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Dyslexia rally seeks to boost awareness Parents gather at legislature

ABOUT 50 parents rallied at the Manitoba legislature Saturday to raise awareness about dyslexia, a learning disability that affects one out of five Canadians.

The fact MLAs and cabinet ministers, off for the weekend, didn't hear the speeches on the stone steps made no difference, one organizer said.

The rally was for the kids, with dyslexia, who came out to the event with their parents.

Many carried homemade cardboard signs decorated with glitter and printed in bright markers with the same simple slogan. It read: "Dyslexia is a gift."

"This is the first year anything has been done to mark October as Dyslexia Awareness Month. The intention is for the kids to celebrate it because they often feel bad because school is so hard," organizer Cheryl Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann, the mother of a daughter born with the condition, ended up establishing her own program outside the classroom to get her girl through high school. Kristen, 19, is now enrolled in college.

Seven years ago, Hoffman founded a private learning centre called the KC Dyslexic Learning Centre for families such as hers. This year, 300 students are enrolled in classes.

The learning centre sponsors presentations in Manitoba schools, offering tips to help teachers spot kids with the condition and suggesting ways they can accommodate those students by modifying their teaching styles.

The centre works with about five schools within city limits and another half dozen elsewhere in rural Manitoba, Hoffmann said.

In Manitoba, students have the right to an education appropriate to their needs, abilities and disabilities under the Public School Act.

School divisions are required to consider reasonable options, such as support in a regular classroom, or a special-education program, says to a 2011 Manitoba pamphlet posted online called the Rights of Youth.

The problem is schools don't always catch the warning signs of the learning disability, Hoffmann said.

Bradly Scott, 24, didn't find out he had dyslexia until he met Hoffman two years ago. It helped explain why he had a hard time in school, eventually dropping out in frustration.

He attended the rally with his family, including his four-month-old daughter, Mercedes.

Hoffmann pointed to the small sign on the little stick Scott held for his daughter. It read "There's a 50/50 chance I'll have dyslexia."

Dyslexia is genetic and early diagnosis, sometimes possible by the age of three, can spare heartache and worse for parents and their children. It affects 20 per cent of the population in varying degrees of severity.

"I was in between a lot of schools, growing up," Scott said, cradling the infant girl in his arms. "Ten to 15 different high schools," he added.

"I didn't understand a lot of the school work and I didn't know why... the teachers figured I was acting out and angry," Scott added.

He said he would like Mercedes to get a better shot at school than he did. Right now, he works as a labourer.

"Now that I know, I'd like to go back to school, and I'd like her to attend the dyslexia learning centre," the young dad said.

Dyslexia is a cluster of disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols, but do not affect general intelligence.

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