October 28 - November 4, 1998

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YMCA Program Helps Adults with Learning Disabilities

by Kara Hood

What would life be like if you were unable to read a menu, a job application or even the label on a jar of aspirin? For thousands of Americans, these seemingly simple tasks are all but impossible. Many people have difficulty reading and writing because they suffer from a learning disability that was not diagnosed while they were in school. With special help, however, these people can learn to read and write as well as anyone.

Among the places in the Hartford area where that help can be found is the "Read to Succeed" program at the Greater Hartford YMCA. Established in 1989, the program is designed specifically for adults with reading disabilities, said Program Director Melody Kinder.

Learning disabilities are more widespread than many people believe. In fact, about one out of every six people in the United States, including Tom Hanks, Cher and Robin Williams, have a learning disability called dyslexia. One of the most prevalent types of learning disabilities, dyslexia affects an individual's ability to develop skills related to reading, including spelling and writing.

In 1998, the National Institute for Literacy (NIL) reported that overall, 16 percent of adults living in Connecticut - and 41 percent of those living in Hartford - are functioning at the lowest literacy level. At this level, most people are unable to read or write well enough to understand an ATM screen or to take down a simple telephone message.

People who have a learning disability "need to be taught differently than others because they process information in a different way," said Kinder. Read to Succeed combines computer programs with sessions of one-to-one tutoring. Students attend classes four days a week, two hours a day, either at night or during the day. Read to Succeed is a two-year program and the average improvement is four grades per year.

Kinder said the average Read to Succeed student is 40 years old and 75 percent have graduated from high school. Many have college degrees. However, despite their diplomas, 67 percent enter the program reading at less then a fifth grade level.

Three years ago "Joe," a Hartford resident was a part of these statistics, said Kinder.

Joe graduated from a local public high school, where he played football and learned to get by. Joe knew he had a problem from the first time he tried to read. When he enrolled in the Read to Succeed program at age 40, he was reading at a third grade level.

As is often the case because learning disabilities are inherited genetically, Joe's sister had difficulty learning to read as well. Unfortunately, she did not have a sport to help her "get by" and so she dropped out. Kinder said this is the case for many kids affected with reading disabilities - dropping out of school out of frustration and in order to prevent themselves from embarrassment.

Joe said he looked into local literacy programs that were not designed specifically for people with learning disabilities. However, because Joe has an above average level of intelligence, the programs were too easy. Upon completing one of the programs, he was still not at the level of reading he desired.

Finally, Joe went for a free screening at the Read to Succeed program, found out what his problem was and enrolled. After three years, having taken some time off in between, Joe is now on his last book. He will graduate shortly, along with 15 or so other students. Having entered the program reading at a third grade level, he is now reading at the level of a junior in college. As he explained, "the more I read, the better I get."

The Read to Succeed program is equipped for about 30 students, with 15 graduating annually.

Poor spelling, mispronunciation of some words and the reversing of letters or numbers are indicators that someone has a reading disability.
If this is the case for you or someone you know, or if you are interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, call Read to Succeed at 522- 4183, ext. 322.

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