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Teen with dyslexia doesn't let disability hold her back

Young musician also volunteers with A Touch of Understanding
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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A few years ago, Jordan Heald marched into the office of A Touch of Understanding and said she wanted to be a speaker for the organization.

The Granite Bay nonprofit’s Executive Director Leslie DeDora asked what she would speak about.

“I’ll never forget what she said,” DeDora said. “She said she has dyslexia and her younger sister does too, and she doesn’t want her to be teased the way she was. Who can say no to that?”

Jordan joined the group’s Youth FORCE, which stands for Friends Offering Respect Creating Empowerment, and visits schools to spread awareness about disabilities.

Now a freshman at Granite Bay High School, Jordan, 14, isn’t able to volunteer as much as she once did. But she still wants kids to know that it’s wrong to make fun of someone else because of a learning disability.

“I was made to feel bad inside because I wasn’t like them,” Jordan said. “But now I feel so confident. I don’t care what other people think.”

October marks National Dyslexia Awareness Month. One out of every 10 Americans struggles with dyslexia, according to the International Dyslexia Association.

Dyslexia is considered an “invisible disability,” unlike blindness or an amputation. When A Touch of Understanding gives class presentations, they teach students about visible and invisible disabilities at the same time.

They want to show how a dyslexic person can’t just easily read a book any more than a paralyzed person can just hop out of a wheelchair and walk around.

“It is not a matter of will,” DeDora said.

Dyslexia is a brain-based learning disability that impairs a person’s ability to read, write, spell and sometimes speak, according to the National Institutes of Health. A person with dyslexia has trouble translating messages received from the eyes or ears into understandable language.

Cases can range from mild to severe and include three types: trauma dyslexia when there is injury to the brain, primary dyslexia when there is a dysfunction of the left side of the brain and developmental dyslexia, which typically diminishes as the child matures.

Symptoms include difficulties with word recognition, mixing up similar words and poor spelling and decoding abilities.

Dyslexic people don’t read backwards, although spelling can look jumbled because they have trouble remembering letter symbols for sounds and forming memories for words.

A Touch of Understanding volunteers demonstrate dyslexia at a “frustration station” — where people attempt to write letters and trace around shapes by looking at a mirror and not at the paper. It’s not easy.

“We give students an idea of what it might be like to have that challenge,” DeDora said. “But you’re just as intelligent as before you sat down at the mirror.”

Dyslexia occurs in people of all intellectual levels. People with dyslexia may be gifted in areas that don’t require strong language skills, such as art, computer science, design, drama, electronics, math, music and sports.

A list of prominent dyslexic people includes John Lennon, Ansel Adams, Jay Leno, Erin Brockovich, Nobel Peace Prize winners, politicians and astrophysicists.
Jordan was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was in third grade.

“My first reaction was, ‘Let’s get her fixed,’” said her mom, Lavena Heald.

Her daughter was bullied and didn’t have any friends as a child. DeDora said some kids with dyslexia may feel misunderstood or ostracized. Some might overcompensate by becoming the class clown, or sit silently in the back of the classroom.

“They are thought to be less intelligent and that’s more of a burden to bear than the disability itself,” DeDora said.

Jordan was carted off to tutoring. She tried homeschooling, then a charter school and then back to a public school — Cavitt Junior High School, where she made the group of friends she still has today.

Through the years, she experienced much frustration. It was hard figuring out words. She took a long time reading directions on school assignments. She reads at a lower grade level than her peers.

Dyslexia runs in families and Jordan’s younger sister, Marissa, 10, also has the disability. Their dad Steve does, too.

And instead of trying to “fix” Jordan, her parents decided to encourage the areas where she shines.

“Let’s work on everything she’s really good at,” Lavena Heald said. “It just changed her … to over-the-top confidence.”

Jordan is a talented musician. She writes her own country music and performs cover songs at gigs around town. She plays the guitar, which she learned visually by watching her teacher. She’s also practicing the piano.

“She can’t read music,” Lavena Heald said. “But she can jam on the guitar.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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Problems experienced by dyslexics:

• Learning to speak
• Learning letters and their sounds
• Organizing written and spoken language
• Memorizing number facts
• Reading quickly enough to comprehend
• Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
• Spelling
• Learning a foreign language
• Correctly doing math operations

Source: International Dyslexia Association

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For more information on A Touch of Understanding’s Youth FORCE (Friends Offering Respect Creating Empowerment), visit www.touchofunderstanding.org or call (916) 791-4146.