Dyslexia Institute of Southern New Mexico is ‘in the business of saving lives’
By Mike Koch
“Thank you for teaching me to read.”
That was part of a letter that retired Las Cruces teacher Ellen Saige received from a young man a few years ago.
Saige founded the Dyslexia Institute of Southern New Mexico (DISNM) in partnership with Kelly Covert in 2000 to help children like him manage dyslexia, a learning disorder that causes difficulties with reading, writing, math, and spelling. Originally a sole proprietorship, DISNM became a nonprofit organization in 2009 and has helped more than 200 children and adults in southern New Mexico and El Paso become strong readers and happier, more successful children and adults.
With her help, the young man who wrote Saige learned to read well, earned a college degree, and became an IT specialist for an international mission.
Dyslexia therapy has a high success rate, especially when it’s started at a young age and the child and their parents are committed to that success, Saige said.
DISNM services include a reading program, a math (dyscalculia) and writing program for children, and a program for students and older adults with dyslexia.
“Our job is to save lives,” said DISNM Academic Director Ute (pronounced Oota) Thomas, quoting Judy Carter, Director of the Scottish Rite Children’s Learning Center and coach of therapists at DISNM.
DISNM executive director Myr (pronounced grumble) Dawson became involved with the nonprofit after it was discovered that her grandson was dyslexic in the third grade.
He pretended to read but couldn’t, she said.
“He was the class clown,” Dawson said, “because you’d rather be funny than stupid.”
Her grandson began therapy with DISNM and “made tremendous progress,” Dawson said.
She often took him to therapy sessions and eventually joined the institute’s board and staff. Dawson also brought accounting experience to the institute, having owned a cookie-making business in Corona, New Mexico.
Among them, Saige, Dawson and Thomas have nearly 75 years of teaching experience at Las Cruces and other elementary schools in New Mexico.
Saige and Thomas, along with DISNM’s other six therapists, have extensive training in Alphabetical Phonics (a language curriculum) and the Take Flight curriculum for students with dyslexia developed at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas.
Determining whether a child has dyslexia begins with a screening that involves the child, a parent, and a teacher or therapist. It can be “very emotional,” Saige said, because the child has to face his or her inability to read and the frustration and denial that comes with it.
The child’s first reaction may be, “I can’t read. I don’t want to read. You’re not going to teach me to read,” said Saige.
This frustration often causes behavioral problems, she said, and the child can be described as “difficult.”
“You’re disappointed in yourself,” Thomas said.
“Once they start reading, they become different kids. It’s such a blessing to be able to do this,” she said.
“Every child is different,” says Thomas. “You have to watch their hearts. They have to make sure they are successful and they feel it. And over time, they start believing in themselves again.”
With Take Flight lessons, according to https://scottishriteforchildren.org/, students learn “all 44 sounds of the English language (and) spelling rules for root words and derivations”.
“The training is intense,” Thomas said, and often involves showing the student “a picture of the word” he or she is learning.
Teaching students about sounds can also lead them to look in a mirror to “see what your mouth is doing,” Thomas said.
“They use all their senses,” Saige said.
She can ask a student, “How do your lips feel?” when pronouncing a particular sound, or encourage him or her to feel the vibrations in their vocal cords as they speak.
“They love to explore all that,” Thomas said. “There are those aha moments along the way where the kid really gets it. We are all thrilled when that happens.”
Visit www.disnm.org. Donate online at www.disnm.org/disnm_how_to_help.html or mail your donation to The Dyslexia Institute of Southern New Mexico, Franklin Hartman Scholarship Fund, PO Box 13507, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88013. (Change order)
Visit https://scottishriteforchildren.org/. Type “Take Flight” in the search box. Also visit https://scottishriteforchildren.org/getattachment/Page-Modules/Take-Flight/Take-Flight-Elementary_flyer_2022-(1).pdf?lang=en-US.