Sunday, July 03, 2005

Failure to treat dyslexia increases crime

Crime is neither random nor inevitable. It always occurs in a context, in particular the context of the individual who engages in it. While some bad people will choose to commit crimes no matter what, for others, changing the context of their lives early on could prevent them from ever entering the system.

That's the implication of a recent study that found the incidence of dyslexia in Texas prisons is triple the rate on the outside. Dyslexia is a reading disorder that causes a person to read letters on the page as though they're out of order, in a jumble. The Comptroller's
Fiscal Notes publication says dyslexia directly contributes to hopelessness for many Texas youth and, ultimately, to their overincarceration.

[Dyslexia Research Foundation of Texas Chairman Bill] Hilgers said the incidence level is 10 percent or higher in Texas schools and about 30 percent or higher in prisons. The students either fall behind or get put in special education classes, Hilgers said.

"They drop out or get into other problems," he said. "Some end up in the criminal justice system. It creates a psychological problem. They feel stupid because they can't read. It's psychologically deadening--children and parents are very affected by that."

McCreary said it's better if dyslexia is diagnosed early, though some students with the disorder aren't identified until after third grade.

"Sometimes it takes a long time to find out a student is struggling to read if he or she is smart enough to find ways to compensate for the disability," she said.

The ones who don't learn to read because they are "smart enough" to "compensate for their disability" perhaps consitute the greatest tragedy of all -- that's the state's talent pool falling through the cracks. Think about it: One in ten Texans, but three out of ten Texas prisoners are dyslexic?! Horrifying. That's a direct result of the failure of our schools. This is obviously an area where greater investment in education would directly lead to lower incarceration rates and improved public safety. The folks diverted from prison would be people who otherwise would only have turned to crime out of frustration and a lack of opportunities because of a learning disorder that's not their fault.

As usual, though, the issue is mainly about money, or, rather, the values behind decisions to spend it: Texas just isn't investing enough to help these kids. Reports the Comptroller:

Hilgers said students need a lot of one-on-one training to overcome dyslexia. Students need to spend an extra hour a day for two years concentrating on reading skills to offset the disability, he said. ...

"The problem with dyslexics is that kids aren't able to sound out words or decode the sounds in words effectively," [Scottish Rites Children's Hospital medical director Dr. Jeffrey] Black said. "The intensive phonics system overrides that in many cases."

"We have a really good handle on what the condition is, how to identify it and intervene," he said. "The challenge now is scaling up, preparing more teachers and identifying more children so that fewer fall through the cracks." ...

Hilgers said the problem is that many school districts don't have the funding to implement comprehensive dyslexia programs.

"Schools just don't have the funding to do that, and teachers aren't trained to teach it," he said. "We need at least 10,000 to 15,000 more teachers trained, and nobody has seen fit to provide them."

Training 10,000 teachers would take big bucks, but not nearly so much as would be saved by diverting so many otherwise non-criminally inclined dyslexics away from prison. Legislators have an opportunity to do just that. They're in a special session right now on the subject of schools, and they could easily decide to pass the needed legislation under the Governor's current "charge." Somebody needs to step up.

See Dyslexia Texas for more.


jdallen said...

Well, I am glad you cleared that up. My old house was broken into three times, and everything I had was stolen or trashed becaue the poor guys couldn't read. I knew they couldn't have been bad people, that there must have been a reason.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I guess you'd prefer they remain uneducated and unemployable? That way you can be sure they'll be back for a fourth crack at your stuff.

jdallen said...

Nah. I'd rather just shoot them, but they stole the guns the first time. I think they moved to Austin, after they left Freeport.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, the current system got your house robbed and your guns stolen, apparently with no recourse. I'm surprised you aren't looking for a better approach.

Catonya said...

never ceases to amaze many with complaints- so few willing to put forth an effort to change a broken system.
wonder if he voted in the last election?

jdallen said...

I find it really difficult to let anyone have the last word in a discussion, but it being your blog, I have to - this time. So I’ll just say just this one (approx.) thing, then shut the hell up. Also, keep in mind that I am not an attorney, so I have no idea what I am really talking about, sort of like a signing chimp.

Since pre-emptive strikes are still disallowed on a private basis last time I checked (even though on a national basis it is now open season) there is not much else one can do, in the preventative arena. So educate the hell out of those prisoners. Go for it. Maybe you can do better than the public schools, which is where they were offered instruction the first time, and instead chose to be hoodlums.

There is lots more I could say – but being relatively uneducated (To an attorney, that is.) myself, and thus only able to have incorrect opinions, I’ll just quietly fade out, without even a period to wave goodbye to

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, I'm no attorney either, JD. In fact, I never graduated college. But I'm pretty solutions oriented, and I know your guns and your willingness to shoot these thieves didn't save your stuff, so there has to be SOMETHING more helpful to try. Dyslexic kids are a pretty narrow group to target for extra resources when the payback is potentially to keep from paying $16K per year for their upkeep down the line. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think it's a bad idea.

And thanks, Cat -- now make sure you go enjoy this sunny July 4 weekend! In fact, both of you have a great holiday.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Linda, this column advocates educating dyslexic children, not "criminals." It's only a happy side effect that if more dyslexic children learned to read, fewer would commit crimes later in life. What do you have against dyslexic kids?

Anonymous said...

The links between poor reading ability and crime are very strong. Both Scottish and Swedish studys have found that 40%+ of the prison population has reading problems / dyslexia [ ]. You may also be interested in this: Is dyslexia a Gift or a Curse? [ ].

Anonymous said...

I'm appalled by some of the responses to this article, however it is typical. Despite the vast amount of reliable information the medical/research community has offered in the area of dyslexia, most people (including teachers) do not understand this disorder and it's devastating effects.

As you indicated, every criminal is not dyslexic, so the people who broke into jd allen's house may not have had dyslexia. However, I think it's sad that he's more concerned with his "stuff" than he is trying to gain insight into a very real problem. He obviously doesn't know that untreated dyslexia begins eroding the self-worth of a child at a very early age. I guess he would consider it an effective preventative measure to just go ahead and shoot these kids in first grade, so they won't grow up and steal his "stuff". After all, the price of bullets is cheaper than what it would cost school districts to provide appropriate reading instruction for dyslexic students.

This is also an area where jd is showing his ignorance about the education of dyslexics. He says the public schools offered them instruction the first time, and they chose to be hoodlums. That's the problem. The public schools are not offering the kind of instruction that is proven to be effective for dyslexic students. Why? Because they would rather pay for more prisons later than part with the money now. BTW, did you know that Texas & California are using the failure rate of 3rd graders on the TAKS test to project prison needs for the future? These kids are not "choosing to become hoodlums." They are making bad decisions as they attempt to survive without a major life skill that many of us take for granted---reading.

Anonymous said...

HI I read all the thoghts of others and I too have a son wuth dyslexia, who is getting PUSHED through the school system. Anybody know how to convince them that he IS dyslexic and needs to be tested for it and needs "specific help" not just IEP's and special educators teachers, who I might ad have no clue how to teach a dyslexic child. Someone please help me help my son bef. its too late.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I have ever posted a comment on any web sight, but I feel strongley about this issue.

I have dyslexia as do both of my adopted children. I did not learn to read until the fifth grade and then only by the grace of God. I made it through college by the skin of my teeth, and again God's good graces. I was not diagnosed until I was 40 and our oldest child was diagnosed. Because he was exhibiting many of the same problems as I, I began to work with him using the, "How I wished someone explained letters and sound to me" method. About a year into this method I discovered Lindamood-Bell, and called them. They told me that what I was doing was basicly building their program.

Today both our sons are readers and love to read. We used a combination of several methods including Texas Scottish Rites tapes. By the way the schools refused to work intensively with our sons reading disorders, so we came home and homeschooled.

My husband and I feel that dyslexic edudation was a lifesaver, especially for our oldest, who has a personality that can easly turn violent, and today resides in a mental institute. Books calm him and make him easier to deal with.

Today I teach the learn disabled and have seen many children who have fallen through the cracks because teachers are not trained to address the problems. They come out of school unable to read thus unable to function in the real world. If all children where taught indepth systematic phonics starting in kindergarten, and I don't mean sing the sounds, which does not work for children with auditory discrimination problems, we would see marked improvement in reading.

Anonymous said...

School systems are always set up for left-brained people. Left-brained people learn through reading, writing, and sequential order. Right-brained people learn through verbal explainatons, do not like reading/writing (not because they have trouble, they just don't like it), and don't care if everythin is in sequential order, so they don't like to put it in sequential order. Right-brained people often don't ebjoy school because it is not set up to how they learn. It confuses them sometimes. Dyslexics are right-brained. Extremely. That is why they often commit crimes. They are not bad people. They act up as a reaction to getting in trouble for doing poorly in school, they feel like they have to prove that they are not inferior to everyone else by showing everyone that they can steal better than them. It starts when they start to hang out with the wrong people at school because people make fun of them and call them stupid, they think the wrong people are cool, so they hang out with them to say they hang out with the "cool" kids. One suggestion I have is teaching through socratic seminars. A socratic seminar is when everyone sits in a circle and a question given. Anyone can verbally give any answers and input they have and respond to others' answers and input. Everyone respectfully gives their opinion and respectfully responds to other opinions. The key word is respect. This method works for open-ended questions and is also useful to see what the students think of the class (dyslexics are probably going take more initiative and ask for help if they actually like the class and want to know the answer to a question on the homework.) Also, worksheets with pictures beside the text helps to explain if the dyslexic person does not understand the text.

If you would like to find out more about dyslexia, PLEASE visit

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