It wasn’t until his early 40s that Rich Styles discovered that he was dyslexic.
When Styles, who had started taking a college-level theology course through his church, struggled in class, he was encouraged to meet with a tutor. It didn’t take long for her to give him the news: He suffered from a reading developmental issue called dyslexia.
“I thought, 'Well, that explains a lot,'” he said, thinking back to his lifelong struggle with reading and writing and turbulent school days.
Styles’ story is not uncommon, said Judy Watkins, owner of Watkins Tutoring. Many kids are not diagnosed or treated properly. But unlike Styles, many struggle through school and life without ever knowing why.
Dyslexia is a developmental reading disorder, which often includes difficulty with learning to read fluently and comprehending accurately. According to the National Institutes of Health, 20 percent of the population is affected by dyslexia.
Being dyslexic means that the brain processes language differently, Watkins said.
“Some can get by without help and others have to be taught differently or they can’t learn,” she added.
Watkins Tutoring is co-hosting a free dyslexia seminar this week with Rapid City Dyslexia Care. Susan Barton, an internationally known dyslexia specialist, will present from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, at the Elks Theatre in Rapid City.
Barton first started her work in the dyslexia field after watching her nephew struggle in school. She became so interested in helping him succeed that she changed fields and received training to work with dyslexic adults. She eventually was hired at a clinic for dyslexic children, but became frustrated during meetings with school professionals who were not up to date on research-based information on dyslexia.
In 1998, she founded Bright Start Solutions for Dyslexia, which focuses on educating parents and teachers about causes, symptoms and solutions for children and adults with dyslexia.
“She has spent so much time helping people,” said Watkins, who uses Barton’s methods when tutoring dyslexic kids and adults. “She’s showing that there are things we can do to help these kids succeed.”
Ariel Natier appreciates the hard work. Natier’s 15-year-old daughter has dyslexia and has been tutored by Watkins for a year and a half. She has seen success with Barton’s methods.
“I’ve seen a boost in confidence, an increase in her grades,” Natier said.
But it was a long, frustrating journey to get to this point. Her daughter went back and forth from public to private school after Natier said she couldn’t get public school officials to help when her daughter started falling behind.
“In second grade, I knew there were issues,” she said, but a 10-question test by the school ruled out dyslexia.
That is a problem, Watkins said, because a simple test may only reveal when a student is severely dyslexic.
Natier's daughter is now in private school and Natier is convinced that more public awareness and education for parents and school officials would help more students. She said she wished they would have known about her condition much earlier.
“By the time they’re 14, their confidence is shot,” she said. “I watched her go from a bubbly kid to, ‘I’m not smart. I’m dumb.’ It’s defeating to see your child struggle and not know how to help them.”
It wasn’t uncommon, Natier said, for them to stay up until midnight working on homework.
Styles, who now runs his own delivery service, remembers working hard to stay afloat in school.
“I worked my tail off,” he said. “My mom helped me every second she could. I graduated, but not the way I was supposed to. I was a person they passed through because they were sick of me.”
More education for teachers and parents is desperately needed, he said.
“I always told everybody I was dyslexic, but I didn’t know what it meant,” he said. “They just think you’re a bad kid or you’re dumb.”
Now as a father and a foster parent, Styles said he knows what symptoms to look for in children. Symptoms sometimes include one of the very things he did when he couldn’t read: goof around in class.
Styles continued his tutoring with Watkins until he graduated from his college course. He said it was time well spent, but there are still moments when he struggles.
“It takes my wife five minutes to read something and she’s got it in her head,” he said. “It takes me a half an hour.”
Styles is an example of the ways that students and adults cope, Watkins said.
“They are determined and they find what they are good at and they work so hard at it,” she said. “They are creative; they are often the ones who think outside of the box. We are losing them because they fall through the cracks.”
It was one of his coping mechanisms that first helped Styles when he was dating his wife.
“I’m gifted in other areas; when we met, I was using words she had to look up,” he said. “It’s one of the ways we cope.”