‘LEARNING DIFFERENCE’

In third grade, Ashley Sargent struggled to complete homework.

Every night, she would sit at the kitchen table trying to do math problems, read stories or write out spelling words, according to her mother, Christy Sargent of Seymour.

What would take most kids a short amount of time to finish took Ashley hours, if she even finished at all.

“We’d be up until 10, 10:30 at night, still sitting in the same exact spot,” Christy Sargent said. “I knew something wasn’t right.”

But Ashley’s difficulties weren’t a result of not being smart or just not wanting to do the work. Unbeknownst to her or her parents at that time, Ashley suffered from the learning disorder dyslexia.

Most people assume dyslexia is just where someone mixes up or reverses letters and numbers when they read or write, but there’s much more to it, said Sarah Bumbleburg, a former special education teacher at Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour.

“Dyslexia is a learning processing disorder,” Bumbleburg said. “It is not just reversing letters or numbers, but that is one of the hallmark signs.”

Studies have shown that one in five people is dyslexic, Bumbleburg said.

She is now the program manager and lead tutor at Foundations Dyslexia and Learning Center, which opened at 322 Dupont Drive in Seymour in June. Her expertise comes not just from teaching in the classroom and seeing the impact of dyslexia in her students but from being dyslexic herself.

Foundations Dyslexia and a new autism services group called Unlocking the Spectrum are under the direction of Jill Christopher of Christopher and Associates Evaluation and Counseling Center.

The dyslexia center has 13 students currently and offers remote services through videoconferencing. Students can be referred by teachers or doctors, or parents can make an appointment themselves.

Bumbleburg works one-on-one with students and their families to first screen and identify if a child has dyslexia and then to develop learning strategies to overcome the effects and resulting emotional and social impacts of the learning disorder.

“If you see someone writing reversals or reading letters backwards after first grade, then there should be some concern,” Bumbleburg said.

Another sign is not being able to say multisyllable words very well, such as spaghetti, cinnamon or ambulance, which contain blended sounds and are difficult for children and those with dyslexia to say.

“We all think it’s cute because they are young, but if they are continuing to mispronounce those words after the age of 4 or 5, there may be some issues,” she said.

Into adulthood, dyslexia, if untreated, can cause people to mix up common phrases more so than single words, Bumbleburg said. For example, instead of saying “don’t put your foot in your mouth,” a person with dyslexia might say “don’t put your mouth in your foot” because the words don’t process the same in their mind.

Students with dyslexia also will make frequent spelling errors and will struggle with learning simple sight words, such as “and,” “the,” “it,” “they,” “he” and “she.”

“It’s words they’ve seen but can’t remember because they process the information differently than the average person,” Bumbleburg said.

Learning Process

Ashley, 15, is now a sophomore at Seymour High School. She said most people think because she has dyslexia she reads words backward, but that’s not the case.

“If the word is ‘was,’ I don’t see ‘saw,’” she said. “I don’t read backward. I’m not that talented.”

Instead, she compares a normal person’s brain to a waffle, whereas someone with dyslexia has a brain more like spaghetti.

“In a normal person’s brain, there is a compartment for everything, so when you come to a sight word or something, it just pulls the information out of the compartment, like a filing cabinet. It’s right there and labeled,” she said. “A dyslexic’s brain is more like spaghetti. You have to keep pulling on different strands until you get the right stuff to come out. You have to keep pulling until you get all the right information lined up.”

Sometimes it can take weeks, sometimes months, she said.

“Eventually, you will get it. It just takes you 10 times longer,” she said.

If a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, it can be traced back to others in their family because the disorder is hereditary, Bumbleburg said.

“A lot of parents don’t recognize it in themselves because they overcome so much of it,” she said. “They found ways to cope with it.”

But a simple screening can determine if an adult has dyslexia, Bumbleburg said.

“We screened Ashley’s dad, and some of the hallmarks were that he couldn’t tell me sounds of specific letters at the age of 40,” she said. “He could read and put sounds together, but when you take them in isolation, it was difficult for him.”

Bumbleburg said her own father, who has a master’s degree, also is dyslexic.

Anyone who might suspect they or a loved one have the disorder can visit the Bright Solutions for Dyslexia website at bright solutions.us to watch an online video to learn more, she said.

Christy Sargent said that after her daughter watched the videos she was a completely different child because they finally had answers.

Ashley has been working with Bumbleburg for eight months.

“We use the Barton reading and spelling system,” Bumbleburg said. “It was created by Susan Barton because her nephew was dyslexic.”

The program breaks reading down into learning the sounds letters make. There are 10 levels, starting with making sure a child can hear sounds correctly and be able to pull apart those sounds.

Next, they review the sounds of the alphabet and get into the rules of why combinations of letters make the sounds they do to form words.

“That’s what a dyslexic needs — logic,” Bumbleburg said. “Our alphabet is not logical, and we teach kids at the age of 2 to learn the letters and then four years later to make a word with them. We need to focus on ‘this is a symbol, and this is the sound it makes, now use those sounds to create a word.’”

Making a Difference

It takes 18 to 36 months to go through the program, but if caught early on, the therapy can make all the difference in a child’s educational future, Bumbleburg said.

“Here at Foundations, we want to catch it early because if we can do that, then these kids won’t be failing; they will have learned all these tools,” she said.

Although there is no cure for dyslexia, children and adults can learn ways to cope, especially by using available technology, including smartphones and tablet computers.

“Your phone has a microphone where you can speak into it and all the words are spelled correctly or there’s spell check when you’re typing, or there’s Google and lots of different apps are out there that can help,” Bumbleburg said. “There are a lot of strategies nowadays that they didn’t have in school back then.”

Audiobooks, available through the online resource learningally.org, are another tool dyslexics can use to help them cope.

Ashley said she used an audiobook to help when she was studying “Romeo and Juliet” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in her literature class.

One of her biggest struggles is simply copying things down right when taking notes, her mother said.

“She uses her cellphone to take pictures of the chalkboard, and it’s connected to her iPad,” Christy Sargent said. “Otherwise, she might get things copied down wrong. It’s really big in math. If she’s writing something down wrong, then all of her problems after that are wrong. So it’s important to get it down correctly the first time.”

Educating Others

Christy Sargent said now it’s important to help educate others about dyslexia because people don’t know what it is and don’t understand it.

“Like any other disability, there is negativity behind it,” Bumbleburg said. “Parents worry that their children will be singled out and won’t be able to function normally.”

Dyslexia doesn’t stop you or hold you back, however, she said.

“Steve Jobs had dyslexia. Einstein was dyslexic. Whoopi Goldberg has dyslexia,” Bumbleburg said. “It’s because they are out-of-the-box thinkers.”

Often, those with dyslexia are mechanical or have a very strong gifted area, such as athletics, music or art, Bumbleburg said. But those who are good at music don’t read music well; they play it by ear, she said.

“All through school, I was a good student,” Bumbleburg said. “But I could never tie my shoes, and I didn’t know my left from right. Those are hallmark signs of dyslexia, too.”

Besides educating parents and students about dyslexia, Bumbleburg said, it’s also important to get the information to educators and lawmakers.

She said there are movements such as Decoding Dyslexia that are helping change the education system to make it better for those with dyslexia.

“Just recently, a law passed in Indiana that if you are going into education, you have to receive so much training on how to identify a dyslexic,” she said. “In Texas, all students have to be screened for dyslexia, so there is progress being made.”

Ashley said she is most interested in business, technology and public speaking and considers the late Steve Jobs, who was co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios, as her hero.

She was a finalist in last year’s Maverick business challenge, sponsored by Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.

“I’m determined to show you that I can do it. Giving up is never an option for me,” she said.

“It doesn’t define you,” Christy Sargent added. “You can still achieve what you want to achieve. You don’t have to find ways to lower your goals. You just find different ways around it.”

Ashley hopes to be able to use her “God-gifted abilities” to inspire others with dyslexia to speak up and stand out in order to be successful.

She is tutoring a young dyslexic boy and is open to talking to children and adults about the learning disorder.

“Come ask me questions because I don’t want you to walk around with false information or false conclusions,” she said. “Being dyslexic is not a bad thing. My parents call it a learning difference. It’s not a disability. Being different makes you feel unique, and every kid wants to feel unique.”

At a glance

For more information on dyslexia:

Call the Foundations Dyslexia and Learning Center at 812-216-8311 or email sarah@foundationsdlc.com.

Visit their office at 322 Dupont Drive, Suite B, located across the street from the Jackson County Learning Center.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.