Meet Kim. She is a mother to 10-year-old twins (both dyslexic), a structured literacy tutor and home schooler who runs a day care from her home in Barrie, Ontario.
When the pandemic hit hard in March, Kim shut down her day care due to safety concerns and went out to work at a COVID-19 community assessment centre.
As daunting as that sounds, working on the front lines of the pandemic hasn’t phased her. She’s no stranger to difficult circumstances. Like so many parents, she had to become a fierce advocate for her children (and all children) to get effective reading instruction and supports at school.
Dyslexia runs in her family so when she recognized the signs in her own children she advocated for early interventions–which they didn’t get.
“My mom is one of 9 kids and her and 2 of her brothers are dyslexic, so when I saw the warnings signs and had meetings with the teachers dyslexia was always dismissed. The twins were constantly held back from recess because they weren’t finished their work,” says Kim. “I was told I wasn’t reading to them enough or not reading the right books…I was told they just need to try harder.”
Even with all the evidence that her children were dyslexic and needed help, Kim could not access a school psychologist to conduct an assessment and get that all important diagnosis.
Without private insurance to help cover the costs, she says she was lucky to find a psychologist (now retired) who did the assessment at a lower cost than others. Her son was identified as having dyslexia/dyscalculia and her daughter with dyslexia/auditory processing issues.
She taught her children to read using a structured literacy approach, thanks to training in the Orton-Gillingham method offered through the Scottish Rite. She says this was a “lifesaver” for her family, and she pays it forward by tutoring other children in her community.
She started home schooling her children in grade 2.
Kim echoes how so many parents feel when she talks about her own journey through the education system: “We are literally fighting the government for our families rights, while simultaneously trying to teach our kids and keep them emotionally safe.”
On this journey, Kim also became a vocal advocate for families who–due to income inequality and systemic racism–are hit hardest by lack of supports in our public school system. Most families, she reminds us, can’t afford psychologists, tutors and private schools.
She’s become a strong voice for education equity in Ontario, and within the dyslexia community. Here’s what she’d like to see happen in Ontario schools:
“Every child who is suspected of having a learning disability should have a free psych-ed assessment before a proper IEP can be written. Currently the disparity in equity is drastic as assessments can run $$$$ [large amounts of money] which is out of reach for most families, and schools assume everyone has benefit coverage like them, which they do not; many families have multiple children needing testing further exasperating the inequity.”
“All K-3 teachers should be trained in basic assessment and what the red flags are for dyslexia. They should acknowledge and use the term dyslexia. And be trained in basic multi-sensory phonemic awareness learning tools to help the youngest student at the very least. Listen to parents and ask if there is a family history or LDs.”
Whether teaching her own twins, advocating for all children with learning disabilities or working on the front lines of the pandemic, Kim is proof that heroes walk among us.