Javana Veras remembers pretending to read chapter books in second grade so she could sit on the beloved reading bench with her friends.
“They were reading chapter books, and I was still reading baby books,” the now-13-year-old said.
She didn’t know dyslexia was the root of her reading challenges, but she knew she wanted to fit in.
Dyslexia is more than a reading difficulty — it’s a brain disorder. Often, children’s struggles go unrecognized. LearningQuest is starting a pilot program, KidsQuest, to identify children with dyslexia and provide prompt help.
“We’re introducing this new program to help kids with dyslexia get some help with tutoring,” said Karen Williams, executive director of LearningQuest, which has an office in downtown Modesto.
She said the program provides individual, intensive tutoring some families couldn’t afford otherwise. The tutoring adds to services provided by schools.
LearningQuest is a nonprofit organization that traditionally has offered literacy programs for adults in Stanislaus County. KidsQuest is its first program specifically for children, and all staff are volunteers.
Starting KidsQuest in October is perfect timing because it’s Dyslexia Awareness Month. Worldwide this month, dyslexia organizations try to promote understanding of the disorder and rally support for affected individuals.
KidsQuest is open to children in second through sixth grades. To enroll, students must undergo screening at LearningQuest using a formal evaluation process to document that they have dyslexia.
The next screening session will be held at LearningQuest’s Modesto office on Saturday.
“Additional support for screening was provided by SLD, Specific Learning Disability, Foundation,” said Denise Nordell, coordinator for KidsQuest.
Nordell said Specific Learning Disability, a local foundation, was underwriting some of the costs of screenings because it felt KidsQuest would be a valuable community resource. The Friends of the Modesto Library also contributed to help defray the costs.
KidsQuest is free to students who qualify with the screening. The tutoring program includes twice-weekly sessions at the Stanislaus County Library in Modesto, a longstanding partner with LearningQuest.
CAUSE OF DYSLEXIA
Dyslexia is not a problem of switching letters or a sign of low intelligence. It’s a phonological processing disorder and the cause is not known. Genetics is a factor — Javana’s father and one of her three brothers also have dyslexia.
“A phonological processing disorder means that a child can’t know the way sounds are put together to understand the words,” said Williams.
Differentiating the individual components of sounds is difficult for dyslexics. For example, “cap” and “cab” may sound the same. This makes it hard to tell syllables, sound out words and build words into sentences.
Researchers have learned that people with dyslexia use different parts of their brain to process language, both verbal and written, compared to traditional learners.
Dyslexia affects about 1 in 10 people. No data about rates of dyslexia for Stanislaus County are available; however, two-thirds of county third graders are not reading at grade level, according to kidsdata.org from The Lucille Packard Foundation.
“Usually around third grade, if children are having challenges with chapter books, we encourage (parents) to check with the school for testing and to see if they have resources,” said Amber O’Brien-VerHulst, librarian at Stanislaus County Library’s Modesto Branch.
The library offers support for children struggling to read, such as audiobooks paired with physical books and books for beginning readers that emphasize phonics for learning syllable sounds.
“We assess for dyslexia and all other possible learning disabilities,” said Mariza Herroz, school psychologist for Stanislaus County Office of Education. She said comprehensive testing, including phonological skills, can be done as early as kindergarten. However, she said parents should remember that some letter reversal is normal at that age.
Early intervention for dyslexia, as well as other learning disabilities, matter. Students with reading difficulties at third grade are less likely to graduate from high school, according to research from the Annie E Casey Foundation.
But it’s never too late to learn reading.
FINDING HELP FOR JAVANA WAS DIFFICULT
“The teacher said when it came time for language arts and learning sounds, (Javana) hid under her desk,” said Jennifer Veras, her mother. Otherwise, she described Javana as a curious, bright preschooler, who excelled in math and socializing. She said Javana has always had friends and has not been a victim of bullying, which often happens to kids with learning differences.
During second grade, Javana’s parents paid for her to have private testing. She was diagnosed with dyslexia, but they couldn’t find a place to get help. One expert suggested Veras get training and tutor Javana herself, which she did.
Veras chose training in Barton Reading and Spelling System, which is a structured literacy system with proven success, and it is approved by the California Department of Education. Barton is the system being used in KidsQuest.
Structured literacy programs have specific steps that incorporate the use of phonics, which involves matching sounds with symbols or written letters.
After three months using the program, Javana’s school testing showed that she had gained a full year in reading and language skills. Because of her hard work, she received the second grade class award for perseverance. She completed five years of Barton training.
“I don’t like reading much, but I can read,” said Javana. She is home-schooled and reading at eighth-grade level. Her advice to other kids: “Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to how you were yesterday.”
“For parents, trust your intuition,” said Veras. “If you think something is wrong, look for answers.”
Veras is co-leader of the Central Valley dyslexia parent support group and regional director of Decoding Dyslexia California. She said she is active in these organizations to help other families find resources that were so hard for her to find.
“The structured literacy tutoring fees totaled $10,000 over five years,” said Veras, “The KidsQuest program is a gift to our community. It can be life changing for many dyslexic students in our area, especially for those whose parents can’t afford tutoring.
KidsQuest is still recruiting volunteer tutors — no experience needed, and training will be provided. More information can be found at https://lqslc.com/kidsquest.
This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.
Consider dyslexia, if a child has problems:
Memorizing their address, the alphabet or multiplication tables
Learning to tie their shoes
Writing some letters or numbers backwards past first grade
Learning to tell time on a clock with hands
Telling left from right.
Confusing letter pairs such as b-d, b-p, p-q, or g-j.
Saying sounds in the right order in multi-syllable words such as animal, spaghetti, hamburger, consonant.