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"Bright" doesn't begin to describe 10-year-old Olivia Mott. The artistic fifth-grader from Cheshire, Connecticut, has an amazing memory -- she can recall details of a conversation she heard months ago or exactly what someone was wearing at the time. However, the thing that Olivia was most excited about last year was finishing Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Back in first grade, while her classmates were breezing through picture books she was stumped by even the most common sight words. She was diagnosed with dyslexia, the learning disability that prevents children from reading and spelling with ease and accuracy. With the help of daily lessons with reading specialists and twice-weekly sessions with a free tutor at a nearby Masonic Learning Center, "Olivia is now reading at grade level," says her mom, Sarah. "I can't believe how far she's come."
As many as one in five kids has some degree of dyslexia, making it the most common learning disability -- and young children often show the first signs of it early on when they're starting to speak. Sadly, though, many of these kids will never get diagnosed. In keeping with the recent trend of emphasizing learning "differences" rather than disabilities, school psychologists and trained testers often hesitate to use the label. "There are children who have all the signs of dyslexia but are identified by schools as simply 'struggling' or 'impaired' readers, and as a result they don't get the special help they need," says Maryanne Wolf, Ed.D., director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts.
A decade or two ago, a child who had trouble reading might have been written off as slow and unmotivated. But today, experts know that kids with dyslexia are often gifted analytical thinkers -- famous dyslexics include Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Charles Schwab -- and that with early diagnosis and intensive instruction, they can become more capable readers than anyone might have imagined.