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Conquering Dyslexia, Together

Children often follow in a parent’s footsteps when it comes to interests and careers. For Cassie Clark and her 12-year-old daughter, Gina, it was the reverse.

Gina showed signs of learning difficulties before kindergarten. She was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade and began intensive intervention with a Wilson Reading System® (WRS) instructor at her public elementary school outside Chicago. As her daughter’s literacy skills grew, Cassie became intrigued by  the effectiveness of Wilson’s multisensory structured literacy instruction and wanted to learn more.

“We were amazed by the progress we were seeing, so I decided to attend a local Wilson workshop to learn about the program and how I could support her at home. I was so inspired that I decided to pursue further training,” shared the Illinois mother of four, who tapped into the professional learning offered at nearby Wilson® Accredited Partner Learning Techniques, LTD. “I went on to complete my WRS Level I and Level II certifications, and now work full time instructing students in the program.”

After completing her WRS Level I Certification and earning the Wilson® Dyslexia Practitioner (W.D.P.) credential in 2018, Cassie felt drawn to a new calling as a Wilson instructor. She started out by tutoring students in the evenings and on weekends. Soon after, she left her corporate job to join an educational consulting and advocacy firm seeking a certified Wilson instructor to fulfill requests it receives from families seeking WRS instruction.

Earlier this year, Cassie completed her WRS Level II Certification and earned her Wilson® Dyslexia Therapist (W.D.T.) credential, while simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree online from Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. She is now just three courses away from earning her master’s degree in Special Education, Guided Studies, Dyslexia Specialist, which is offered in collaboration with Wilson. Her Wilson credentials accounted for 18 of the program’s 39 credits.

Despite this year’s many COVID-19 challenges, Cassie said she found a “silver lining” in the shift to remote learning. It  has enabled her to teach students beyond Illinois, to include those in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

“I’ve been working with students remotely since March. There was a learning curve, for sure, but now my students and I have it down to a science. I’ve had the opportunity to see students making progress and being successful, and really I think a lot of that has to do with Wilson’s responsiveness to the instruction,” she said. “Wilson quickly responded with resources, videos, and digital materials. I found that every part of the lesson can be delivered remotely with fidelity.”

She currently works with elementary, middle, and high school students as well as adults. Each student is unique, but shares similar traits of dedication, creativity, and a desire for success, she said.

“I continue to be in awe of the drive these students demonstrate during our lessons. Their desire for success is so evident, and I love to see their buy-in develop as they become confident readers. Creativity is a gift often associated with dyslexia, and one that I witness and admire in so many of my students. I have caught glimpses of some phenomenal artwork in the students’ notebooks and picture notes. I’m working with a student who regularly amuses me with her impromptu, pseudo-definitions for any nonsense word that crosses her path.”

Among her professional and community affiliations, Cassie is a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Everyone Reading Illinois, the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, the Dyslexia Action Group of Naperville, and the International Dyslexia Association.

Gina, who completed WRS Step 12 in fifth grade, also continues to encourage others as an advocate for students with dyslexia. During Dyslexia Awareness Month in October, she was selected Girl of the Month by a local athletic wear franchise. When asked to pick a charity that employees and shoppers could support in her honor, Gina chose the Dyslexia Action Group of Naperville and raised nearly $500 for the organization.

Now in seventh grade, Gina said her WRS instruction not only helped her become a fluent reader, but also helped her realize that dyslexia does not define her.

“Before, I used to think that I wasn’t smart. But now I know it’s not me, it’s the way my brain works.”

With Wilson, both mother and daughter are making strides toward conquering dyslexia and inspiring others along the way.

“The most rewarding part for me, personally, is being able to witness the transformation that happens, and I see it time and time again,” Cassie said. “I saw it with my daughter, my practicum students, and every student since. It is incredibly rewarding to watch students blossom as they become more empowered readers. My only regret is not finding this career path sooner.”