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ESE504 : The Class : Advanced CD : Dyslexia

Dyslexia sample case study

Case Study – “Katie” by Ashley Rutledge, NAU student

The words just zoomed right by. They were taken in, processed, and filed away. Now on to the next sentence. And the next and the next and the next, never really pausing. Reading was something that came naturally, something that I’d been doing almost automatically since age 6. But for some people it wasn’t and isn’t so easy. Dyslexia and other severe reading disabilities are something very real, something 17 percent to 20 percent of children experience (National Center for Learning Disabilities, 1999).

Enter “Katie,” a 19-year old young woman who has been living with the effects of dyslexia since age 5, even though she was not formally diagnosed until age 17. Katie is from Tempe, Arizona where she has lived with her mother, father, and younger brother for her entire life. Both of her parents are teachers; her father teaches music at various grade levels and her mother is a librarian at a local high school. Katie’s younger brother is 14 and in the 8th grade. Katie graduated high school in the top of her class and is now an honors student at the college she attends.

Obviously then, Katie’s family places a large emphasis on education. However, she describes her family as being torn on the issue of grades and learning. “My dad was the one who cared about learning. He also has symptoms of dyslexia, even though he has never formally been diagnosed. So I think that’s where his emphasis on learning came from; he could understand. But my mom cared about the grades. I could have been held back a couple of times because I really wasn’t learning anything, I was just memorizing answers to get by, but she didn’t want me to because of the stigma of being held back.” Katie also described the extreme intelligence of her younger brother as being somewhat of an obstacle. She remembers being embarrassed about having to ask him how to spell words, even though he is 6 years younger. Fortunately though, her parents never compared the two children in terms of their academics. “I would have lost,” Katie says.

Looking back on her early education, Katie cringes. She has memories as early as preschool of not being able to understand the alphabet. “I just didn’t understand the concept of letters,” she says. “The order, the sounds, recognizing them on paper, the whole thing just confused me.” As a result, she cried frequently. And the older she got, the more frustrated she became. She says that she was “pretty much okay with the progress of things until [she] realized that [she] was way far behind everyone else. They all understood.” And she didn’t, and her self-worth plunged. Katie recollects that she just felt so stupid.

When asked about specific memories from her educational experience, Katie is quick to recall. “Second grade is a time that particularly stands out. My teacher, Mrs. Cates, had divided us into reading groups according to our current reading level. There was the smart group, the mediocre group, and the dumb group. I was obviously in the dumb group but by the end of the first week Mrs. Cates had kicked me out. She didn’t even bother to ask me why I was struggling or offer me any extra help. She just made me sit outside while everyone else read. It was like she didn’t even care. She had no patience, and looking back, she almost made it a point to ignore me and be negative towards me. She had the opportunity to diagnose me because of my obvious struggles but she didn’t. And I missed out.”

Regardless of such constant negative experiences, Katie looks back at her education with a smile. She has become a stronger person because of what she has faced, and ultimately, Katie feels that is so much more important than the people she had to deal with are. Indirectly, they taught her not to feel sorry for her self and to persevere. “But the good teachers were the ones who cared about me as a person first, and then worried about my disorder. They made me think, not just memorize facts so that I could move on at the end of the year.”

According to the International Dyslexia Association, individuals diagnosed with dyslexia are in need of a structured language program. They “require multi-sensory delivery of language content. Instruction that is multi-sensory employs all pathways of learning – at the same time, seeing, hearing, touching writing, and speaking.” In Katie’s case, seeing and hearing were the only two methods applied, which was not sufficient for her.

Her teachers failed to use all the senses when teaching reading. But this may not be entirely their fault. A suitable teacher for students with dyslexia “is specifically trained in a program which research has documented to be effective for dyslexic individuals” (International Dyslexia Association, 1996). Students who have not yet been diagnosed coupled with teachers who do not have the necessary training are a bad combination. While non-field-specific teachers are not required to have extensive knowledge of Special Education categories, a general knowledge of symptoms is helpful.

Listening to Katie and hearing the pain she endured during her early education totally inspired me. I may not plan to become a Special Education teacher, but I plan to know enough to help the students I feel are at-risk for special needs. The ignorance and impatience of Katie’s teachers opened my eyes to a world I had never experienced. At the 1999 National Summit on Research in Learning Disabilities, the National Center for Learning Disabilities stated that “one factor the impedes effective instruction with children at risk for reading failure is current teacher preparation practices. Many teachers have not had the opportunity to develop basic knowledge about the structure of the English language, reading development, and the nature of reading difficulties.” As a whole, teachers need to make a massive and genuine effort to overcome this problem for the well being of our students.


Alexander, Duane. National Center for Learning Disabilities. (1999). The NICHD research program in reading development, reading disorders and reading instruction. Keys to Successful Learning: A National Summit on Research in Learning Disabilities. Online publication:

The International Dyslexia Association. (1996). General Information About Dyslexia. Online publication:

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