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WRS Student Shares Joy for Reading With New Furry Friends

Silhouette of dog and child at sunset

Robyn S. of Illinois glowingly says of her son, Evan, “He has a zest for life.”

Evan is an energetic eighth grader with a quick smile and a genuine interest in the people he meets. He enjoys rock climbing, swimming, and creative tactile activities such as building with blocks, boxes, or construction sets. Evan also has autism.

Because Evan needs extra support in daily activities, his parents tried different educational options including therapeutic day schools for children with autism. In their experience, these schools focused more on language acquisition than academics. While certain educational settings met some of his needs, there were gaps between what Evan was capable of and what was asked of him.

“We were very focused on speech therapy ourselves, but we were thinking it was time for Evan to learn to read,” Robyn said. “We noticed that the materials he brought home were not at grade level. The students memorized lots of sight words without really learning to read.”

Because of this, Robyn and her husband sought a more academically rigorous option for Evan. As they weighed the possibilities, they discussed multimodal instruction with his school. Unfortunately, the school’s suggestions were for supplementary activities that didn’t constitute a full curriculum. The school then tried to create a curriculum for Evan, but it focused heavily on rote memorization.

“I feel like it’s impossible to memorize every word required to read independently,” Robyn said. “I always thought phonics was the best way to read.”

In the end, Evan’s parents decided that homeschooling with extra support was the best option for him.

The superintendent of special services for their local school district recommended that Robyn contact Cassie Clark, a Wilson® Dyslexia Therapist (W.D.T.), CERI Certified Structured Literacy/Dyslexia Specialist (C-SLDS), educational advocate, and director of Educational Advocacy & Consulting (EAC) Dyslexia Center.

Two years ago, Cassie and fellow W.D.T. Jeanne Marois began Evan’s Wilson Reading System® (WRS) instruction at Step 1.1. Despite virtual lessons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Evan remained focused. “He didn’t seem to have a problem sitting through the entire lesson,” Robyn said. “He has the capacity to sit and learn when he’s engaged. He wants to climb through the Steps.”

Evan worked with Cassie and Jeanne every day for at least an hour. Robyn attended the WRS sessions with her son so she could later reinforce what he learned. With daily instruction, Evan’s language and literacy skills grew; he gained confidence in reading.

“I said recently to Robyn that when Evan started, we were just trying to blend two and three sounds together,” Cassie recalled. “Now, he’s working on reading and spelling two- and three-syllable words. I’ve seen his word identification grow. Decoding aside, Evan’s vocabulary, language, and comprehension have made strides.”

Jeanne remarked that Evan internalizes the language rules he learns and can spot digraphs and other word elements when he encounters new words. “I really feel like he’s building his orthographic mapping skills so he has word automaticity,” she explained. “He has it at the whole-word level, and he also has it at the syllable level. He looks at a multisyllabic word and sees many of those pieces as units. I’m also seeing his ability to isolate the sounds within a syllable. He had difficulty doing that in the past, but he has gotten stronger with it.”

Robyn noticed that Evan not only is expanding his vocabulary but also is more interested in the words he finds in day-to-day life. For example, he enjoys reading signs at the store and asks for help if he can’t decode a word for himself. He also sounds out words on the computer and doesn’t need as much help during computer time.

Words written in chalk on sidewalk

Evan has strong intrinsic motivation for reading. Beyond WRS instruction time at EAC Dyslexia Center, Evan practices reading at home and enjoys multimodal literacy activities. He even made his own sets of Word Cards, Word Element & Syllable Cards, and Letter-Sound Cards. He is currently working through Step 4 and learning more every day. The steady routine of lesson components helps him develop independence. He always knows what’s coming next in his lessons, and he understands how to use the student materials. Each accomplishment makes Evan more excited to achieve the next one.

Evan’s joy for reading overflows. He happily shares it with others, including several four-legged friends. Westmont Public Library recently restarted its READ program with Hinsdale Humane Society, which is designed to help children build confidence in their literacy skills by letting them read aloud to certified therapy pets. Cassie suggested that Evan might like reading to the dogs for extra practice and she was right—he eagerly embraced the idea.

When Evan first began attending monthly READ sessions, he opted to read stories with few words and many pictures. By the third session, however, Evan was feeling more confident in his abilities. He chose to read the story Chess Club from WRS Student Reader 3, which he had worked on with Cassie and Jeanne.

With minimal prompting, Evan settled in and got ready to read to his new furry pal. As the words tumbled from his lips, he was calm, regulated, and focused on his reading.

“It was like all the lights went on,” his mother said. When Evan needed help, Robyn was able to prompt him to use the approaches Cassie and Jeanne had taught him so he could move forward and keep reading.

After Evan finished reading, the therapy dog’s handler expressed surprise that Evan was able to read so well. Robyn told the handler about WRS. The handler then exclaimed, “This is certainly a testimony to Wilson!”

Evan continues to improve his literacy skills, applying language rules he has already learned to new text he encounters. His zest for life and internal motivation make reading fun!