How Unchartered Waters Can Lead to New Horizons for Dyslexia


“Are we there yet?”

The age-old question parents hear on an endless family road trip. However, our family has been on a different trip of sorts—a journey with dyslexia, one that has been long and filled with frustration yet rewarding in ways we could have never imagined. My son’s battle with dyslexia seemed a curse on many days but helped to mold a man with the tenacity to stay the course when the going gets tough. The winding paths traveled thus far have given us the insight to guide others with dyslexia on a better course.

How Did We Get Here?

Jacob was an energetic, talkative preschooler. When I was told he was not meeting preschool milestones, it was hard to accept. I was convinced this was due to a lack of maturity and kindergarten would be better. He could name every dinosaur but could only recognize a few letters and sounds. Writing was torture, and he had no sense of top, bottom, left or right.

The sad truth was his mom was a special education teacher with no clue how to help him or others with dyslexia.

In first grade, he began to have frequent migraines and was so sick on many days that he needed to leave school. That year, his teacher was not one to show compassion to those with learning disabilities, and by the end of first grade, he was convinced he would never learn to read. We decided to let him repeat first grade because certainly more time and maturity could solve the problem.

His repeat first-grade teacher was the first to mention the word “dyslexia” because she understood it– her husband was dyslexic. I had made an appointment with a pediatrician due to continued severe migraines, and after an MRI to rule out a tumor, the pediatrician suggested testing for dyslexia. Unfortunately, in the late 90s, few places offered adequate dyslexia evaluations, and a local university’s test results only stated
“pre-dyslexia.” With no roadmap to guide us, many wrong turns followed.

The Unchartered Waters Towards Diagnosis

First, we spent a year using a computer program for remediation with no results. Then, I found another “miracle” program, which promised if he could find “his mind’s eye” and create every sight word using modeling clay, he would become a reader. After those failed attempts, vision therapy requiring 4-hour round trips would be a certain cure; a year of countless hours in the car and miles on the odometer, little changed. If there were a controversial therapy, we tried it and Jacob was the poster child for it.

His third-grade teacher and I, determined to find a solution, went to a workshop held by the Mississippi Department of Education where I was introduced to the Scottish Rite Dyslexia Video Program. As a teacher at Jacob’s school, the principal offered the option for me to use the video as a pilot program for him and several other students with similar reading difficulties. After two years, he began to read functionally. Finally, something worked, but because he was still years behind his peers in reading, he was referred for a special education evaluation and qualified for specific reading disability in Basic Reading.

Fortunately, he had many caring general education and resource teachers who provided support for the remainder of elementary, middle and high school, and he graduated. However, he did not receive an official diagnosis of dyslexia until he finished junior college. Qualifying for accommodations at the university he would attend required a current evaluation, and he finally got the official diagnosis we already knew to be true—the results stated “dyslexia.”

That confirmation was a turning point for him. He said for the first time in his life he realized he was not dumb, and his dyslexia was real.

Charting Our Own Course

Through all the misguided choices I had made for Jacob, I realized I never received the reading training I needed as a special education teacher or mother of a dyslexic child. Sweet Mrs. Biddle, the star of the Scottish Rite Video Tape, became one of my best instructors, but I knew I needed much more. I received training in the Association Method with the Dubard Center at the University of Southern and eventually attended MS College where I earned my M.Ed. in Dyslexia Therapy. The knowledge and training I received from Dr. Maureen Martin, Kay Peterson, and Barbara Fox has forever changed my life and the lives of many students.

As we passed through each phase of Jacob’s journey with dyslexia, my passion for reaching and remediating other dyslexic students grew.

By the time he reached high school, I was offered the opportunity to become a Qualified Instructor. In 2008, MS Band of Choctaw Indians School System hired me to start a pilot program in dyslexia therapy, and over a 10-year period, this led to eight dyslexia therapists serving approximately 180 to 200 kindergarten to high school students per year. In 2013, my efforts have multiplied through training teachers to earn their M.Ed. in Dyslexia Therapy through Mississippi College’s satellite center at Blue Mountain College, MS.

This year, I took a leap of faith, branched out, and have begun a dyslexia therapy program for a public- school district, Neshoba County, at the elementary and middle school campuses. Through this endeavor, I was able to write a grant through an MS Department of Education initiative to offer opportunities for dyslexia therapy in the public school system. Hopefully, this will open doors for an expansion of dyslexia therapy within the school system.

Are We There Yet?

Our family adventures with dyslexia continue to have a ripple effect. My daughter, Mindy Walker, joined the fight to help high school students with dyslexia learn to read after witnessing her brother’s struggles and seeing a desperate need among her high school English students. She entered the M.Ed. Dyslexia Therapy Program while I was in QI training and became a CALT in 2013. As an Army wife, she has spent the last seven years as a district lead dyslexia therapist at Copperas Cove High School in Copperas Cove, Texas. By combining elements of Alphabetic Phonics and Take Flight with secondary-level activities, she has created a high school dyslexia therapy curriculum for 9th – 12th-grade dyslexic students.

As for Jacob, he has defied odds by graduating high school and completing an undergraduate degree in education, both with honors, and has graduated with an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership. As he completes his fourth year teaching science and coaching high school football this year, he has become quite the advocate for dyslexia awareness at his school. One of the most memorable moments for me was being able to witness him in action as he calmed the nerves of a parent of a dyslexic son by giving words of encouragement.

So, “are we there yet?” No, not yet, and we’ve learned to embrace that—we’re learning to take in the sights and experiences we encounter along the way in order to chart a roadmap for others who find themselves on a similar journey.


Mary Lou Johnson, M.S., CALT-QI

Adjunct Instructor for the Mississippi College Dyslexia Master of Education Program at Blue Mountain College campus, and lead dyslexia therapist at Neshoba Central Public Schools in Philadelphia, Mississippi.


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