Photo essay: Understanding dyslexia—the first Canadian conference

More than 200 parents, students, educators and advocates attended the first Canadian dyslexia conference on Nov. 12, 2016 in Toronto. If you missed it, here’s a chance to see what the day looked like:

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Annette Sang, a founding member of of Decoding Dyslexia Ontario and Elaine Keenan, president of the Ontario Branch – International Dyslexia Association, set the tone for the day with a powerful opening statement: “It’s a human right to learn to read.”

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Keynote speaker Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley, co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute in the U.S., described how educators can create a healthy learning environment for students with dyslexia:

Seven steps to a healthy classroom by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley
Step 1: Agree that dyslexia is real
Step 2: Do not wait for a student to fail (and do not wait to help a child who is struggling to read)
Step 3: Understand dyslexia deeply
Step 4: Shed the one-size fits all mantra
Step 5: Adequately train educators
Step 6: Develop empathy and understand accommodations
Step 7: Don’t forget that children with dyslexia become adults with dyslexia

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Dr. Linda Siegel, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, explained why early intervention matters and offered several solutions to make this happen, including: simplifying the identification process and emphasizing intervention; removing the stigma against phonics; and educating our educators (a theme that came up several time during the day). She concluded that it’s to our detriment as a society if we don’t fix this.

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Nancy Young, a specialist in reading, writing and spelling from British Columbia, provided evidence showing that it is harder for some children (60% of children!!) to learn than others, but that all children can learn to read with effective instruction (a structured literacy approach). She likened learning to read and spell to learning to break a secret code.

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The youth panel was inspiring! They shared their challenges and successes living with dyslexia. See my detailed story for more details.

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Jamie Martin, Assistive Technology Solutions for Dyslexia in the U.S., walked us through the wide array of tech solutions for students with dyslexia. Two that caught my eye: 1. a word leveller called rewordify.com (and it’s free!) and 2. mind mapping tools that let you visualize your ideas, such as Mind Meister (for Chrome) and Inspiration Maps (for Mac).

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Jane Stewart, a lawyer at Justice for Children and Youth in Toronto, gave us a primer in education law and children’s rights to special education in Canada.

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Deborah Lynam of Decoding Dyslexia New Jersey offered concrete advice about how parents can best advocate for their children. She said it is a moral imperative to advocate for systematic changes that will help all children.

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Liisa Freure, language therapist and founder of Fundamental Learning in Toronto, helped us with our decoding skills, the need for better instruction in schools (“just because teachers can read, doesn’t mean they can teach it”), and the urgency of the problem (notably that “reading difficulties are the greatest cause of academic failure”).

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Stuart Bruce and Keith Gray of Dyslexia Canada closed the conference with a call to action: to ensure that all children with dyslexia learn to read. Their goal is to establish legislation in each Canadian province that will recognize and remediate dyslexia in our public schools (make change! sign the petition!).

Thanks to the Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia Ontario for the very informative and inspiring day!

To learn more, check out my series of articles on the conference:

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