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Reading Clinic helps generations of families soar

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Heather Smale with her grandmother Elizabeth Kitson who founded the Reading Clinic in 1968 (Photograph supplied)

Scarlett Smale trailed behind as her classmates learnt how to read in Primary Two.

Her mother, Heather, had an inkling of what the problem might be.

Scarlett’s father, Nick, and her grandfather Richard Kitson are dyslexic; her great uncle, Kirk Kitson, also struggled with reading.

People with dyslexia typically struggle with spelling and have difficulties rhyming words, or unpacking the individual sounds in a word.

Ms Smale took her six-year-old to The Reading Clinic, the charity her late grandmother Elizabeth Kitson founded in 1968 to help people with literacy challenges.

For three years Scarlett worked with Cynthia Armano, learning the connection between letters and sounds.

Now 13, she gets good grades and is in the top set for English in her class at the Bermuda High School. She also won a science prize at school.

“She had an incredible tutor,” said Ms Smale, who is charge of fundraising for the charity. “Scarlett went from I Can Read books to reading Harry Potter by the time she had finished. The Reading Clinic also gave her coping skills and organisational skills. The Reading Clinic has made such an incredible difference in her journey.”

Scarlett Smale with her great grandmother Elizabeth Kitson, founder of the Reading Clinic (Photograph supplied)

She says that early intervention is key as without it, her daughter “would not be thriving now”.

As such, the lawyer has put her heart into a $25,000 Christmas appeal. It is the hope of staff at The Reading Clinic that funds raised will help expand an existing dyslexia screening programme in P2 classes in government schools.

The charity conducted 118 screenings last year and would like to be able to screen all government P2 students by the end of June 2022. Although there has been some debate over how early children can be screened for dyslexia, Darrien Ray, the educational psychologist at The Reading Clinic, believes the end of P2 is the best starting point.

Children found to have dyslexia will have access to a range of services at the Serpentine Road clinic: baseline testing if starting in the core reading programme, diagnostic screenings to identify specific types of learning differences and psychoeducational and neurodevelopment assessments. More than 261 students were helped last year.

The Reading Clinic makes a point of never turning anyone away but Ms Smale is convinced the cost of assessments dissuades some parents from contacting them.

While the initial consult is free, the various evaluations can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000.

“We really hope with this campaign we not only raise money and break down barriers in the community, but also raise greater understanding of the importance of getting there early,” she said.

The tag line for the campaign is "Give the gift of learning this Christmas".

“If you donate in someone’s name, they get a Christmas card with a Reading Clinic logo, telling them that the donation has been made,” Ms Smale said.

Among the misconceptions people have is that dyslexics will always perform at the bottom of their class, Ms Smale said.

“[It is more whether or not] the child is being held back from where they should be,” she said. “Many people with dyslexia are incredibly intelligent, but their ability to translate their thoughts onto paper does not match.”

She said there are not many other organisations in Bermuda that help children with learning challenges the way that the Reading Clinic does. And while there are bursaries and scholarships for children who need financial assistance, there is also a waiting list.

“We are trying to get more tutors and expand our programmes,” Ms Smale said.

Elizabeth Kitson, the founder of The Reading Clinic with her son Richard, her granddaughter, Heather Smale, and her great granddaughter Scarlett in 2013 (Photograph supplied)

Before she died, Mrs Kitson was very proud that her granddaughter was carrying on the family legacy.

“I think she considered me a guardian angel of the Reading Clinic,” Ms Smale said.

“My work at the Reading Clinic has never been about being the figure head of an organisation or being the director of a trust. I am helping to get funds for an organisation that not only helped my daughter but has a strong family legacy. I feel incredibly committed.”

Make a donation to The Reading Clinic at readingclinic.bm/donate-now or 292-3938

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols.

There is research that suggests there are advantages to dyslexia such as better out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. In his bestselling 1994 book, The Gift of Dyslexia, Ronald Davis changed how the common learning difficulty was viewed and remedied worldwide.

One in five people have dyslexia. People with dyslexia usually have normal to above average intelligence.

Locally, Sir John Swan, the former premier, and Wayne Caines, the former Minister of National Security, have dyslexia. In the wider world British royal family member Princess Beatrice, actor Whoopi Goldberg and business magnate Richard Branson have it.

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Published November 30, 2021 at 8:07 am (Updated November 30, 2021 at 8:07 am)

Reading Clinic helps generations of families soar

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