SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A recent bill introduced by United States legislators whose children have dyslexia is exposing the importance of testing children for dyslexia and providing dyslexia accommodations for those who need them.

Dyslexia is one of the most significant causes of illiteracy in the United States, and U. S. Senator Bill Cassidy, who hails from Louisiana, is no stranger to the subject.

“It is an issue that is very important to me, both as a parent of a dyslexic child and as a Senator,” Cassidy said in a Senator Education Hearing on Dyslexia in 2016. One year before the hearing, Senator Cassidy hosted a luncheon with dyslexia experts, and by that Oct., he was crossing the aisle to help those with dyslexia.

Students read at the Djurgardsskolan elementary school in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. As children across Sweden have recently flocked back to school after the summer vacation, many of their teachers are putting a new emphasis on printed books, quiet reading hours, and practicing handwriting as the country's yearslong focus on the digitalization of classrooms has come under scrutiny. (AP Photo/David Keyton)
(AP Photo of children in a classroom by David Keyton)

Cassidy joined with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to create legislation that designated Oct. 2015 as National Dyslexia Awareness Month. During Dyslexia Month, all schools and state and local educational agencies recognize the significant educational implication dyslexia has upon students. Congress also defined dyslexia as:

  1. An unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to read much better;
  2. Difficulty in getting to the individual sounds of spoken language, which affects the ability of a person to learn a language, particularly to speak, read, or spell a language

“When we invest in dyslexia research, we invest in our next generation of doctors, teachers, writers, and engineers,” Sen. Cassidy said in Feb. 2016.

Dyslexia facts

The facts concerning dyslexia in America are startling.

Between 80% and 90% of all people with a learning disability have dyslexia.

Those with dyslexia must receive evidence-based interventions that lead to self-awareness and self-empowerment. It is also critical for the necessary accommodations to be provided for the student to ensure their success at school and in life.

Someone with dyslexia may have difficulty with decoding or fluency in reading but may have higher-level cognitive functions such as reasoning, critical thinking, concept formation, or problem-solving.

“One in five children has dyslexia. Raising dyslexia awareness assists our schools in identifying it earlier, which means getting resources to children in need sooner,” Sen. Cassidy said to the Senate in Oct. 2019.

One study found that almost half of the inmates in the state prison at Huntsville, Texas, are dyslexic. Eighty percent of the prisoners at Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville were functionally illiterate.

The signs of dyslexia

The signs of dyslexia in preschool children include delayed speech, problematic speech, poor expressive language, poor rhyming skills, and little interest or difficulty learning letters. By adulthood, an undiagnosed individual will be experiencing poor reading fluency, slow speed in writing, poor organization, and poor expression at work.

Dyslexia accommodations for law students

Sen. Cassidy asked the Law School Admission Council to accommodate students with dyslexia after a federal ruling said LSAC violated court-ordered rules to help disabled test takers gain accommodations on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT.)

In June 2018, Cassidy spoke out about how illiteracy is a significant risk factor for someone entering the world of crime.

“Dyslexia is a leading cause of illiteracy; to address illiteracy and incarceration, we must better address dyslexia,” Sen. Cassidy said in a statement after meeting with Jared Kushner about prison reform.

The First Step Act (2018) provided for the screening of inmates for dyslexia.

Equal education for dyslexic Americans

By Apr. 2022, the senator had written a new bill to address the needs of Dyslexic Americans. The 21st Century Dyslexia Act to help modernize how dyslexic students are educated. The legislation was designed to help students by reclassifying dyslexia into its category within IDEA.

Assisting dyslexic kids will allow one in five students to know that there is a name for what they’re experiencing. By identifying dyslexia and providing interventions to an estimated more than 11 million children in the United States, slow readers can begin to understand that they can also be fast thinkers. Dyslexia does not have to hold a child back in life if the appropriate steps are taken.

On Oct. 25, Congresswoman Erin Houchin introduced the 21st Century Dyslexia Act to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Houchin is the mother of a high school student who has dyslexia.

“We know how to teach a student with dyslexia and help them reach their full potential. Unfortunately, a student is often not screened for dyslexia until after they have already fallen behind, if at all,” Sen. Cassidy said in a press release on Oct. 25.

Sen. Cassidy helped introduce the same bill to the United States Senate on Oct. 25, too.

Houchin said she has been continually disappointed in how students with Dyslexia are left to fend for themselves in the educational system. She still remembers the years of wrong information that delayed her son’s diagnosis and ability to receive appropriate accommodations.

“Our family’s story isn’t unique, which is why the 21st Century Dyslexia Act is necessary,” said Houchin.

Federal law does not currently require schools to differentiate and determine the reason why a student is having difficulty reading. Some believe this prevents dyslexic students from receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education.

The 21st Century Dyslexia Act, if approved, will amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to improve provisions relating to dyslexia and for other purposes. If passed, all eligible children, including those from low-income, low socioeconomic status, and/or of limited English proficiency, will be provided with accommodations or services and given equal access to the accommodations or services needed.

Free online enrollment through Coursera is available to help understand the latest progress made in dyslexia research and provide skills to those who may be affected, and learn about the federal statutes: IDEA, ADAAA, and section 504.