Guest Editorial: Dyslexia needs to be diagnosed early
November 11, 2014
Recently, The Park Record ran an Op-Ed piece on dyslexia written by Park City resident Elissa Aten. In hopes of spreading awareness about dyslexia and the struggles faced without early detection, I would like to share the story of our son, Joseph James Morelli, who died in a car crash at the age of 20. Joseph was severely dyslexic and, despite showing obvious signs of his learning disorder early on, his dyslexia was not identified until he was a high school freshman. Once he was diagnosed with dyslexia and provided appropriate and effective accommodations in school, Joseph thrived. We wish he hadn’t struggled for all those years prior to receiving help.
We moved to Park City in 2010 when Joseph was a junior. Joseph had been diagnosed as dyslexic a year prior and came to Park City schools with an IEP in place. With IEP accommodations, extra time and having tests read, Joseph earned high honors, a Utah ACT achievement award, and a WUE scholarship to Montana State University for Engineering. Despite these incredible achievements, Joseph was still only reading at a 6th grade level in 12th grade.
Ever since kindergarten, Joseph struggled with spelling, reading, and English; however, he typically excelled in math. In freshman fall, his math grades also fell to below-average (going from an A to a C). Later, we would realize that this was due to all the math WORD problems. Not only was Joseph failing scholastically, his self-esteem was nonexistent. He thought he was stupid and a failure. He had trouble sleeping and became withdrawn. He experienced panic attacks, headaches, ringing in his ears, shortness of breath and heart palpitations.
The NY guidance counselor and teachers insisted he was smart, but just was not "trying hard enough." They refused to consider a learning issue as they insisted that they "would have picked it up sooner and he was an ‘average’ student." The school counselor even suggested to us that Joseph "was not high school material and should be pulled out and placed in technical school."
With the insistence of our pediatrician and concerned for Joseph’s well-being , Joseph underwent private neuropsychology and auditory testing, and after 9 years of frustration, we FINALLY had an explanation. Joseph was extremely intelligent but also extremely dyslexic, compounded with an auditory processing disability.
As we learned more about dyslexia, we realized that Joseph had long displayed typical signs of this common condition, including being slow to speak, struggling to read instructions and maps, and poor reading compression. We felt like failures as parents. If we had not learned that Joseph was dyslexic, he easily would have been another statistic and a high school failure. Instead, Joseph went on to accomplish and live life to the fullest. He was killed suddenly in a car accident on Sept. 6, 2014. Thankfully, he had learned that he was smart, he had become truly happy and he knew that he could be successful!
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We all have to be advocates for our children. We must ask the tough questions and sometimes we become the parent "everyone knows." Our public school systems are not doing an adequate job in early identification and intervention with respect to reading disorders. Smart children with dyslexia are overlooked. These children develop coping skills and can slide by with passing grades yet struggle terribly.
In celebration of Joseph’s life, challenges and amazing accomplishments, we have founded the Joseph James Morelli Scholarship Fund. http://www.theparkcityfoundation.org/Donors/JosephJamesMorelliScholarshipFund . This fund will allow his life and spirit to live on by helping other high students with learning challenges. Through scholarships, we will be able to assist other learning disabled students pursuing a career in science and/or engineering. We are extremely thankful to all of our friends and community members who have supported us and donated thus far.