Thursday, April 20, 2006

On the Fast Track; Innovative Ways to Overcome Reading Disability, cont:

" A lot of people said you need to practice reading and you'll figure it out," Short said. "It didn't work."

Short, who grew up in Port Townsend, has one of the most severe forms of dyslexia.

Adept at finding ways of coping with life without being able to read, he is now learning ways around the roadblocks that prevented him from learning in the first place.

"I was stuck until I came here, " Short said. "It made me realize what to do."

Here is the second floor in the American Bank Building in downtown Port Townsend where Melinda Pongrey moved the SISIUTL Center for Learning from its uptown home last year.

Learning Disabilities

For the past three months, Short has been meeting with Pongrey, who specializes in assessing and helping people with learning disabilities.

After only 30 hours of work, Short is now reading at the seventh-to-eighth-grade level where he was able to read at only the second-grade mark before, Pongrey said.

"Melinda showed me some paths to take," Short said.

"I'm not fluent, but I read a whole lot better. It's really paying off."

It was his employer, Lee Short, who set Anthony on the road to getting help. A distant relative, he knew Anthony could not read when he was hired to work at his business, Lee's Truck Repair on Center Road in Chimacum.

Anthony had the skills, having grown up near Four Corners, where he rescued power weed trimmers from the nearby junkyard.

"I'd take them apart and repair anything I could get my hands on," Anthony said.

But at school, his inability to put letters together into words put him in the special education program at Chimacum schools, where he spent 13 years before graduating in 2002.

Repeatedly told he needed to try harder, he spent several hours after school every day when he was in junior high, working with his grandfather on a phonics program.

That proved fruitless as well as frustrating, he said. But he didn't say no when his employer suggested he try again.

"I'm game. I"ll try anything," Anthony said.

Customer's Suggestion

A customer at the shop suggested contacting Pongrey, who set up an assessment for Anthony in January.

Lee and Bonnie Short paid for the first set of sessions, Anthony said; he's now paying for them himself.

In addition to instruction, Pongrey also introduced Anthony to balance activities developed by Dr. Frank Belgau of Port Angeles, that help people with visual processing, reading, learning efficiency and academic as well as physical performance.

They include balancing on a balance board while tossing bean bags in the air and tracking a pendulum ball with his eyes.

Pongrey has also introduced a program of balance activities, called Balametrics, into Port Townsend and Quilcene school curriculum's.

"It builds neural networks, builds several areas of the brain, including the cerebellum," Pongrey said.

"The cerebellum coordinates motor movements and recently has been shown to effect automatic language responses. With the development of the cerebellum, research shows that the symptoms of dyslexia decrease."

Pongrey also recommended an eye exam.

Dr. Neil Cays, a Sequim optometrist told Anthony that he had a lazy eye, something that is not uncommon with people with dyslexia, Pongrey said.

Now, he has glasses that help his eyes work more efficiently together, she said.

With his new skills, Short, who could only read a little before, is starting to read recipes and menus.

He can also write in cursive, something he's never done before---he wrote "Today is my 21st birthday," on the board last Thursday.

He's still not great at spelling --his brain transposes letters ---but dictates stories about his life to Pongrey that he can read to others.

He's also reading a book on his own.

His favorite is Brilliant Idiot, a biography by Abraham Schmitt, a man who coped with dyslexia in a less-tolerant time--his teachers beat him--but who persevered.

"He got a Ph.D.," Anthony noted.

Anthony also has ambitions--to go to diesel mechanic school and specialize in repairing diesel engines.

It's a goal that up until now has been thwarted by his inability to read the manuals, which use technical terms the average person would have trouble with.

To help, Pongrey has Anthony draw pictures of engine parts and practice matching them with word cards.

"It's been an education for me, too, " Pongrey said.

Determined to continue

Reading is still a lot of work for Anthony, and is easier some days than others, he said. But he keeps on going, determined not to let anything block his way.

"I want to be able to read everything," he said.

"I want to be able to read shop manuals, bank statements, whatever I come across."

"That's what 's keeping me motivated---to be able to read whatever I come across in everyday life."

For more information on learning disabilities and upcoming lectures, workshops and conferences in the Puget Sound area, contact Pongrey at SISIUTL Center for Learning, 360-379-1223.

The International Dyslexia Association website is, or check out links on the SISIUTL website,