Joe Davenport’s family had to get him privately tested and identified with dyslexia years before his school district would come to the same conclusion and provide him with the educational services he needed.
“In first grade, we knew something wasn’t quite right,” his mother, Lisa Davenport of Durham, said during an interview. “But his teachers kept saying he was doing fine.”
By Grade 7, the district would eventually determine that Joe was reading at a Grade 3 level and has dyslexia, but it still took his mother insisting that the district retest him for the learning disorder and providing special accommodations.
Dozens of parents and students relayed similar stories Monday to state legislators on the Education Committee, an indication that families throughout Connecticut are often left paying for a proper diagnosis and tutors.
“That’s chilling,” state Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the House chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, told Joe during a public hearing at the state Capitol complex Monday.
Joe is now a sophomore reading at a seventh grade level.
“I am sorry for all you had to do to get services out of your school,” said Fleischmann, D-West Hartford.
In an effort to prevent this situation from continuing to happen, state legislators are considering a bill that would require districts to screen for dyslexia when concerns arise that a student has a learning disability and to provide services when necessary.
“We are here to ensure every child who has dyslexia gets the support they need,” said Fleischmann. The proposed legislation has bipartisan sponsorship.
“There are people over here trying to make things better for you,” Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, whose teenage son struggles with the learning disability, told one student.
Getting identified and getting the necessary services has seemingly been a decades-long challenge.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy often shares how difficult it was for his mother, when he was a child, to get him the services he needed to address his dyslexia.
Ten to 15 percent of people in the U.S. have dyslexia, yet very few are properly identified and receive assistance, reports the Dyslexia Research Institute, a nonprofit organization.
Joe Davenport’s family kept paying for private tutors, while his parents say the district kept insisting he was a little behind but improving.
“The school didn’t know how to recognize dyslexia, so they didn’t know how to help him,” Lisa Davenport said.
For Tom Rimkonas, a sixth grader from Seymour, the impact of not receiving help was horrible. The boy told committee members of being teased by classmates.
“If it wasn’t for that help, I would still be reading second grade books. I would like to read the same books my friends are reading,” he told lawmakers.
Joe, who now attends Vinal Technical High School in Middletown, was more to the point in his request for legislators.
“Please consider dyslexia a learning disability… Words on a page look like gibberish,” he said, pointing out that with a little added help, dyslexic students can thrive.
“The stacks of paper each of you have next to you would be overwhelming for me to read,” Joe said, “but I ask you, How many of you can rebuild an engine?”