October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so it is only fitting that this month the House passed H.R. 3033, The Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia Act, or READ Act. Dyslexia affects an estimated 8.5 million school children and one in six Americans in some form. It causes these individuals to have difficulties with reading, though they often have normal or above-average intelligence.
Despite the prevalence of dyslexia, many Americans remain undiagnosed and untreated, silently struggling at school or work. Too many children undiagnosed with dyslexia have difficulties in the classroom and sometimes drop out of school and face uncertain futures.
The READ Act requires the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) budget to include a specific line item for the Research in Disabilities Education Program. The bill requires the NSF to invest at least five million dollars annually for merit-reviewed, competitively-awarded dyslexia research projects. The research supported by the READ Act is focused on practical applications, which include: early identification of children and students with dyslexia; professional development for teachers and administrators of students with dyslexia; curricula and educational tools needed for children with dyslexia; and implementation and scaling of successful models of dyslexia intervention.
The READ Act is a result of information gathered by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee at its two hearings on dyslexia. At the first hearing held last year on the science of dyslexia, experts testified how research in the area of neuroscience has led to practical ways to better diagnose and deal with dyslexia but that more research is necessary. At a second Committee hearing held just a few weeks ago, we heard from experts who work directly with dyslexic students and their teachers. They know firsthand about the obstacles these children, parents, and educators face and they stressed the importance of research in developing practical tools.
I have met hundreds of children and their parents in my Congressional District in Texas and others across the US who are affected by dyslexia. And they have shared their personal stories with me. One child I met recently was Eddie, a middle-school student from Baltimore. He and his family have been on a long journey to receive a proper diagnosis and find a supportive learning environment.
After our our meeting, his mother wrote me a letter explaining:
“In only one year, Eddie has gone from repeatedly missing recess because he would not ‘try harder’, a boy who would stare at his homework in defeat before he has even tried an assignment, to a boy now daring to dream of a career in the sciences.”
Eddie is very fortunate to have a mother who advocated for his proper education. He is now not only able to learn, but also to excel. His mother comments, “[He] is a voracious reader, and wants to join [the Jet Propulsion Lab] or work with NASA.”
I also have had the pleasure of meeting an Austin, Texas, resident Robbi Cooper and her son Ben. They shared many stories with me about the hardships they have faced in their attempts to ensure Ben receives the best education possible.
Ben has even taken his abilities one step further by becoming an advocate and has traveled to D.C. numerous times to lobby Congress so others can learn from his experiences. The READ Act helps ensure that all children like Eddie and Ben have the means to succeed.
If you can’t read, it is difficult to achieve. If we change the way we approach dyslexia, we can turn this disability into an opportunity for a brighter and more productive future for millions of Americans. The READ Act is a significant step in the right direction to help those with dyslexia.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucus, which is comprised of more than 100 Members of Congress. The Caucus is dedicated to increasing public awareness about dyslexia and ensuring all students have equal educational opportunities.