As identical twins, Bailey and Mackenzie Bennett obviously have a lot in common. Athletic, artistic, and studious, the sisters share another characteristic that they—and those who know them—would not expect: dyslexia.
Although the sisters found reading difficult during their early elementary years, their keen ability to memorize words enabled them to do well in most subjects and helped mask their struggles. As they grew older, however, their literacy challenges became more apparent.
Test taking and reading aloud were noticeably difficult, and benchmark testing led to placement in lower reading and writing groups. Bailey, who was affected to a greater degree than her sister, recalls the dread she felt during a second-grade spelling bee. Even though she knew her word, she hesitated to spell it correctly because that would have meant advancing in the competition to a word she perhaps hadn’t yet memorized.
Their mother, Jill, suspected something was wrong considering her own lifelong difficulty with spelling, as well as the fact that the twins were not progressing in reading as well as their older brothers had at the same age.
Jill raised the issue at a parent-teacher conference. Subsequently, the sisters were privately tested at the end of fourth grade and were diagnosed with dyslexia. For the next two years, they worked through their learning challenges with the help of their Wilson Reading System® (WRS) tutor, Pam Swan, and went on to become fluent, independent readers.
“Dyslexia is known as an unexpected learning disability, particularly among students who excel in other areas and are known as exemplary students,” Pam explained.
At first, the girls loathed going to their tutoring lessons, which tapped into time with sports and friends and meant more work after school. But within a few weeks, they realized the benefits and diligently worked through the Steps during fifth and sixth grades—summers included.
“We were nervous to go, but when Pam told us that she also has dyslexia, it helped reassure us,” Mackenzie shared about their first lesson with Pam, a Wilson® Dyslexia Therapist (W.D.T.) and Wilson® Credentialed Trainer (W.C.T.). “Knowing that she had gone through what we were going through helped.”
“The Wilson Reading System taught us how to sound out words we didn’t recognize and those we had memorized,” said Bailey, who became an avid reader of young adult novels. “Pam was easy to talk to and she would go at our pace. There was no expectation on where we needed to be or how fast we got through something. We gained confidence and became better at test taking.”
Through their hard work and the guidance of their skilled WRS instructor, Mackenzie and Bailey became award winning, three-sport, scholar athletes in high school. They were active in soccer, basketball, softball, student government, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), the yearbook staff, and prom committee, to name a few. Each earned many academic and athletic awards as well as college scholarships.
They graduated as Regents Scholars and #4 and #7 in their class in 2019, an accomplishment Bailey still finds astonishing. “If you told me when I was younger, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
This spring, they completed their freshman year as honors students at Cazenovia College in New York, where they major in fashion merchandising and business and play on the women’s basketball team. The sisters will continue their studies this fall, and after earning bachelor’s degrees, they plan to pursue master’s degrees in business administration.
“They are two hardworking women,” Pam said. “I am so proud of them.”
Bailey and Mackenzie said having overcome the challenges of dyslexia enables them to empathize with peers who similarly struggle yet aspire to achieve their academic and career goals.
For those just starting out in WRS, Bailey shared, “At first it was hard, but it definitely helped me. I love reading now. You just have to push through, and you will see results.”
Added Mackenzie, “It can be difficult at first, but once you get it, it will really help in the future. Don’t be ashamed of having dyslexia and getting help for it. With the right help, you can do anything.”