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Dyslexia Researchers Launch Multicultural-Outreach Effort

Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, the co-directors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, based at Yale University, and longtime researchers of the reading disorder, have started a campaign to bring greater awareness of dyslexia to communities of color.

The Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative had its first meeting earlier this month, honoring well-known people with dyslexia, such as actor and activist Harry Belafonte and author Victor VillaseƱor. The initiative plans to hold more meetings across the country in coming months, Sally Shaywitz said in a conversation with Education Week. Too many children, she said, learn that they have dyslexia almost by accident, after years of struggling with school.

"We've met so many people who are either Latino or African-American who are dyslexic, but their identification is sort of a fluke," she said. "If they don't get identified, they're going to give up. Who wouldn't?"

Dyslexia, defined as a significant difficulty with decoding words with accuracy and speed, is believed to be among the most common learning disabilities. Prevalence estimates range from 5 percent to 17 percent of the school-age population, according to research conducted by the Shaywitzes. Evidence-based treatments can be successful with this population, but children in minority groups often have difficulty accessing that help because people may have low expectations for the children, Sally Shaywitz said. "They see a child not learning and say, 'Well, what do you expect?'" she said.

The initiative has reached out to several civil rights advocacy groups, such as the National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities, the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Children's Defense Fund.

"We feel at this point the knowledge is there to do better," Sally Shaywitz said. "There's not as much a knowledge gap as there is an action gap."

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