A better reading on dyslexia

Gina Belafonte, actress, producer, activist, and the youngest daughter of Harry Belafonte, will be the featured guest at a Reading Center event on Dec. 4 at the Rochester International Event Center.

Belafonte will speak about her experience with dyslexia and explore connections between dyslexia and civil rights. Both she and her father struggled to read due to dyslexia.

Cindy Russell, executive director of the Reading Center, said dyslexia is the "unexpected difficulty in learning to read, write, or spell." It is unexpected, she said, because a person with dyslexia has a high intelligence, but the brain is processing information differently. Dyslexia is very common, affecting 1 in 5 people.

Russell also said that dyslexia is frequently underdiagnosed and "the impact of unrecognized dyslexia on a struggling student is often devastating for his or her learning and self-confidence."

In a telephone interview, Belafonte, whose dyslexia was misdiagnosed for years, spoke of her early experiences in school as a child with reading difficulties.


To be taken out of the classroom for different reading class, to need more time to complete assignments, and to have teachers repeatedly correcting her made her feel "like there was something wrong with me. It deeply plagued my self-esteem," she said.

Belafonte stressed the fact that people with dyslexia are just "differently skilled, and what someone without dyslexia sees on the printed page is not what we see." It may take a bit more time for those with dyslexia to decode the words, "but we need to begin to accommodate our children so that they can become empowered," she said.

Belafonte discovered that while academics were more challenging because of the dyslexia, she excelled in the arts and sports. Those areas were "the space where I found success," she said.

After college, Belafonte became an actress and producer. She is the producer of "Sing Your Song," a documentary about the life and civil rights work of Harry Belafonte. She continues to work on civil rights issues.

The particular measures of success which Belafonte achieved, graduation from high school and college, are not always achieved by those with learning difficulties. According to data reported by the Reading Center, 50 percent of youth with learning disabilities drop out of high school. People without high school diplomas earn on average $630,000 less over their lifetimes.

The effects of dyslexia can be lifelong, which is one reason why early detection of reading problems is key. Those with dyslexia can be taught specific methods to improve their reading and spelling abilities.

Holly Galbus is a Rochester freelance writer.



If you go

What: Reading Center event to discuss issues of dyslexia with Gina Belfonte.

When: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 4. Begins with a social hour; program starts at 6:30.

Where: Rochester International Event Center, 7333 Airport View Drive S.W.

Admission: Free, but guests must register by Nov. 29 at, or by calling 507-288-5271.

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