Abby Wright, 6, smiled when the balloon artist finished her balloon hat during the Dyslexia Awareness Fall Festival in downtown Conway on Saturday afternoon.
Abby’s mother, Angela, said the festival — complete with children’s crafts and activities and information on dyslexia — was "pretty awesome."
Wright’s sister had dyslexia and graduated from school with a fourth-grade reading level, Wright said. The condition runs in families, so Wright worries Abby might have dyslexia too.
Dyslexia is a language-processing disorder that affects one in five people and impacts how schoolchildren learn. But Arkansas schools aren’t required to screen for the condition, said Kim Head, project manager of The Dyslexia Project under the nonprofit Community Connections.
Connections is dedicated to children with disabilities and their families, according to the group’s website.
Without screening to detect dyslexia early, children can fall behind on reading and writing and struggle to learn, Head said.
"They learn to read and spell in a completely different way," Head said. "With academics, it’s like (dyslexic children) hit this brick wall."
The project’s mission is to raise the public’s awareness of dyslexia and to provide low-cost tutoring and resources, Head said.
Head is the force behind putting together Arkansas’s first dyslexia awareness festival. She hopes the event will become annual and statewide because people need to be talking about dyslexia, she said.
"Why aren’t people talking about it?" Head said. "Why is it not a big deal that kids aren’t reading and writing and learning skills and keeping jobs they want when there are programs so they could?"
Head’s son, Noah, 7, is dyslexic. After seeing him struggle for years and taking him to speech therapy and occupational therapy, Noah was finally diagnosed this past January after Head did her own research.
"There’s not many people trained to diagnose dyslexia," Head said.
Head said she wants to help families with dyslexic children find resources to boost learning. She taught her son from a program that focuses on multi-sensory learning and he went from reading below the kindergarten-level to reading at the first-grade level in seven months, she said.
Since The Dyslexia Project organized this summer, Head has been visiting local schools to talk about dyslexia. So far, about 200 local families have joined the project, she said.
The community involvement in the project and the event to spotlight dyslexia has been wonderful, she said. Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., up to about 300 people came to the festival, Head said.
On Monday, families with dyslexic children will go to the state Capitol to talk to legislators about the need for legislation to screen schoolchildren and promote intervention programs.
A similar bill failed last year during the last legislative session, but legislators plan to revive it.
On Saturday, while waiting for a balloon sword for Abby’s brother, Alex, 8, Wright said her family is new to the area, but she loves the idea that Conway is bringing awareness to dyslexia.
"It’s wonderful to find a community that spotlights dyslexia," she said.