The Non-Expert

A non-expert helped open my eyes to a problem. I had felt like a non-expert in education (not being a tenured teacher or an administrator).While I had two credentials and three degrees, I learned about dyslexia outside the school system. I started my own business to reach the larger population of dyslexic students and was certified as an Educational Therapist with the Association of Educational Therapists (AET). Despite all these, I felt like a non-expert.

The non-expert who helped me tremendously was my pharmacist. When my son, Richard, was in middle school, he developed a terrible toenail fungus on his big toe. He wouldn’t go barefoot or wear sandals. I saw this at the beach. He was embarrassed to wear sandals and was in pain. I took Richard to a podiatrist who gave him a topical cream, and lectured him saying, “Your toenail will fall off if you don’t use the cream, and that will be the end of sports for you.” Richie struggled to put the cream on, but did, day and night, yet we saw no results. He finally finished a tube and I went to get another; maybe the second tube would kick in and heal his toenail.

I told the pharmacist about my son’s toenail fungus problem and he told me in confidence, “Ketoconazole will heal the toenail fungus; tell your doctor you want a prescription of it.” I gave the name ‘Ketoconazole’ to our podiatrist and he promptly wrote my son a prescription. Ketoconazole was not a cream but a capsule and we witnessed a remarkable improvement, perhaps 50%, after the first month! A new toenail began to grow. I can’t recall if it was under the old or began at the base, but soon the new toenail covered half his big toe. After two months, his toenail had grown back to about 90%. The fungus toenail was gone in 3 months! I took pictures of Richard’s toe before and after three months and the podiatrist was shocked! He said, “I never saw this before!” We baffled the expert.

I learned about dyslexia in my third teaching year. I switched from teaching general education to teaching Special Education, because of my passion to help the at-risk students. My professor at Azusa Pacific University, Elizabeth Acevedo, encouraged me to join two professional organizations: The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and The Association of Educational Therapists (AET). Elizabeth, or Toni to me, was the wind beneath my wings. She was my Masters Teacher and she encouraged me to get my Doctorate Degree after I earned my Masters Degree. She assured me, “One day you will get your Doctorate, and be on the school board and be able to make changes in the district.”

The IDA and AET were the first to inform me about dyslexia and the remediation to help this population of non-readers. I was surprised to see that dyslexic students were bright people. In my third year of teaching, which was my first year teaching Special Education, I had an emergency credential. I taught middle school Math and Pre-Algebra to the 8th graders. The word problems were difficult for special education students and many acted out their frustration in bad behavior. Many of them had low self- esteem and a great deal of frustration.”

Steve Blake was my Special Education mentor at the time and his daughter, Jennifer, was in my math class. He spoke freely to me of her dyslexia and I shared what I was learning in IDA and AET. “She seems so normal,” I told him. “What did you expect, a drooling kid?” he asked. Actually, I did. I had a memory of the Special Education kids at church who were in wheel chairs and drooled. I had no idea what to expect. Though now I know those who were in wheel chairs and drooled were Moderate-to-Severe Special Education students. The Mild-to -Moderate students are the ones I love to teach, many who have processing and phonological deficits, and most of whom are the dyslexic students. In my fourth year of teaching, I taught second to fifth graders in Special Education. I learned the value of teaching students how to recognize first and last letter sounds. I’d put pictures on the floor, and say, “Find the picture that starts with ‘f’ ’ then ‘s’. Find the picture with the last letter of ‘p’ or ‘w’.’” Then I learned about substituting first, last, and vowel letters and sounds in words. Beginning sounds would change like this: far – car – bar – tar. Vowel sounds would change like this: cat – cot – cut. Ending sounds would change like this: car – cat – can. These substitutions are not difficult for the normal reader to make, but they are for a dyslexic student.

Recently, I ran into Denzel at the Get Fit Gym, and I also ran into Cindy’s mom, the same week. Denzel and Cindy were students in my class when I taught second graders in a pull-out class for reading and math. I felt it was providential and it raised my spirit. Both students benefited from the processes I described above; these processes involved phonemic and multisensory techniques. One night my husband and I went to Target. We joked about getting a Starbucks and calling it a date night. As we sat to chat, a woman came over to me, “Ms. Cintron, is that you? I’m Janet Jones. You taught my daughter Cindy; she was in your second grade pull-out class. You did such great work with her! She’s in college now. We live in Arizona now and I’m in town for a week. I’m so glad to run into you! Thank you for all you’ve done for Cindy!”

Then, I ran into Denzel at the gym. This muscular football player approached me asking, “Ms. Cintron, is that you? I’m Denzel! You taught me in the second grade! You were great! I learned so well after you taught me and I went to college. And now I’m studying to be a pastor!” I told him about my work with dyslexic children and he was so excited. “God is using you!” he exclaimed. I recently ran into Denzel at Fit Gym. He is now a personal trainer and working at Target. His vision has changed a bit, but his self- confidence and drive have increased. It was so exciting to see this. Keep in mind, Denzel was a student I taught before learning about Enhanced Lateralization (EL). He would have learned at an accelerated rate had I known then what I learned later.

The techniques I used worked, but I knew there was still one missing link. The missing link was MUSIC. I learned this the following year when I taught at Foothill Christian School and had time to explore what I was learning from AET and IDA.

I share these stories because I was teaching techniques that worked: multi-sensory techniques and phonics. Then I learned about using MUSIC. The teachers are our heroes for all they do, but they are not the experts of dyslexia. Some even have dyslexia themselves. Until they’re trained in teaching phonics, they don’t know how to help the nonreaders. The school psychologists and speech pathologists are becoming more familiar with dyslexia, but their plates are so full testing students who are failing classes or who already have Individual Education Plans (IEP). The schools need the help of the dyslexia consultants like myself. We can help make assessment and intervention happen.

The waiting time to have your child tested for dyslexia is 60 days, after you write the school a letter. Teachers won’t refer your child; you have to request that they be assessed. If your child has an IEP, you must bring up your concerns about dyslexia immediately.