A frustrated, young girl fights dyslexia.

Lindsey Ballenger and her partner, Renee McCaslin are on a mission. Both mothers, they noticed that there was a real need for more professionals who specialized in educating dyslexic children. Together, they co-founded the Orton-Gillingham Center of Charleston, an independent 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to elevating the Orton-Gillingham approach in the Lowcountry.

Orton-Gillingham is intended primarily for use with individuals who have difficulty reading, spelling and writing because of dyslexia. It is most properly understood and practiced as an approach, not a program or system. In the hands of a well-trained and experienced instructor, it is a powerful tool of exceptional breadth, depth and flexibility.

By training more professionals and ensuring the completion of the accreditation process through The Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, Ballenger, McCaslin and a team of others are making this learning approach more readily available in Charleston.

"We have a heart to help more children who struggle to read, and we can do this if we have more professionals working with our schools to provide the additional assistance," Ballenger said.

"The need right now is overwhelming. There is more awareness now than ever for dyslexia, and, as more parents seek resources to help their children, there is a need for more accredited professionals who can work with children who show dyslexic tendencies. These professionals are in high demand. Most have waiting lists," she added.

McCaslin said she knows there are plenty of teachers in the community interested in this training, and she is excited to make this happen in 2019. The initial associates' level training can typically take one year, which includes a practicum similar to student teaching.

The ultimate goal, however, is to train more teachers in local schools so everyone has access to this systematic literacy approach.

Early intervention is the key. According to the Orton-Gillingham Center of Charleston website, as many as 20 percent of schoolchildren may be dyslexic, but the problem is not always detected. Another alarming statistic is that as many at 80 percent of students with learning disabilities actually have dyslexia. The National Institutes of Health said that dyslexia is identifiable with 92 percent accuracy at the age of 5-and-a-half.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. According to the OGCC website, it is characterized by difficulties with accuracy and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Despite conventional classroom experiences, students with dyslexia fail to attain the language skills of reading, writing and spelling that commensurate with their intellectual abilities.

Ballenger explained, "Dyslexia is a not a word that has always been used, especially in schools. It is also referred to as a specific learning disability in reading. Receiving a diagnosis at school can be difficult."

Orton-Gillingham practitioners are trained to work with the dyslexic learner, yet this systematic literacy approach can be incorporated into general education classrooms, which will help all students. The lessons follow a progression of skills addressing phonemic awareness, phonics, word analysis, text, reading, fluency, vocabulary, handwriting, spelling and the written language. The instruction is carefully paced and teaches reading, spelling and writing as an integrated whole.

Ballenger and McCaslin hope to begin awarding training scholarships in 2019 and will begin seeking donors and partnerships to make this happen.

For more information on upcoming training opportunities, the Orton-Gillingham Center of Charleston, located at 641 McCants Drive in Mount Pleasant, will host an information session on Jan. 10 at 6 p.m. Advanced registration is required. For more information, visit www.ogcharleston.com.

By Theresa Stratford

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