that one has dyslexia is the key to becoming empowered.
In our setting we provide "demystification" sessions for those with a diagnosis of dyslexia and at times ongoing counseling to assist in looking at compensatory strategies and to address other issues related to self-concept.
It also becomes very important for "significant others" to have a full understanding of dyslexia. This not only includes parents, but also grandparents and others in the community where dyslexia may impact functioning, i.e., religious lessons, etc. At times, we offer small group counseling sessions for students with dyslexia to be able to learn from one another strategies that have been helpful.
Ongoing peer mentoring should be available. In the past we have had group counseling sessions for dyslexic adults. This has been extremely helpful as, in adulthood, dyslexics find themselves generally to be quite isolated, not knowing others, etc., and feeling that they lack any "power" to change life circumstances.
The areas of self-concept and empowerment must be addressed on an ongoing basis.
Dr. John Frauenheim
Dr. John Frauenheim
Associate Director, Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital, Berkley, MI


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