BOISE, Idaho — There wasn't a dry eye in the House Education Committee meeting on Friday, as a crowd of Idahoans shared their experience with dyslexia — and why the state needs to pass legislation now.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Judy Boyle from Midvale, would direct $97,000 of state funding to improve educational resources for children with dyslexia.
For many people who testified, the legislation is a needed addition for Idaho's youth.
"This bill is the first step toward altering the trajectory of the lives of thousands of individuals within our state for generations to come," said Jordan Atnip, a special-education teacher for Council Elementary School.
"If you ever met a successful person who is also dyslexic, they will typically tell you they were able to preserve because there was that one teacher or someone else in their life who understood and believed in them," she said. "Let's make all of our teachers that one teacher."
Like many in the audience, Boyle said she has seen how Idaho's limited dyslexia resources are an issue.
"I didn't know anything about dyslexia until my best friends were told that their third-grade son would never be able to read, learn and 'Let's just face it, he's retarded’ because he has dyslexia," Boyle said. "It devastated that family...Today he works for Micron."
The State Department of Education would implement dyslexia-related screening practices, intervention strategies, and professional development training for educators through the bill.
Idaho currently does not have any dyslexia-specific educational services in public and public charter schools.
Which is why Robin Zikmund founded Decoding Dyslexia Idaho — a grassroots group of parents determined to increase awareness and access to services for children with dyslexia. Zikmund established the chapter in 2018, shortly after her son was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2018.
Carter Zikmund says his diagnosis was a big step toward receiving a better education.
"That's when I realized that that's what I'd been pushing through," Carter Zikmund said. "When I couldn't read in second grade, I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was. So now I knew that I was OK."
Dyslexia is a language-learning disability estimated to impact 20% of the population. While dyslexia impacts individuals differently, it frequently causes people to struggle with reading, writing, and pronunciation. For Carter, the biggest struggle is "trying to get the words to stick together."
"It's like a scale. Some people have it not as much. Like my little brother, he can still read, but he has it just a little bit," Carter said. "And then there are people like me who have it really bad."
Julie Eyler's two children and husband have dyslexia. Since receiving the diagnosis, Eyler said the family has struggled to find adequate educational support. While she said some teachers have been receptive to her children's needs, the state does not provide educators with any dyslexia-specific training that would help them learn.
"You're just kind of left trying to find anything that you can," Eyler said. "Anything that the school districts are willing to do you're happy and thankful for but there's so much work to be done."
Due to the lack of public-school resources, the Eyler family has opted to pull their children out of school twice a week and take them to alternative learning services specializing in dyslexia-related learning challenges. She said the family pays thousands of dollars a year for the service. However, Eyler worries that her children miss out on meaningful life experiences like playing with their friends.
"Their missing core instruction during those times," Eyler said. "So then that makes the gap bigger and bigger and bigger to fill in."
Eyler's daughter Carly said she likes going to the alternative school because they help improve her speaking and writing through fun games.
"We have to say words and sound things out," she said. "We do puzzles and stuff like that, but its like a memory game or memory puzzle."
Carly says the worst part is missing art class, which is her favorite. She wishes her regular school played the learning games and doesn't like that they are unavailable to everyone.
"I feel sad," Carly said. "I don't like it that they don't get those opportunities."
The bill now heads to the House floor for debate.