“We knew Dustin was smart, but we knew something wasn’t right.” That’s how Arkansas dad Scott Gann describes his son’s early years in elementary school. Dustin was struggling, and Gann said teachers kept telling him that his son just “needed to grow up, boys will outgrow this.”
Dustin, now 15 and in high school, remembers that he would just “sit there and stare at a piece of paper for like five minutes, trying to understand.” He worried he wasn’t trying hard enough, and he tried not to draw attention to himself. “I just kind of laid low for most of my school days,” he said.
Finally, in 3rd grade during state-mandated assessment testing in the spring, Dustin told his teacher, “You know, I can’t read.” Gann says they all knew Dustin had been struggling, he’d even received some extra help at school. But he calls that moment an awakening—for both the teacher and Dustin’s parents.
That summer his parents paid to have Dustin tested, and he was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to read and spell. Gann said he was surprised at the school’s reaction. “The school was real standoffish about using the word dyslexia. It was almost like it was a naughty word.”
Thus began an uphill battle to get Dustin the help he needed, according to Gann. Ultimately the family hired a private tutor and moved Dustin to a private school to receive specialized instruction. Gann said the changes in Dustin were as different as “night and day,” not just in his reading but in his self-confidence as well.
Gann knows in many ways his family was lucky; they had the resources to help Dustin. “We are in a place where we can provide help—and it’s not fair for those parents who can’t provide that,” said Gann, who has turned “all the pain and lessons we learned over the years” into advocacy. He joined other Arkansas parents to push successfully for changes in state laws around reading instruction and dyslexia.
Arkansas has passed at least eight of these laws over the past seven years, including legislation that defines dyslexia and establishes requirements for screening and intervention.
“Every kid deserves this,” said Gann, “that’s why I advocate so hard.”
As for Dustin, he’s doing well in high school and last summer he even passed the written portion of his test for a driver’s permit. He did that without any reading accommodations.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.