By Jenny Cox Holman
Dyslexia doesn’t have to spell doom
Reading to a classroom filled with third-graders, a young man named Steven dreaded their teasing and taunts. In the 1950s, Steven was the brunt of jokes as he struggled academically, and was known by his teachers as a boy that should have tried harder to do well in school.
Not knowing until adulthood that he had dyslexia, a young Steven sought a source of comfort and escape from bullying by making homemade movies.
“I have no resentment because of what I went through as a kid; I never felt like a victim. … In light of feeling like an outsider, movies made me feel inside my own skill set,” Steven said.
Despite living with dyslexia, Steven’s professional accomplishments are remarkable. As a director, producer and screenwriter, Steven Spielberg has captivated moviegoers for generations. His career spans more than four decades, with masterpieces such as the science-fiction thriller “Jaws,” the magical “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial,” the harrowing “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and the unforgettable thrillers “Jurassic Park” and “Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Dyslexia affects everyone from Hollywood celebrities to residents of the South.
Dr. Nancy Whitten New, a daughter of a farmer, has vivid memories of her and her sisters enjoying sunny afternoons playing in the cotton fields of her childhood in Avalon, Mississippi.
Beyond those fields to classrooms and communities throughout the state, Dr. New has carried with her the love for planting and cultivating — but the harvest has been one of academic and social opportunities, stability and success for all Mississippi families.
Dr. New, executive director of Families First for Mississippi, was diagnosed with dyslexia while attending The University of Southern Mississippi. It was there she received her PhD, master’s and bachelor’s of English education and educational leadership and administration. Upon graduation, Dr. New’s newfound calling was to help children with learning differences and diverse learning needs.
With dyslexia affecting 1 in 5 individuals, Dr. New recognized a need in Mississippi for dyslexia therapy.
“I understand the challenges associated with living with dyslexia. I have dedicated my career in the field of education and community service to helping families find solutions to their needs. Having lived with dyslexia fueled my passion to help others through Mississippi Dyslexia Centers to increase accessibility of services throughout our state,” Dr. New said.
Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. The problems displayed by individuals with dyslexia involve difficulties in acquiring and using written language.
Kate Sistrunk, dyslexia therapist and Mississippi Dyslexia Center coordinator, said: “We finally have a better understanding of dyslexia than we did in the past, but still now some teachers will say that the students are not trying or that they are just lazy. There is scientific proof presented in a functional MRI that shows a difference when a dyslexic student reads and a non-dyslexic student reads. Early intervention is key to success.”
In 2009, Dr. New founded the Mississippi Dyslexia Centers, which have served the needs of more than 2,000 students — 300 students annually — at five centers located in Madison, Jackson, Hattiesburg, Oxford and Greenwood. The centers offer quality dyslexia therapy to people of all ages to meet their educational needs. In partnership with New Summit School, Mississippi Dyslexia Centers offer therapy during the school day, after school and also through virtual technology.
Through her own journey with dyslexia, Dr. New hopes to encourage and support others. Her career in education, and as an advocate for Mississippi’s students with learning differences, spans nearly 40 years in educational and business settings.
“Be mindful that individuals with dyslexia are very smart, extremely creative and have a vision to see outside the box. Let those attributes and characteristics work for you and know that at Mississippi Dyslexia Centers we will serve you on your goal to lifelong success,” Dr. New said.
Mississippi Dyslexia Centers will present the 5th Annual Dyslexia Symposium on Feb. 1, 2019, at New Summit School in Jackson. The goal of the symposium is to promote dyslexia awareness to the general public as well as provide participants such as teachers and administrators with best practices for educating and advocating for individuals with dyslexia.
For more information on Mississippi Dyslexia Centers, visit msdyslexiacenter.com.
Jenny Cox Holman writes for Families First for Mississippi and enjoys writing for lifestyle and travel blogs and publications. (Use photo from December)