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Advocating for dyslexia

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From top-right, clockwise: Sharon Gurney, Kathleen Reid, and Jennifer Moncrieff — the founders of the Dyslexia Champions of Manitoba — with reading clinician Christine van de Vijsel.

STEPH CROSIER Enlarge Image

From top-right, clockwise: Sharon Gurney, Kathleen Reid, and Jennifer Moncrieff — the founders of the Dyslexia Champions of Manitoba — with reading clinician Christine van de Vijsel. Photo Store

Sharon Gurney watched as her son grew up dominating at hockey but faltering in front of a book.

"My son’s difficulties started right in Grade 1, when he started to read and I recognized that he had a learning disability," said Gurney. "But it was not diagnosed until the end of Grade 6."

Though her son Calvin, now 13, went through tests during elementary school, when the diagnosis finally came it was like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.

"We were both incredibly relieved," said Gurney. "Because then we had a path for him. We now knew how to help him."

Gurney brought her son to reading clinician Christine van de Vijsel. There, she met Kathleen Reid and Jennifer Moncrieff. Together they decided to create the Dyslexia Champions of Manitoba.

Affiliated with the International Dyslexia Association’s Upper Midwest Branch, the group hosted "Dyslexia 101: An Information Evening for Parents and Teachers" on Oct. 17 at Linden Christian School.

"It went really well," said Gurney. "Over 100 people came and we had some really excellent feedback."

At the presentation, Reid’s daughter Jillian, 17, spoke about her experiences growing up and attending St. Mary’s Academy with dyslexia.

Kathleen and her husband noticed Jillian had issues reading, but it wasn’t until a neighbour mentioned the possibility of dyslexia that the Reids had van de Vijsel over for dinner.

"She started to ask Jillian questions and Jillian started to cry because she was touching on everything Jillian found difficult," said Kathleen. "Sure enough we get her tested, and I was thinking she was mild, but no, she was moderate."

Van de Vijsel said the most common misconception of dyslexia is that it doesn’t exist. At the presentation, Gurney said some parents and teachers who attended were told by professionals that it is fake.

"We want to build bridges with the people saying this," said Gurney. "We don’t want to be adversarial, but we will be strong advocates."

Van de Vijel said dyslexia has nothing to do with whether or not a child is lazy, but how the pathways in their brains work.

"Parents will say to their children ‘Well you just have to work harder,’" said Van de Vijel. "But I tell them that their child is often working harder than everyone else."

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