Virtual AISD dyslexia conference offers resources, parent discusses COVID-19 challenges

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week, Austin Independent School District is connecting parents, teachers, advocates, therapists, researchers and many more to discuss ways to help students with dyslexia succeed.

“It’s really a combined effort to make these students’ education the best that it can be,” explained Ilza Garcia, the district’s administrative supervisor of dyslexia and literacy.

The district’s annual dyslexia conference has gone virtual in the midst of COVID-19. Global Possibilities—Austin ISD’s Central Texas Dyslexia Conference 2020 kicked off on Sept. 18, and provides those interested with pre-recorded sessions discussing everything from how to overcome obstacles to building confidence. The conference offers those interested a two-week window to view the discussions.

Keynote speakers include Kate Griggs, the Founder & CEO of Made by Dyslexia, and Dr. Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, the director of Valley Speech Language and Learning Center, with presentations from various university professionals and education organizations.

“I knew the word dyslexia, I really had no idea what it meant, I thought it meant you saw your letters backward which is completely inaccurate,” Danielle Storan, a parent and the co-founder of Dyslexia Network.

When Storan’s oldest daughter, Sophie, was diagnosed with dyslexia in kindergarten, she began doing research.

“Sort of like any mom nowadays, I hit the internet and I ordered every college textbook I could find off of Amazon, and I did a lot of research and I realized we know a lot about dyslexia,” Storan said.

She discovered there is a lot of research on the learning disability that can have an impact on your reading, writing, spelling and speech. She said early intervention is key.

“My six-year-old doesn’t really receive any intervention in school. They don’t really start until second grade in the school that we are at,” explained Storan. “So I’m paying for it privately because I know that my clock is ticking. But I’m lucky because I can afford to do that but I think about low-income families because they can’t afford that private intervention.”

Fast forward three years, Sophie is now 9. Her middle child, Emmy, 6, also has dyslexia. Both receive dyslexia intervention. However, when you add virtual learning to the mix, Storan admits, “It’s challenging. I have to sit over their shoulder to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

AISD wants to help tackle those challenges and look at ways to improve what they have to offer.

“What does dyslexia intervention look like on an online platform? Our team has provided a lot of professional learning around that to our teachers,” Garcia said. “taking a deeper look at how to maximize the face time we have.”

Garcia said the district is continuously working to improve the virtual learning experience for students, especially those with dyslexia.

“I’m just glad when COVID-19 hit we had all of these tools and now we’re just actually working to refine them and make them even more precise,” Garcia said.

Digital tools such as e-books that provide a read aloud feature and more.

“That’s what I mean by assistive technology, it’s something that makes the content accessible for students and also makes their output easier,” explained Garcia. “So if it’s easier for students to record their thinking in the moment and then figure out how they’re going to publish it later and have more time to put the words on paper that is our goal.”

While Storan said the district is doing a good job, she wishes AISD would offer students with dyslexia a couple of more options including multi-sensory tools such as plastic letters to work with and physically form words.

Those interested in the free virtual online conference can register for free online. Participants have through Oct. 2 to access the on-demand prerecorded sessions.

Dyslexia Network

Storan is also the from is also a co-founder of the Dyslexia Network, a parent-led group focused on helping parents and children with dyslexia succeed. At present, the network is providing free tools to families to help with virtual learning.

Tools such as handheld mirrors and sound cards that show how your mouth forms letters. Cookie sheets, plastic letters, alphabet strips and even the textbooks for reading intervention.

Thursday, the group will host an online discussion on how parents can best emotionally support their children with dyslexia. The event is free and open to all parents.

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