Dyslexic student says changes needed for Missouri schools

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COLUMBIA- For Kellie Dillner, every good book is a movie. 

"I see things in pictures," Dillner said. "Most people see things in their head like words and stuff, but I see pictures. I always see a movie." 

Dillner suffers from dyslexia, a learning disorder which causes the brain to have trouble comprehending written words and spelling. Pictures come easy, words not so much.

Dyslexia is more common than many people might think. According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, it affects one in five people.

There are no set standards for how to deal with dyslexia in Missouri schools. 

Currently, schools are required to give a "free appropriate public education" to children with disabilities. And under that rule, students can qualify for an individualized education program, which will allow for specific accommodations for the student. In Columbia Public Schools, dyslexic students would fall under these rules and receive individualized treatment. 

"A team comes together and determines what kind of supports and what types of accommodations need to be made for that particular student so they can be successful at school," Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark said. "That can be anything in the case of dyslexia from needing someone to help read exams when we have testing going on to providing a reading specialist to help develop the skills they need to be successful." 

Dillner said at Pilot Grove C-4 High School, the treatment varied from teacher to teacher. 

"I had to be my own advocate," Dillner said. "I made up this packet of what dyslexia is and all that stuff and I handed it to all my teachers before school started. Some of them never read it. It was very evident they never read it because they were like 'Oh no, this is a made up thing.' So I gave them all that and some of them read it and some of them actually helped me."

Change for how dyslexia is treated in Missouri could be on the horizon though. One state representative wants to create a dyslexia specialist in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and a legislative task force on Dyslexia to help craft specific dyslexia programs for the Missouri schools. 

"Their responsibility will be to look into making recommendations for lawmakers and school districts," state Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Green County) said.

"Basically set best practices and provide research for school districts, including providing in-service training for teachers so they can quickly recognize students possibly dealing with dyslexia," he said. "Right now teachers don't know. They are not trained to identify when a student may or may not have dyslexia."

Dillner said she wants to use her experience with dyslexia to become an educator and an advocate for dyslexic students in the future. 

"I want to help other kids who are struggling with dyslexia," Dillner said.

She said she is going to college for early childhood and special education, but she doesn't want to be a teacher.

"I want to do tutoring and advocate for these dyslexic kids because they're the ones that go in the crack," she said. "You have to be severe enough to go into special ed, but these are the kids that are still in the normal classroom but are struggling."