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Dyslexia challenges but does not need to limit potentia

January 31, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Imagine trying to take a test, knowing the information, but being unable to read the questions.

Or understanding the theory behind a math problem but being unable to do the addition, subtraction or multiplication necessary to find the answer.

These are just two of the challenges children with dyslexia face every day, says Rob Langston, author of "For the Children: Redefining Success in School and Success in Life."

"The stigma of being learning disabled is horrific," says Langston, who has dyslexia.

Langston says he wrote the book to give hope to children with learning disabilities, especially those who feel college is an unrealistic goal.


Langston has a bachelor of fine arts with a focus on graphic design.

"I've been learning disabled all my life," he says. "I was functionally illiterate through most of my life."

According to "For the Children," the word dyslexia comes from the Greek words "dys," meaning poor or inadequate and "lexis," meaning words. It is characterized by problems in reading, listening, writing, speaking and/or math.

Langston says he has learned 85 percent of what he knows from listening. While in elementary school, he realized he learned differently from the other children. He told his mother, "I can't write what I know."

His mother requested certain accommodations, including testing before and after school, and the use of a calculator for math.

In middle school, Langston's special education teacher gave oral versions of the classroom tests. On test days, questions would be read to him in a private room, he would give verbal responses and the special education teacher would write the responses verbatim.

"My goal was to get tested for the way I learn," Langston says.

In college, he would tell teachers he'd like to take their class but would need certain accommodations - a separate classroom and an untimed test. He also asked for the syllabus a quarter in advance.

He paid other students to read assignments on tape. Many times the people recording the readings planned to take the class, so they'd benefit from the tapings as well.

"I heard every single assignment in college," Langston says. "I was just getting the information I needed to know."

Today this CEO reads on a seventh-grade level. He often gets a CD or cassette version of a book and follows along in the printed version. He thinks this practice is improving his reading skills because, by following along, he is forced to read at a speaking rate.

Just in case you're wondering

In Washington Public Schools, students who are identified as having learning disabilities can be provided with accommodations, says Cheryl Strong, supervisor of special services.

These accommodations are designed to even the field, not to give certain students a boost, Strong says.

Parents who want more information should contact their child's school.

Areas where accommodations could be considered include:

  • Scheduling - Does the student need an untimed test? A test given at a particular time of day?

  • Setting - Does the student need to be tested individually or in a small group to reduce distractions?

  • Equipment/technology - Does the student need large print, a computer, calculator, Braille text?

  • Presentation - Does the student need a reader to dictate the information? Does he need a sign language interpreter?

  • Response - Does the student need someone to record his answers on a standardized test form because he does not have the motor skills to fill in the response bubbles?

At Hagerstown Community College, learning disabled students are also provided with the accommodations they need, as long as they have documentation of the disability, says Jaime Bachtell, HCC academic and special student adviser.

Students can be provided with isolated or extended testing, student aides to read textbooks or tests, sign language interpreters, note takers or lecture outlines from professors.

"This is all free, something necessary by law to make reasonable accommodations," Bachtell says. "We feel those are reasonable accommodations.

"We want our students to be advocates for themselves, to talk to teachers about this. Most of the teachers are very flexible and willing to work with the students."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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