Student with dyslexia finds help through music

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — For Katie Roddy, there is no such thing as seeing a word and sounding it out.

Like others with dyslexia, Roddy’s brain processes words differently.

She knows that now, at age 16. But as a young child, how do you explain to your well-meaning teachers and parents that you can’t put letters together into sounds? Instead, you have to memorize the shape of every single word.

“I still remember some nights, in like third grade, I had meltdown after meltdown,” Roddy said. “I was like, ‘I can’t get it! I’m dumb! I can’t do this!’ “

Relief from her learning disability, though, came in music class at Johnnycake Corners Elementary in the Olentangy school district. There, Matt Parker taught the students using the solfege method, which assigns a syllable to each note on a scale. Instead of asking the students to recognize a note as an A or B, for example, students sing “do” and “re.” Hand motions also are incorporated — a different motion for each note or word.

It resonated with Roddy immediately.

“Music is like a different part of my brain, where I don’t have to think about the words I’m singing,” she said. “I put that word to that note. It was more of teaching us by voice versus reading a book, and that’s when it started clicking.”

By the end of fourth grade, the Roddy family had received an official diagnosis of dyslexia, and, eventually, Roddy shed the anxiety that had built up through her struggles. Music was key to her progress.

In 2016, she joined the Columbus Children’s Choir, a group of seven choirs sorted by age and ability for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Now a rising junior at Olentangy Berlin High School, Roddy is entering her third season in New World Singers, the choir’s top group.

Earlier this year, she entered an essay contest conducted by the children’s choir, with choir scholarships the prize for two winners. Roddy wrote about how music helped her cope with dyslexia. She won one of the scholarships — $705, covering her full choir tuition this year — and agreed to let choir officials post her essay on their website.

“She’s a very confident young lady,” said Jeanne Wohlgamuth, the choir’s artistic director. “It’s funny to think that she has this educational issue (with dyslexia) because you would never know it.

“She sings well and is not afraid to be criticized. She always has a smile on her face and never seems to be frustrated.”

Frustration is common among those with dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that has no cure. The International Dyslexia Association estimates that as many as 15 percent to 20 percent of people have some of the symptoms.

Once a diagnosis is made, students are qualified for accommodations in the classroom. In Roddy’s case, she is allowed to use “text-to-speech” programs and wear earbuds in class. She also often is allowed extra time to complete tests, particularly those involving essays.

Music plays a role in her coping in many of her classes, Roddy said. She makes up “little songs” to help her remember things in her schoolwork — particularly in history, which is full of unfamiliar proper names.

Roddy isn’t the only one with dyslexia who has been helped through music education. A 2014 study conducted in the United Kingdom found that childhood music training can improve the sound-to-language processing skills that those with dyslexia struggle with.

Blythe Wood, vice president of the board of directors for the central Ohio chapter of the International Dyslexia Association, explained that people with dyslexia often use auditory cues to aid in reading and comprehension.

“Students may have to put rhythm to words, or patterns to words,” said Wood, who works in the special-education department in the Pickerington school district. “I have a little guy (with dyslexia) who’s really into physical activity, so I take an activity to help him remember words. Like for this word, he does a jumping jack, or for another, he does an uppercut (punching motion).”

Roddy has a 3.5 grade-point average and is interested in possibly pursuing a career in forensic science.

“I’m just so proud of her,” said her mother, Julie Roddy, who, with husband Mike, also has two younger children. “She found the strength inside of her to push past this and go, ‘Yeah, whatever, I’ll keep moving forward.’ “

Katie Roddy, who said she still has to memorize the shape of every word she sees, said where once she was embarrassed by the fact that she needed accommodations in school, she now has reached the point of acceptance.

“It will never go away, so I’m at a point where I don’t care if people know anymore,” she said.

And by putting her struggles out there publicly through her essay, she hopes to encourage others.

“When you’re growing up hearing, ‘Oh, you have dyslexia,’ I never had anyone who was dyslexic say, ‘It’s OK, you can work through it,’ or tell me how to work around it,” she said. “So if this can help any other kid that has dyslexia, I’d be happy.”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.


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