Episode 90: Kathryn Garforth, Ph. D.
By Cameron Suorsa
January 18, 2022
0:00 / 26:19
Mothers of Misfits00:01

Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode!

Emily Melious00:17

Welcome back everybody. So glad you are here and joining us for another episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Excited to have a conversation today about dyslexia, a topic we haven't covered yet on the podcast with Kathryn Garforth. She is an educational consultant and interventionists based out of British Columbia.

She helps families understand their child's unique learning profile and then design an intervention to meet their child's unique learning needs. She also helps on the flip side of things, helping teachers do the same with their students. Kathryn, thanks for coming on.

Kathryn Garforth00:52

Thanks for having me.

Emily Melious00:54

Yeah, this is I'm. I'm just extremely curious about this topic, cause I don't get a chance to talk about it very often.

And. What's really neat is that you're not just a professional expert on dyslexia. This is a part of your story.

Kathryn Garforth's personal journey with dyslexia

So can you talk first about your own journey and diagnosis and experience, uh, as being a dyslexic?

Kathryn Garforth01:19

Sure. So I really struggled in school. Uh, learning to read not a natural process and it needs to be done explicitly for her. Some kids, and I was definitely one of those kids who was failing in the system, with a program that wasn't designed for learning needs. So I struggled. And finally, by grade three, someone mentioned the fact of a learning disability to my parents, and they looked into it deeper and grade four, I got a diagnosis of dyslexia.

And I started receiving one-on-one Orton-Gillingham tutoring, which started to make progress. And then the school was removed my support in grade five and I hit

Emily Melious02:02

Oh, You had to interrupt you, but just to be clear, you had one year of support and took it away. Did I that right?

Kathryn Garforth02:11

So my parents paid privately for the tutoring, but they had me in pull-out support. Which is so like the learning assistants. Um, in the special education classroom, then they took it away. It was a brutal year, a horrible for like my social and emotional wellbeing. I was bullied and my parents knew that this wasn't the right path for me.

I was very fortunate that I lived, there were schools that specialized in dyslexia other learning disabilities. So I went to, uh, elementary one that was. Uh, small classrooms are 14 kids in classroom. And every day each student had one hour of tutoring

Emily Melious02:53


Kathryn Garforth02:54

instruction was small group. The biggest class was like five kids in the math class.

So it was really that intensive one-on-one instruction. And their motto was, if you can't learn we teach the way you learn. And like the second day of school, I came back and I said to my mom, I really hate tell you but I think I now like school. And this is going from a girl that was running home, crying at lunch and afterschool who hated school and thought she was stupid.

And I, my mom would be like, no, no, you're smart. And like, mommy, you don´t have to tell me that because your my mommy.

Um, and then I went to another school that specialized in dyslexia for grade eight and nine. Uh, it got to a point where it was too easy for me. Um, because they were focusing on, you know, the more severe or the kids that were struggling more, but I had surpassed that I just needed additional support and extra time.

then I went to schools that were, um, regular. Uh, private schools, I wasn't ready for the public school system again, just because of my negative experience. I went to the schools and I was able to get through them and succeed. Um, then I have numerous degrees. Uh, I did a bachelor, uh, computer science, a bachelor's of education, in special education with a learning disability specialization. then my PhD.

Um, so I've had a lot of experience from various different aspects. And, you know, in the past couple years I've had that experience as a mother because one of my children does have dyslexia it's going through that again. And there's that trauma. From childhood that comes into the equation and it just helps me understand how important the work that I do is.

When in high school, I started to speaking to parents and their children about dyslexia because they wanted to understand their diagnosis and how they could succeed.

And then this turned into a lifelong passion, obviously, and I do it to this day.

Emily Melious05:03

And I love that you are living proof that even if you have dyslexia, there's nothing stopping you from going through higher education and all the way, like you have to multiple degrees and PhD, I'm sure that you had to be very thoughtful about how you manage that system. And we're going to get into some of those strategies, but I just love that you're an example of, this is the diagnosis. This is, um, uh, a learning challenge that you have, but it hasn't stopped you from accomplishing what you want in life.

Dyslexic terms

So speaking of, kind of, um, the diagnosis and understanding this better before we even hit record, you were teaching me new things, but I'm realizing let's just like, let's deal with some of these terms.

Let's break it down. Especially for people like me that are really not terribly familiar. So, these are learning disorders and you shared with me, there's kind of a family of them. In fact, I know another person, somebody who is a mentor of mine, Kathy Kolbe. use her assessments in my work with families, um, actually people of all ages and stages of life.

she's very public about her dyslexia dysgraphia diagnosis. So I've heard of those things going together. then you brought up dyscalculia. I don't know if I said correctly, but can you kind of just give us a quick overview of, of what are these things, they relate? Can you, do you Do you have some of them? How is that work?

Kathryn Garforth06:32

Okay, well, technically speaking, there's the, uh, DSM was just the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is created in, it has a formal diagnoses that are recognized, in North America it's often used around the world. And so in there, you're not going to find a definition for dyslexia or dyscalculia or dysgraphia. It has a bigger overarching term of a specific learning And that can be in reading, or mathematics, and it has different diagnostic criteria and you have to meet those criteria get the diagnosis of a specific learning disorder. And then they specify whether it's in reading, writing, or math, three or all three. Right.

And, then the problem with dyslexia as a term in the, you know, the eighties and nineties, it was the big turn that was encompassing everything, but it actually is a very specific of a reading disorder.

And there are certain key factors it that are going to inform the intervention. if a child have dyslexia, putting them in that reading intervention, you're not going to see. Right.

So the big thing that's important for parents to understand is get this diagnosis, you typically need a psychoeducational assessment. I know it's full of jargon. And a whole bunch of but it's really important for you to understand that because then you can understand your child's needs the best way to address them. Saving everybody frustration, and money. to for support of programs.

I mean, there's so many different commercially available programs like Sylvan Oxford Learning, Kumon. Now these programs take general strategies and don't quite individualize it to the student's needs. while it works you know, several people in the population, when it comes to those with a severe learning disability, in reading and writing, it needs to be more explicit and those skills at a more basic level. There's something called the ladder of reading and writing. That really gives a understanding of the percentage population. Right. So there's going about 5% of the population that learned how to read without any effort at all.

there's going to be another 25% roughly, can do it no matter how they're taught, then there's 60% of students need that explicit instruction. And luckily we're slowly starting to see that shift, things like the science of reading and writing and mathematics instruction. So I'm looking, what research has shown how our brain these skills, So when you look at that 60% that needs that additional support, about 40% of those are going to work with the Kumon, and the Oxford programs, problem. But then if you get the diagnosis and the, you know, that 20% is a little bit of a highest in it, but they're going to need that explicit instruction.

current research is showing that only about 5% of the population cannot learn how to read if taught appropriately.

Emily Melious10:13

Yeah, that's really interesting that you break it down that way. Uh, and by what you said that it sounds like if I'm hearing you reading disability and not necessarily have dyslexia or dysgraphia specifically. to make that assumption, that leap is too much.

And so we need to get hyper-specific when we're dealing cluster of challenges and diagnoses, to make sure you, you know exactly what it is that you or your child is struggling with. So you know exactly what that treatment or support needs to be.

Kathryn Garforth10:50

Exactly. And especially when we get into the higher grades. So we understand, you know, the intermediate, the middle school, the high school grades, a lot of the intervention, focuses on comprehension study strategies or how to understand what you're reading. And it's not addressing the students that are still struggling with actually reading the word and don't have the skills to decode the word. Right. we need to go back and the hallmark trait dyslexic with someone with specific learning disability in reading with dyslexia has to do with phonological awareness, which is the awareness of sounds within the language and the ability to manipulate them. And so where you see this is when it comes to the child's sound or the individual sounding outwards.

So if they see like cat and it's very difficult for them, well, cat's an easy example for someone that's advanced, but. C-A-T, then blending those sounds together is very difficult for them. even hearing the difference sounds like C and G, right. It's like they don't understand them and they can tell difference in conversation, but when it comes to reading and spelling the word, where it's tricky.

So it's bringing an unconscious awareness that we have an everyday and with the language, to a conscious awareness that is needed for this, uh, written and written language, right. and spelling it.

How to know whether your child is taking longer or has a learning barrier
Emily Melious12:19

How as a parent, do you distinguish? You, you gave us some clues right there, but how do we know the difference between a child who is just taking a bit longer? Maybe that 25% that you said will learn to read no matter how they're taught, but it, it might take a bit longer. I know in my oldest, it was the 5%. He just, needed to be taught. He learned to read at a very early age. He also, is gifted. So that's another element of that. But reading was a breeze. We never had It it was like a light switch happened and he was reading novels practically out, pretty, pretty close to that.

Our youngest, struggled more. But I don't think that he has any, um, learning disabilities or challenges, but I saw him struggle. So what should to know the difference between this is a normal level of struggle? this is something where maybe we should pursue diagnosis or more support?

Kathryn Garforth13:20

It all depends on how you're looking at it. So, I mean, the best thing we can do country or as an education system screen kids early and often. There are very simple screens that are freely available that can identify risk for struggling readers in preschool.

Emily Melious13:43


Kathryn Garforth13:44

And we can provide intervention before they're taught to read. So they're less likely to struggle. And there have been countless studies that show, this is a very effective way reducing the struggle to reading, learning, to read. And it's not harmful to anyone. Um, and its just reshaping how the school system works. as a parent, especially if you have young children or you're thinking back to when your child was younger, think about their language.

Was it easy for you to understand what they're saying? Were they saying Wello for a long time, more than, you know, typically appropriate. Like it's okay. know, for a two or three-year-old, but we know four and five year old. Um, and so that can hint to a phonological awareness issue . Right. So they struggled to distinguish the differences between sounds not something that you can work on. if you notice it in those zero to five years, still part of public health. if you're worried, I would definitely call your public representative look into the speech and language pathology, also doing a hearing. screen Because there are many children and those first five years chronic that we aren't aware about.

Right. And that's why you hear about all the kids that need their ears tubes, because there's a blockage, right. So that could be affecting their understanding of the language and their ability to hear the sounds clearly. the tubes and the problem's gone. but if you see that there's problems and they're constantly guessing.

I mean, one of the problems is how reading has been taught in the past a balanced language approach, where they're teaching them strategies to remove the focus away from the word. we want them to focus on the word and the sounds within the word and getting them the strategies to sound them out.

So if your child is struggling to sound out words and putting them together, then definitely look at doing things. Now the schools can do, what's considered a B level assessment that's um you know tier two screen so they can see with a standardized test how your child compares to other students at their grade level And You want to see where their strengths and weaknesses at if they're performing below grade level then I would definitely look going a little bit further right Because

even if they don't have dyslexia and they don't

have a specific learning disorder there's something called the Matthew effect in reading and what that is, in the Bible where where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, well the kids that read, better vocabulary better background knowledge


Better things that if you're not reading you're not going to get you're not going to seek out that same vocabulary exposure because everyday conversation isn't the same right As language rich, watching a movie or watching a television show isn't the same.

Uh something that we do in our house . I mean I have a child with dyslexia and a child with autism who struggles with reading We listen to audio books all the time in the car we're listening to A wrinkled time And like we've listened to the Harry Potter books. I don't know how many times

Emily Melious17:18

Same in our household

Kathryn Garforth17:19

That language that they can't necessarily read, still want to give them the support to help them read we're taking away that uh blockage of not being able to read the text. This is another thing that in the classroom if they're doing silent reading for a struggling reader is not going to help them become a better reader. They're going to reinforce bad habits that they don't need and them to have an audio book to listen to so can they can have that language exposure and get the background knowledge they wouldn't get otherwise.

Emily Melious17:53

So I'm glad you brought that up. That´s awesome tip you know silent reading time doing an audio book instead of reading in your own mind.

Tips to help your dyslexic child thrive

What are some other tips and tricks, strategies that families can use to help their children thrive in the classroom when these diagnoses?

Kathryn Garforth18:16

Well it really understanding your child's diagnosis. If they have psychoeducational assessment, whether they have a learning disability or ADHD autism or whatever. The two factors that I think are very important to look at and reference are their working memory and their processing speed

So working memory is a part of your memory that you use when you're trying to use and manipulate information. Right? So if you're copying from the back board or if you are doing a math equation or even typing a phone number into your phone. Right? Following directions and a recipe. If you have poor working things are going to be a lot more difficult for you. And also processing speed.

there are know when you have high processing speed but the teacher keeps on saying the same thing over and over again and slower because they think you don't understand, not because you don't Its because of how they're saying it, you don't understand. And having them slow it down is just going to frustrate you. But when you have the slow processing speed you have to realize that they need that extra think time and it's better to front load them or pre-teach things. So if you have a, you know, a teenager that's going to class it's better to work on it the night before what they're going to be covering that next day

. So they have that, kind of fresh in their mind, to call on in class and they don't feel stupid.

Emily Melious19:44

Is this possible to accomplish inside of the traditional classroom? Or do you advise that families when possible? Of course there's a financial implication to this for most families to do what you did and find a school specifically geared towards who learn a certain way or need certain accommodations. Uh like, Should we looking for resources outside of the public system?

Kathryn Garforth20:09

Depending on your child's difficulty and the school that you're in... yes. The difficult fact is, the majority of individuals and have problems with the juvenile justice system. If you look at their reading achievement, it's poor. They are functionally illiterate, right. They can't read, and spell and communicate.

And another thing that I'm seeing lot of schools do, is they're they're just giving assistive technology. Right. There giving the iPad and things like dragon naturally speaking, which are great strategies to help work around an individual to learn. But they're not an excuse for not continuing to work on the skill that the child struggles with. So using something like speechify in class, when you're trying to read the assignment, Great. Keeping up with your peers. Great. And there's no problem with having accommodations and support in the class when you're doing the tasks that your peers are just so you can have the same experience and focus on the same goal in the classroom. But that doesn't mean you don't need the support on the skills outside of the classroom. Right. And the learning assistance way. And it's very important if you're able to, to get that one-on-one intervention. And to understand your child's individual diagnosis so that you can focus your efforts specifically on their needs. Um, I know in my own case, like for my own daughter with dyslexia, she's going into intensive intervention program thats targeting her instruction to her needs and she's made huge improvements in a short amount of time. And yes, it's expensive and yes, it's a financial burden for us, but it's going to save us a lot in the future, and its going to make life so much better. There's with system that it shouldn't be, the parents have to mortgage their house avoid buying a new car or not going on a family vacation like that. That's broken to me.

And long-term negative outcomes with social, emotional wellbeing, and health, when you can't read your prescription, and you get those negative feelings of self-worth because you can't read like your peers and they seem like they can do it effortlessly.

Why am I so stupid? Like, I can't do this they're not even trying.

Emily Melious22:41

Well, it's your own experience that we started out with, to pull this conversation full circle. When you, when you felt, uh, school was a traumatic experience for you. You felt horrible, you know, you said your mom, you have to say I'm smart cause you're my mom. Um, and your self confidence was rock bottom. And just getting an experience where, and one of the big takeaways from this conversation is that saying that if you don't learn how we teach, we teach how you learn.

And when that happened for you, not only did you learn, but your self-esteem, your self efficacy shot up. That's huge. I mean, the implications of that for someone's lifetime and setting the tone early on in their life for those kinds of, um, measures are also just critical.

Kathryn Garforth23:27

And yes, its reallly important to work on your childs learning disabilities, and areas of struggle with, but important to focus on their passion at the same time. Because success breeds success. So if they learn hard work pays off for something that they enjoy doing. Then they are going to learn, ok if I do this in another area, its going to help me get better. Right? And I mean, theres so many other branches that I can go with this. but understanding that hard work pays off and that understanding that hard work pays off, and that not all your time is focused on things that are difficult for you, is really important. It's hugely important and you know, my mom got me one of those quote tiles I was younger and it said success is the best revenge.

And that that's kind of been my motto since I was a little kid, that I was gonna prove that grade five teacher that told me that I was a waste of her time, not going to make it to high school or graduate. I'm like, I'm just going to prove her wrong.

Emily Melious24:34

And you have certainly shown that you are very successful in what you're doing, and everybody can hear it. I mean, your knowledge is just so deep, so vast, and I wish we had more time to, uh, share some more things, but here's the thing I know you offer a free 15 minute connection conversation. So for families who are saying, I need more of Kathryn, I want to know more.

We'll make sure that we put in our episode insider newsletters, a link where families can sign up to connect with you further and then learn more about how you might be able to help them. Because I know you have an incredible amount of knowledge and resources and guidance for them. So please everyone listening, make sure to take advantage of that.

If you don't know what the episode insider newsletters are, or you're not yet receiving them, they're just the emails we send out every Tuesday, when a new episode drops. We also let you know, in your inbox about the guest, we include links to how to get to know more about them or freebies or in this case, uh, a way to meet with Kathryn.

So make sure that you are signed up for those. You just have to go to MothersOfMisfits.com, scroll down to the bottom, put in your email address. That's it, it's like 30 seconds, but so worthwhile because you get to meet incredible people like Kathryn and help your kids and help them to believe that hard work does pay off and that they too can be successful.

So thanks for reminding us of those key messages today, Kathryn, we really appreciate you.

Kathryn Garforth26:03

Thank you.

Mothers of Misfits26:06

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