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Sisters working together to give hope to children with dyslexia in Manteca
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Sisters in education, Alexandra Gass and Denise Clark, focus on helping children to conquer reading problems caused by dyslexia, giving them the ability to succeed through their Valley Dyslexia Services. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Two sisters with college degrees in education are working to help Manteca area children through their Valley Dyslexia Services.

Alexandra Gass and Denise Clark set out several years ago in their quest to help children to overcome their difficulties in reading – one out of five has some level of dyslexia – caused by an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read and to function.

Much of the payback for their work is seeing children’s faces light up when life is easier and their progress shows up with higher grades on their report cards.

“We are working together because we are sisters and we have the same goals in mind,” Clark said.  The two teachers have found that children are often teased intensely in school because of their dyslexia, causing them not to want to repeat their embarrassments by going to school any longer. 

Gass added that dyslexia is not something that you suddenly find you have and determine that you are doomed.  It comes in four levels from mild to moderate and severe to profound with children needing to be tested by the time they turn five years old.  They can be tested at any age, however.  The first clue that a child has dyslexia comes from any three of the following symptoms.

• Delayed speech

• mixing up sounds in multi-syllabic words such a bisghetti for spaghetti, aminal for animal.

• early stuttering

•  many ear infections

•  inability to tie a shoe

• confusion over left versus right, over versus under, before versus after and other directionality words or concepts,

• late in establishing a dominant hand

• difficulty in rhyming words such as cat, hat, bat,

• difficulty learning the names of the letters and the sounds of letters and difficulty in writing the alphabet in order.

“People with Dyslexia are very, very intelligent,” Gass said.  Her sister interjected, “You don’t have it, then get cured.  You will always have it – you just learn to read.  You learn the tools.  You learn the coping strategies.  You might always be a slow reader, but you will read and you will comprehend what you read.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stipulated that dyslexia is neurological in origin and characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Secondary issues may include problems in reading comprehension.

The two educators stressed that dyslexia is not a lack of motivation or intelligence and it is not a visual problem seeing words or letters backwards.  Children seem to make it through the third grade until they are faced with a curriculum that involves more reading and reading in chapter format with fewer photos and drawings in their books.

Clark came to Manteca from Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in literacy.  In addition to a full-time job as a receptionist, she is tutoring four boys twice a week in one-on-one, hour-long sessions, teaching them to overcome their dyslexia.  She had been planning to substitute teach  until the economy took a nosedive and she found an office job.

Gass is currently student teaching in a Special Education class at a local  elementary school on the last leg of her years of education towards her Special Education credential and her Master’s Degree in Special Education that she will receive in December.

Clark said they can teach anyone to read at any age.  Both women took a 48-hour graduate seminar course in how to diagnose dyslexia three years ago.

“We do free consultations, and if they choose to be tested, we can test,” she said.     

Gass said the greater expense comes when a complete and full report is required that parents must have to take to their students’ schools for an IEP review that will ultimately allow for accommodations in the classroom.  Many with dyslexia should not be required to attempt reading or writing down work from a black board, reading aloud in class or taking timed tests, she insisted.

She further explained that when children are allowed those in class accommodations,  it may take them as much as a year and a half to three years to catch up with their grade level until they won’t need that classroom assistance any longer.

There have been many famous people over the years with dyslexia proving the intelligence factor of its victims dating back in history. Included in the group are Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Leonardo de Vinci, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, magic Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone, Jay Leno, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Orlando Bloom, Patrick Dempsey and Keira Knightly.

Gass can be reached at (209) 679-0824 while Clark is at (720) 334-0341.