Students, parents and advocates rallied outside the B.C. legislature Tuesday to call for more support for kids with dyslexia.
Families say they’re spending thousands of dollars to help their kids catch up and stay on track — while some children say they’ve faced humiliation due to their learning disability.
“Teachers and people didn’t think I was smart because I couldn’t read and write. I felt shamed by the teachers because they wouldn’t help me,” seventh grader Finn Lust said of his experience in Grade 1, before his parents got him into a private program.
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Grade 9 student Tierney Van der Vlugt recalled breaking into tears after being called “dumb” as an eight-year-old when she struggled to complete a spelling test.
“(The teacher) responded by telling me I needed to work harder and stop being lazy. … I believed I was a bad student and I was ashamed, everything that happened that day was my fault,” she said.
“If I had access to early screening, structured literacy and a funded category, this day and others I have experienced since would not have happened.”
Those students’ experiences are far from unique. Dyslexia BC estimates as many as one in five people in the province are affected by the learning disability.
“It’s disheartening that many people in B.C. are not aware of this fact. We need to change this,” said Cathy McMillan, founding director of Dyslexia BC.
“We need a learning disability expert in each school district in B.C. to ensure that every student, including those with a learning disability like dyslexia, receives the support they need to succeed.”
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Tuesday’s event follows the release of the Report on the Budget 2024 Budget Consultation, which recommends the province “support children with dyslexia across the province by funding structured literacy programs and mandatory screening for dyslexia starting in kindergarten.”
That’s the kind of support that parents like Deanna Comartin say is critical.
Her son lives with dyslexia, but it wasn’t until Grade 4 that the family finally sought out a private provider who was able to give them a diagnosis.
“It’s so important because the later they get diagnosed, the harder it is for them to catch up. The earlier you catch it, you can get tutoring and things in place so you are able to get there,” she said.
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“There needs to be funding for it, hands down. Parents should not have to pay out of pocket. Tutoring costs are about $500 to $1,000 per month. Some parents can’t afford that. All children deserve to read.”
Education Minister Rachna Singh met with parents Tuesday, and said the personal stories they shared made an impact.
“After hearing those stories, it is apparent there are still barriers, there are gaps in our education system,” Singh said.
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She said the province had nearly doubled funding for kids with disabilities since 2017, but acknowledged it was clear there were still systemic issues when it came to ensuring kids with challenges get the help they need to learn to read.
She said the ministry is committed to further consulting with parents on how to best support them.
“Funding is one aspect,” she said.
“But recognizing those gaps — like how we can do that early diagnosis, how these kids are able to read, learn, and reach their full potential — that is what the parents are seeking, that is what the students are seeking.”
The province also declared Oct. 7-14 as Dyslexia Awareness Week, something McMillan called “huge.”
But she said there is plenty of work ahead. Along with early screening, Dyslexia BC is calling for structured literacy programs in all classrooms, teacher training on dyslexia, and access to assessments and remediation in all B.C. school districts.
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