When Liz Hembling's daughter, Mia, was in second grade she could look at a blank map of the United States and tell you exactly where each state belonged, but she could barely read.
"She would read a page and her head would hurt," Liz says. "To get her to read? You might as well pull her hair out. It would have been a better experience."
Mia's teachers insisted everything was fine. But Liz knew something wasn't right. Finally, when Mia was in fourth grade, Liz paid to have her daughter tested and discovered she has dyslexia.
The common perception is that dyslexia is about confusing letters and reading them backward. But neuroscience has shown that's not quite right. All beginning readers tend to mix up letters and read them backward. The problem for dyslexics is they get stuck at that beginning reader stage. Their brain does not easily pick up on the ways that letters and sounds correspond. They need to be explicitly taught the rules of how language works.
But kids don't get that kind of reading instruction in most public schools. The focus is more on the meaning of words, not the mechanics of how words are made. There may be some phonics instruction mixed in, but the assumption is that if kids are exposed to lots of text, they will learn to read. That didn't work for Mia, now 14.
"I felt like I was kind of disconnected from the rest of my class because the teachers knew how to teach them but they didn't know how to teach me," she says.
On this episode of the Educate podcast, senior correspondent Emily Hanford brings us a preview of the documentary she's working on about why so many kids with dyslexia are not getting what they need from American public schools, and how fixing things for dyslexics could improve reading instruction for all kids.