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Addressing dyslexia early changes brain's neurobiology for better, special education expert says

CBS New York logo CBS New York 5/13/2022 Tony Aiello

NEW YORK -- Special education experts say New York City's plan to better diagnose and treat dyslexia could be life-changing for students, if done correctly.

Advocates say it could help thousands reach their maximum potential, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported Thursday.

"I was diagnosed in the third grade," attorney Ptahra Jeppe said. "Even in the seventh grade, I was reading on a second grade reading level ... I now can identify certain words that a fourth grader can."

This effort is very, very personal for Jeppe, who said those of us who easily navigate our print-based world can only imagine how dyslexics see and struggle.

"I came home crying every night. I said to my mom, 'Mommy, I know I'm smart. I might be the smartest kid in my class, but I just don't know how to read,' and so it has been a journey," Jeppe said.

Like Mayor Eric Adams, Jeppe was born and schooled in Brooklyn. She strongly supports his plan to better identify and educate children with dyslexia.

Mayor, schools chancellor announce dyslexia screening program 25:44 © Provided by CBS New York Mayor, schools chancellor announce dyslexia screening program 25:44

"Just the power of early screening is huge, let alone the tools for intervention? Lifechanging!" Jeppe said.

Adams wasn't diagnosed with dyslexia until college after struggling for years without the intervention and resources he needed.

"It's a traumatic experience, and so this is not just an academic achievement. This is an emotional, psychological achievement," Adams said Thursday.

Starting next school year, New York City public school students will undergo dyslexia screenings with a special focus on elementary and middle schools.

READ MORE: New York City to screen all students for dyslexia, with specialized instruction starting in the fall 

"Early identification of dyslexia is critical," said Keri Levine, a special education expert in White Plains Schools which, like New York City, will implement dyslexia screening in the months ahead.

Levine says studies show early intervention actually changes the neurobiology in the dyslexic brain for the better.

"Providing appropriate, explicit research-based intervention does show that the brain can make the shift and remediate dyslexia. It does not go away, but it can be remediated," Levine said.

Watch Tony Aiello's report

Experts say NYC's plan to treat dyslexia could be life-changing 02:11 © Provided by CBS New York Experts say NYC's plan to treat dyslexia could be life-changing 02:11

"The journey is one that is possible, but we haven't always had the tools to get us there," Jeppe said.

Now an attorney, Jeppe uses text-to-speech and other technology to navigate the written word. Like Mayor Adams, she's proof dyslexia is an obstacle, not a barrier, to success.

"If I would have had that little support earlier, right now, we would be not saying just Mr. Mayor. You'd probably be saying Mr. President," Adams said.

"Mayor Adams and I will hopefully no longer be the exception to the rule. We will be the norm," Jeppe said.

Supporters say these efforts can boost the economy and even impact crime. There's a high rate of dyslexia among incarcerated people, many of whom did not receive the special help that is crucial for dyslexics.

The Department of Education does not have data on how many students may need help, but they highlighted one in five people are living with dyslexia.

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