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Families Testify on Beacon Hill in Support of Dyslexia Legislation

Jun 02, 2015 03:00AM ● By Kieran Gilman

Members of Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts visited the State House Thursday to advocate for a science-based definition of dyslexia. (l-r)Kate Lovett, Kirsten Lovett, North Andover; Jodie Vasily-Cioffi, Reading; Dr. Elizabeth Norton, Cambridge; Nicole Mitsakis, Middleton; Nancy Duggan, Acton; Dr. Charles Haynes, Boxford; Rosemarie Tagliamonte, Wellesley; Lisa Nelson Grafton; and Jessica Nagle Topsfield.

(Editor's Note: The following information was submitted by Nancy Duggan, Co-Founder of Decoding Dyslexia – Massachusetts.)

Families from across eastern Massachusetts traveled to the State House Thursday with a team of experts in the field of dyslexia research to advocate for new laws aimed at improving outcomes for students with dyslexia.

Members of Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts (DDMA) brought a team to Beacon Hill May 28 including neuroscientist Dr. Elizabeth Norton from the Gabrieli Lab at the McGovern Institute of Brain Research at MIT and Dr. Charles Haynes of The Speech, Language and Literacy Center of Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. Senator Ryan Fattman and Senator Barbara L’Italien hosted the information session Thursday, May 28th at the State House.

DDMA is part of a national coalition in all 50 states to raise awareness about dyslexia and is working to create change in school systems across the nation. 

Dyslexia is a neurobiological difference in the way a person processes written text. As Dr. Norton and Dr. Haynes explained to legislators, learning to read is more difficult for a person with dyslexia, but when identified and provided with the appropriate instruction, these students can and do learn to read with great success. Dr. Norton also noted that early identification could improve outcomes.

Nancy Duggan, of Acton, and Nicole Mitsakis, of Middleton, and Lisa Nelson, of Grafton, of DDMA, organized the event with the help of officials in Sen. Barbara L’Italien and Sen. Ryan Fattman’s offices.

Families traveling to the State House to discuss pending dyslexia legislation, and how their lives have been impacted by dyslexia, include Ethan Toubes-Marquis and his mother, Melissa Marquis, and Nigel and Mary-Jo Keenan, all of Andover; Kate Lovett, and her mother, Kirsten Lovett, of North Andover; and Luke Miller and his mother, Jayne Miller, of Tewksbury. Also in attendance were Representative Alice Peisch, Representative David K. Muradian, Rose Richards-Tagliamonte of Wellesley, Topsfield resident Jessica Nagle, North Reading Resident Jodie Vasily-Cioffi, Susan Sullivan of Worcester, Jean Mothon of Methuen along with representatives from the offices of Sen. Bruce Tarr Representative.

DDMA is part of a parent-led grassroots national coalition in all 50 states of to raise awareness about dyslexia and is working to create change in American schools. 

Members of DDMA are speaking out to help other families across the Commonwealth who have children with dyslexia. 

These local families know first hand the variability mentioned in this report and how critical is it that a bright dyslexic student receives instruction that is dyslexia-specific. 

Kate Lovett, a 6th grader at North Andover Middle School, told legislators, “Being dyslexic means I have to figure out how I learn and I’m still doing that today. If children are screened early, they can figure out how they learn quickly and not fall behind.”

Ethan Toubes-Marquis, a 4th grader at Sanborn Elementary in Andover, told legislators, “I wouldn’t be able to read this text to you today if I was not being privately tutored in Orton Gillingham”. Ethan also stated that he felt fortunate to be in a special classroom for dyslexic learners, but notes, “I am here because not all kids are as fortunate as I am.”

Luke Miller, a 10th grade student at Tewksbury Memorial High School, described a journey with dyslexia beginning in kindergarten, to the Carroll School in Lincoln, and back to public school. He credits early screening, early diagnosis, and intensive, science-based instruction for allowing him to catch-up with peers and close achievement gaps developed by most students with dyslexia who struggle to learn to read, while peers begin reading to learn.

“I was screened at such a young age and my family could take action to solve this problem,” said Miller.

Decoding Dyslexia MA supports legislation that would allow schools to use the scientific definition of dyslexia accepted by the National Institute of Health, and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Two legislators are already working towards this goal. Representative Alice Peisch, Chairwoman of the Education Committee, and Senator Barbara L’Italien both submitted dyslexia legislation: H 463 and S 312. 

About Decoding Dyslexia-MA:

Our Mission

Decoding Dyslexia – MA is a grassroots movement driven by parents, educators and professionals concerned with the limited access to research-based interventions for dyslexia. Collaborating with other Decoding Dyslexia groups nationwide, the Massachusetts chapter aims to raise awareness, to empower students with dyslexia and their families, and to inform policy makers on best practices to identify, remediate, and support students with dyslexia in Massachusetts public schools and institutions of higher learning.

Learn more about Dyslexia at the DDMA website:

The McGovern Institute For Brain Research, MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Gabrieli Lab,

The Gaab Lab at Boston Children's Hospital

Children’s Dyslexia Centers, Inc |

The International Dyslexia Association |

National Center for Learning Disabilities |

The International Dyslexia Association Website


Dr. Nadine Gaab, from Boston Children’s Hospital Gaab Lab (Harvard/MGH), will discuss recent advances in the development of literacy, and its failure in developmental dyslexia, with emphasis on the brain. Hosted by the Andover Special Education Parent Advisory Council (, on Thursday, June 18,7:30-9:30PM at the St. Augustine Religious Education Center Assembly Hall, 35 Essex St, Andover.

Definition of Dyslexia

“Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. This Definition is also used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Many state education codes, including New Jersey, Ohio and Utah, have adopted this definition. Learn more about how consensus was reached on this definition: Definition Consensus Project.
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