About the program
Some people assume that kids with disabilities won’t achieve much. But if the teachers and parents featured in this program have anything to do with it, maybe that can change. Educators are rethinking how they teach reading, so that every child has a better chance to become a good reader. In New Mexico, Minnesota, Georgia, and Texas we’ll meet the amazing kids, parents, researchers, and teachers who are working to eliminate “assumicide” and give every child a chance to read.
This 30-minute program is the ninth episode of our award-winning PBS series, Launching Young Readers.
Signs of literacy
At Gideon Pond Elementary in Burnsville, Minnesota, Kitri Kyllo’s deaf and hard of hearing program is showing first graders like Jedidiah Figueroa how to read using cued English.
Dr. Dennis Higgins teaches seven boys in New Mexico who need some unique instruction. They are “twice exceptional,” which means they are both intellectually gifted and struggling to remediate an identified learning disability.
In Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. Patricia Mathes and her team are working to learn the best way to teach reading to children with cognitive disabilities, a population that is often in danger of being academically ignored.
Dr. Lee has a Ph.D., a great job, and learning disabilities. While his LD made school a challenge, he kept plugging away and is now director of the Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC) for the University System of Georgia. Today, he helps others learn how to utilize the assistive technologies he loves so much.
How I see words
Ethan Ligon, of Denton, Texas, is a ten-year-old Elvis fan who reads with his fingertips. Thanks to incredible dedication and support of his family and teachers, Ethan has grown into a strong Braille reader.
Watch the program
Q&A with Bob Ringwald
Molly Ringwald grew up in a family that cherished reading. Both her older sister and brother were early readers, as was she, according to her parents, Bob and Adele Ringwald. The Ringwalds spoke recently to Reading Rockets about growing up reading in the Ringwald household.
Did you use Braille to read to your children when they were young?
Bob Ringwald: I think when they were really little, I got some books that combined print and Braille but it was too slow for them. They were too impatient for the story.
So I didn’t read to them as much as my wife did because reading Braille is very slow, unless you’re really up on it.
I’m a professional musician, and I would be getting ready to go to work in the evening, but my wife had a routine with them. She would read to them every night.
Did any of your family ever learn Braille?
BR: None really showed an interest in Braille, although at some point in their schooling they started studying Helen Keller, so they might have been interested a bit during that time.
Were you born blind?
BR: No. It happened gradually over time. They call it RP now, it’s deterioration of the retina. I remember when I was four, I could see people across the street, I could see kids swinging on the swings, and then it faded away gradually.
As my sight was getting worse, I was needing to read more. As you go up in grades, of course, more is required in school. I attended regular school until fourth grade, but I didn’t get much out of that year. I went to a school for the blind in Berkeley and had to repeat fourth grade.
They had a program where they supplied tapes and books on tapes. I learned Braille and I learned how to type. I don’t really read Braille anymore because books on tape are so available, and I also use a speech reading program. But I use it to take notes for myself, for my own convenience.
I eventually came back and graduated high school from a regular school.
Did your children read to you out of necessity or for pleasure?
BR: The other two would read to me if I needed something, but Molly really liked to read to me. She would read scripts — she started getting scripts when she was about 10 or 11 — or compositions she had done in school, things she found interesting in books or magazines.
I remember when she first got the script of “The Breakfast Club.” She read it to me, and me not being an actor, I didn’t see the potential in it like she did. I always remember that — it turned out to be such a great movie.
Many of our viewers and subscribers are looking for ways to help young readers who are struggling. Were there ever any issues in your family that might be relevant for those who may have had a more difficult time?
Adele Ringwald: At one point, in an early grade, Molly had some problems with her writing, and her teacher wanted me to work on it with her. So when she had her nap, I got paper like they had in school, with the lines and broken lines on it, and I would write her a letter from a “secret pal.” I would write it with perfect printing like they wanted her to learn and I would write it in the genre of Raggedy Ann stories.
She loved the Raggedy Ann stories and had a whole collection of the books. I would leave it with something like Raggedy Ann hanging over a river with a crocodile circling below. Molly had to write a letter back in order to hear the rest of the story.
She loved it.
How about your other children?
AR: They all loved reading so much, I had to hide the book during the day so they couldn’t read it on their own and go on to the next chapter. I’d put it on the top of the refrigerator where they couldn’t see it. All three are avid readers even now.
BR: But Molly’s older sister has ADD. We didn’t know about things like that when she was little, but as a child, we knew that she couldn’t sit still very long. They were really good with her in school and they let her move around, when she needed to. Even now, if she goes to a movie, she has to get up about six times.
One thing she could sit still for was looking at books. She would even look at books with no pictures. I could never understand what she was getting out of it.
AR: Rhymes always helped. Molly she learned to sing when she was really young — she definitely inherited her musical ability from her father — and she could memorize anything that had to do with rhythm or music.
When she was six she had a repertoire of about 65 songs!
When the kids were young, they would all be the back seat while we were driving Dad to work. I’d keep them occupied with things like flash cards for their times tables. Molly learned all the ones that rhymed right away — like 6 times 8 is 48 — that’s how she remembered things. So rhyming was something that worked.
- Cued Speech Chart (from the National Cued Speech Association illustrating basic cue signs and placement)
- Effects of Hearing Loss on Development
- How Parents Can Be Advocates for Their Children
- Child-Based Risk Factors
- Who Are the Children Who Have Reading Difficulties?
- Gifted but Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox
- What Is Differentiated Instruction?
- National Cued Speech Association
- National Federation of the Blind
- American Foundation for the Blind
- Williams Syndrome Association
- National Association of the Deaf
- Council for Exceptional Children
- Alternative Media Access Center
- CINE Golden Eagle Award
- Finalist in the Children’s Health category, International Health & Medical Media Awards (the Freddie Awards), 2008
- Gold World Medal at the International Film and Video Competition of New York, 2008
- Silver Award of Distinction, 14th Annual Communicator Awards (International Academy of the Visual Arts), 2008
Molly Ringwald: Some people assume that kids with disabilities won’t achieve much.
Ethan: [reading] …even count…
Mathes: I call that assumicide.
Molly: But if these teachers and parents have anything to do with it …maybe that can change.
Ligon: I am tenacious as a junkyard dog.
Coleman: [gasps twice] I know!
Molly: Educators are rethinking how they teach reading …
Jolly: We can do this. We can go somewhere with this.
Molly: So that every child has a better chance to become a good reader.
Teacher: Good job!
Molly: Funding for “A Chance to Read” is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
Molly: I’m Molly Ringwald. I’ve always been very close to my dad … maybe because he’s a jazz pianist, and I’ve always loved to sing. When I started acting, I wanted to share that experience with him, too. But I couldn’t just hand him a script … because my dad is blind, and no one sent me scripts in Braille.
Molly: For many people with disabilities, learning to read — and getting access to the right material — doesn’t happen easily. How do we give kids with disabilities the chance to become strong readers? We begin our search for answers on a snowy hill in Minnesota.
Signs of Literacy (Burnsville, Minnesota)
Jedidiah: Let’s do it again!
Molly: Jedidiah Figueroa is in first grade at Gideon Pond Elementary, just outside Minneapolis.
Molly: In addition to being a top-notch sledder, his reading and writing skills are right up there — at or above his grade level. And for a child who’s hard of hearing, that’s exceptional.
Dr. Koo: Statistics show that on average a deaf person graduating from high school has a third or fourth grade reading level.
Molly: Dr. Daniel Koo is a neuroscientist with Georgetown University.
Dr. Koo: Most deaf children are the only deaf person in their home. About 90% have hearing parents. Most of them have limited communication or no exposure to sign language. And as a result, either these children come into the school with a weak first language or no first language.
Molly: Kitri Kyllo runs the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program in Jedidiah’s school district.
Kitri: A lot of language that hearing children pick up, they pick up through what they overhear, vocabulary and language around them, not through direct communication. Kids who are deaf and hard of hearing don’t have that opportunity.
Molly: Jedidiah’s mother had suspicions early on, but doctors didn’t diagnose his hearing loss until he was 18 months old.
Janet: Everything I picked up about hearing loss said you know the first three, three and a half years, you know, well, we were already halfway lost. We hadn’t had any language input. Now I’ve got a very limited time schedule to get language in this child and get him ready for school, and the pressure is on. But I couldn’t talk to him.
Molly: Janet had to find a way to communicate with her son. The obvious choice for deaf parents is American Sign Language. But it’s surprisingly complicated for a new user.
Janet: I couldn’t get proficient at it. And I didn’t have somebody to help me and correct me.
Kitri: The general public, I believe, thinks that when you sign, you are signing the language of English, which is not true at all. American Sign Language is a separate language by itself with a different grammar, different syntax.
Molly: To become fluent in American Sign Language requires just as much effort as becoming fluent in any second language, a big job for a busy mom.
Janet: [reading] A stranger zipped up on the strangest of cars…
Molly: Janet stumbled upon an alternative: Cued English. Cued English uses eight hand shapes and four hand placements, along with the natural movements of the mouth. That’s enough to visually represent every sound in the English language.
Janet: Words that look the same on the mouth like mom, bob, pop, look different for cues because it’s mom, bob, and pop, so the hand shapes changes.
Molly: Cued English was created at Gallaudet University to give deaf and hard of hearing kids visual access to the sounds of English — so they could learn to read more easily. It’s working well in Kitri’s program.
Kitri: We have seen a significant improvement in kids’ reading and writing skills since the implementation of cued English in our program.
Janet: [reading] Then one day, it seems while the plain bellied…
Janet: Cued speech was developed to help deaf kids become better readers; to give them access to the language of the home.
Janet: Gingerbread Man comes every year.
Janet: But for me it meant as soon as I had that system and I knew all those hand shapes and placements, I could say whatever I wanted to say to my baby that I hadn’t been able to talk to.
Jedidiah: …and I saw the Gingerbread Man.
Molly: So is there a place for American sign language in Jedidiah’s life? You bet. His mother wants him to be bilingual.
Kitri: We know, by having worked with deaf and hard of hearing children for a long time, and hearing the experiences of deaf adults, that the social communication that happens through American Sign Language is critical.
Molly: Dr. Koo learned to read through cueing, and he found a sense of belonging through signing. Nowadays he prefers to use signing to communicate, but he recommends both languages for deaf and hard of hearing children.
Dr. Koo: The hearing world uses predominantly English. American Sign Language is the language of the community, a place where people support each other, relate to each other, and where identity is developed. So I think that combining both languages can spell success for children.
Janet: He’s one of the best readers in the class.
Jedidiah: [reading] Nat…Nate and Pam…
Janet: And he’s a bright guy. He’s worked really hard. My greatest hope for him is that he will be able to do what he really wants to do, and to be able to learn what he wants to learn.
Twice Exceptional (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Jack: …and some of us had jackets…
Molly: At Bellehaven Elementary here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dennis Higgins teaches seven boys who are refugees from the traditional classroom.
Zain: At my old class, I got bullied…
Mateo: A lot of kids just called me dumb and lazy …
Molly: Here the kids can feel safe to try things that may be hard for them.
Mateo: And I’m still not great at reading, but I’m getting better.
Molly: Mr. Higgins’ students are what academics call “twice exceptional.” They’ve been formally identified by the school system as gifted. And they all have an identified disability, as well.
Zain: Older juveniles play aggressive …
Molly: For example, Zain Bajwa is a second grader who can already do fifth grade math. He also has dyslexia.
Dr. Higgins: I’m loving the way you’re using all that wonderful vocabulary you’ve learned.
Molly: Many schools focus only on the disability — but ignoring a child’s strengths can be devastating.
Elizabeth Nielsen:if we took the very thing you did the worst at and said, “That’s what we’re gonna do most of the day” — that, you know, you’re gonna do it not only in reading, but you’re gonna do it when we talk about social studies. “And, oh, by the way, get out your history text.” How many times can you fail in a day and not feel that you are truly a failure?
Molly: When teachers support the development of a child’s gift, they’re letting these kids know that they can excel at something.
Dr. Higgins: Excellent job. Wonderful contribution. Thank you, Mateo.
Molly: Dr. Mary Ruth Coleman is president of the Council for Exceptional Children.
Mary Ruth Coleman: If we don’t catch this early and provide appropriate support and help kids understand where their strengths are and where their struggles are, they begin to define it for themselves. “I must be stupid.” “They think I’m smart, but they don’t know.” Or, “I must be lazy.” And it’s a message teachers send to children: “If you’d work a little harder, you could do it.” They do not perceive themselves as learners, and they will not feel good about school situations that require them to do things that they struggle with.
Dr. Higgins: Let Zain be the lead. Let’s go guys, let’s go!
Molly: Thanks to a supportive principal, Mr. Higgins can work with these twice-exceptional kids in their own small class. This year Mr. Higgins has all boys, but girls can be twice exceptional, too, like his daughter, Chaytea. She’s the one who inspired him to get into this field. His methods, developed with his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Nielsen, include challenging these bright kids with sophisticated projects —
Zain: because the infants might get really badly injured.
Higgins: and how do you, how do you think they know that?
Molly: — and he works to remediate their disabilities.
Higgins: Aardvark, ok, I love that word
Molly: Mr. Higgins has been working with Zain on the basic connections between letters and sounds, and Zain’s father has noticed a change.
Higgins: Nosy. Good job.
Naeem Bajwa: … he is, like, more delighted, more in — he come home, and he seem like he’s — he’s very successful every day.
Higgins: Let’s say it all together now.
Zain: Have one map…
Higgins: You’ve got it!
Higgins: Zain can see that he’s making progress. And he…he hasn’t said this, but it has to feel good to him. It has to. He can join in and say, wow! I can think about things because I can read about things.
Molly: To identify twice exceptional kids, teachers should watch for inconsistencies in their students’ performance.
Mary Ruth Coleman: The first thing that would happen is you would see this youngster who, when you ask them a question, they say, “[Gasps twice] I know,” and then they’ll tell you just everything about whatever question you’ve asked. But then you ask them to jot down a sentence, and they have a hard time jotting down a sentence.
Eli: So they practice…
Molly: Dr. Coleman could easily be describing Eli Stone, who has a gift for science.
Katie Stone: And so we had studied electricity, solar electric, coal, nuclear electricity. And he understood at five renewable versus non renewable energy.
Molly: Eli loves to talk, but writing is another story.
Katie: Eli hates writing. He hates the physical act of holding a pencil and writing words out.
Molly: This is typical of many twice-exceptional kids.
Molly: A computer is one way to work with reluctant writers.
Higgins: even though the spelling issues are still there and the grammar issues are still there, he can get his ideas across in a more sophisticated way.
Higgins: Are we starting at the beginning with ‘when the rain came down?’
Molly: Mr. Higgins hopes to ease the boys back into a general education classroom, so every day they spend some time with children in the mainstream. Today they’re on a field trip with the class next door to record a song they all wrote together.
Class: [singing] …it touched every meadow, it touched every tree…
Molly: Success for these boys involves addressing their disabilities while giving them every chance to develop their gifts.
Stone: It can be very difficult to have a child who is extraordinary in any way but kids like Eli, innovative thinkers are going to be the ones who come up with a creative solution that just might save the world. If you ask Eli what he’s going to do with his life, he will tell you I’m going to save the world.
Untapped Potential (Fort Worth, Texas)
Britton: Are you ready for Special Olympics?
Britton: When we go in March? What are you going to do?
Jason: Play basketball.
Britton: And what else?
Molly: Jason Franklin and his fellow students have what are known as cognitive disabilities. Here in Texas and in many other states, that means among other things that they have an IQ under 70. Many schools have low expectations for kids like them.
Dr. Mathes: I think that the reason people who have not really focused on literacy and reading is a belief that it was too cognitively challenging and that, perhaps, these children just could not be readers.
Jason: Next…next crab…
Dr. Mathes: People often make assumptions about what these kids are capable of doing. I call that “assumicide,” because they make an assumption that they’re not capable, and then they never try.
Molly: Dr. Patricia Mathes is testing those assumptions, with a study in Fort Worth.
Molly: For most children, reading instruction involves phonics: learning the relationship between letters and sounds. But many schools teach children with cognitive disabilities just to memorize one word at a time.
Dr. Mathes: To read at about a third-grade level, you have had to have memorized about 10,000 words. That’s a lot of words to have memorized, especially with a cognitive disability. In order to read every word in the English language, however, you have to memorize the 26 letters and then all the way[s] they’re combined. That’s still a lot to learn, but it’s a lot less.
Teacher: Practice with lots of different words.
Molly: Dr. Mathes and her colleagues have placed specially trained teachers in schools throughout the Fort Worth area.
Karen: Let’s review our letter sounds.
Molly: Using a standard, phonics-based curriculum, they hope to prove that children with cognitive disabilities can learn to read — and not just memorize a small group of sight words.
Jason: [sounding out word] guh-ihh-ff-tuh…gift.
Molly: Karen Britton is Jason’s teacher.
Karen: I think that the first impression someone gets of Jason can be very misleading, because he is so outgoing. However, when he gets into the classroom, he’s got some huge challenges that he’s got to overcome.
Molly: Jason has Williams syndrome. Like others with this rare genetic condition, Jason has a wonderfully outgoing personality, a strong affinity for music — and significant learning difficulties. Here’s Jason’s mother, Mauna Mims:
Mims: It took him forever to walk, to crawl, to talk. He’s nine and we just successfully learned to tie a shoe.
Britton: When I first started teaching Jason, to sound out a word would take him a really long time, even a simple word like, if the word was “cat,” and he sounded out “cuh-ah-tuh,” by the time he went back, to say the word he’d forgotten the first letter.
Mathes: what these children add to the mix is serious memory deficits, nd we know that we have to just repeat things again and again and again for them.
Britton: Everybody together.
Classroom: [sounding out word] “huh-ah-nuh-duh… hand”
Mathes : what’s different about this curriculum is that everything is moving in what I call little baby steps. In a typical curriculum, you teach a child one piece, and they can make a jump to another piece. We don’t make jumps; we make little, teeny steps.
Molly: Bea Jolly is another teacher in the study. And she knows about teeny steps, including teeny steps backward.
Bea: progress is up and down. Today, he might have his — his letters and sound down, and tomorrow we’ll come back, and it’s like we never introduced the sound or the letters
Molly: Bea teaches Aidan and Jordan, who need her to move very slowly. It may take them a month or more to learn a new sound. But that makes the baby steps feel like triumphs.
Jolly: when they come to class the next day, and they still can recall a sound, it’s like, “Whoa! I did something.”
Mathes: If they don’t know something consistently, I don’t think we can say that they’ve really learned it. So, we go out and measure every two weeks
Teacher: Which picture begins with ‘Ahh?’
Mathes: these measures don’t tell us everything, but we do see growth. If children look very flat time after time after time, we know that we’re not doing what we need to do for them.
Mathes: but we do know, compared to the children that are not getting the intervention, that — the trends are all in favor, that at the end of the day, these children will be readers.
Mims : he has to be able to function in this world. He has to learn how to read. I tell him all the time, you know, I won’t always be here. Learn, learn, learn as much as you can.
Jason & Mims: [laughter]
Molly: Jason’s mom has a point. Kids who struggle with reading often become adults who struggle to make a living or just to get through the day. But what can happen when kids get the support they need? Let’s meet Dr. Christopher Lee. He’s a college administrator with severe dyslexia — and a mission.
Access Granted (Athens, Georgia)
Lee: So what you need to do is you need to go to your disabilities service provider and they’ll be on campus. You need to track them down…
Lee: I-I-I can spell my first name. I can spell the street I-I-I live on. I can spell my middle name off and on.
Molly: Christopher Lee has learning disabilities.
Molly: He also has a Ph.D., a great job, and a mean butterfly stroke.
Molly: The butterfly came easily. The Ph.D. and the job took blood, sweat, and tears — beginning very early.
C: Elementary school was just painful. I always was afraid that someone was gonna catch me, um…that — that someone was gonna ask me to read out loud so I was always trying to hide.
Molly: Success in competitive swimming gave Christopher the confidence to keep plugging away at school. He wound up swimming for the varsity team at the University of Georgia. And that’s where reading and writing became more than pain and misery.
C: For so many years, it was all about mechanics. I spent years with teachers telling me, “Spell this right. Um…put a period here. Do the right grammar.” I never really got to the actual content. It wasn’t til college that I had teachers that taught me that it wasn’t about mechanics of writing. It was actually about getting something beautiful down on the paper.
Molly: Now he’s back at the University, goofing off during his lunch break — and working to help students like himself. He’s the director of the Alternative Media Access Center, or AMAC . They provide electronic textbooks to students with disabilities all over Georgia. They also provide training on the software that helps students get the most out of these books. Christopher’s an expert at that, because he uses these tools every day.
C: What I do is, I basically open up a talking pointer, which allows me to put my cursor on any part of the paper and it will read to me.
Computer: Britain to cut one thousand six hundred troops in Iraq, Blair says.
C: That sounds a little depressing, so I probably will miss that article and go to the next articles.
Molly: And here’s how he writes …
C: This position…will assist…The Alternative Media Access Center…cap that. Now that may seem awkward slow. However I’m proud of having voice recognition software. I couldn’t even put a complete thought down in writing because it scared me so much.
Molly: Christopher has been able to write two books and a 246-page dissertation thanks to technology, so he’s a big fan.
C: I can’t tell you how much I love technology.
Molly: Christopher works closely with lawyer Tamara Rorie.
Molly: She’s the head of compliance at AMAC — and she’s blind.
Tamara: When I was young and going through school I remember having five, six Braille books in a big old huge bag.
Molly:Today Tamara carries around her Braille in her PDA.
T: It talks and it has a Braille display. So I can read the notes that I’ve taken. I can read the files that I download. I often will download books directly to this PDA and read those.
Molly:So how do you get a history book onto a Braille PDA? or into any electronic format? Some publishers will provide the files, but if they don’t … it’s slice and dice.
Molly: Yes, AMAC is digitizing books by hand. It’s tedious and expensive … and critical.
Tamara: Seventy percent of people with disabilities and 70 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired are unemployed. The tragedy of the 70 percent unemployment rate is that all of those people want to be employed. They all have skills to offer. They all have potential.
Molly: Christopher is working to spread the word about alternative media. He wants to provide his electronic books to college students nationwide, and he’s working to push the message down into grade schools.
Molly: The mission is personal.
Christopher: For so many years, I truly believed I wasn’t very smart. I truly believed I was stupid. And um…that kills me because there’s so many other kids like me going through the same thing, and we’ve got to catch these kids early.
C: Mark, are you there?
Molly: That compassion keeps him on the job and his spirits high. Someone’s got to look out for kids with disabilities! He’s like a superhero who wants to share the source of his powers.
Christopher: Technology can unlock the minds of these individuals that are right now kind of locked behind a cage of letters and it can get them through college and it can have them keep and maintain a job. It can open the world for them. It can make them independent. Yeah, they can change the world.
How I See Words (Denton, Texas)
Ethan: [music playing and singing] You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time…
Molly: Ethan Ligon, of Denton, Texas, is a ten-year-old Elvis fan. Ethan’s in fourth grade. He likes to horse around with his brother. And he likes to read. Ethan reads … with his fingertips.
Ethan: I’ll do everything except the stuff I can’t do.
Ms. Ligon: When you first find out about blindness…you think , “Oh, my God. This is what causes divorces.”
Molly: Ethan’s parents went through all the stages of grieving.
Mr. Ligon: You can either let it consume you, or you can decide there is another way — there’s another way to live.
Spencer: You know I exist, don’t you, Ethan?
Ethan: Yeah, but I got here first.
Molly: For the Ligons, that other way included learning Braille together with their child — not an easy task.
Eric Ligon: It’s this snowstorm, because Braille — because of its bulk — it’s printed on the front and back of the sheet, so you see the raised dots. You see the depressed dots. […] and it’s a blizzard.
Leslie Ligon: Was I daunted? Yes. I have clear memories of wishing it would all just go away.
Molly: But these parents forged ahead.
Eric: We couldn’t see ourselves sort of that removed from — from the process of — of reading with the kids and checking homework, so we learned Braille.
Molly: They didn’t just read it — they wrote notes to Ethan on a Braille typewriter and put them in his lunchbox every day.
Ethan: “I’m really proud of you. Love , Mom.”
Molly: Even before the Ligons learned Braille, they made sure that Ethan was surrounded by it.
Leslie Ligon: I would just give Ethan one of those Braille books. It was then that it occurred to me it really doesn’t matter what Ethan is holding as long as he’s holding Braille.
Ethan: [reading] Mrs. Gorf had never…
Eric Ligon: She just wanted him to associate Braille with — with reading. And I think it was 18 months when she started reading something and — she didn’t have Braille with her — but she started reading and he put his hand on the page looking for the Braille.
Leslie: That was when I knew he understood that’s how you read.
Ethan: [singing] Woodrow Wilson, Woodrow Wilson…
Molly: Ethan goes to Woodrow Wilson Elementary. His teacher is Matt Preston. This is Matt’s first year with a blind student.
Matt Preston: With Ethan, I’ve gotta really plan more in advance, and that’s helped me be more organized as a teacher… all work has to be Brailled 2 weeks ahead of time whereas before, I could kinda go on the fly a little bit more.
Molly: To keep Ethan organized, he works every morning with his Braille teacher, Diane Briggs. They review what Mr. Preston has planned for the day — like some new vocabulary …
Molly: And they study Braille — today it’s contractions …
Ethan: “e-r, 1, 2,4”
Molly: When Diane is one-on-one with Ethan, she’s hands-on. In the classroom, she keeps her distance.
Diane Briggs: I’m there to support him in things that he cannot do on his own, but I am not there to hold his hand, and I’m not there to be a crutch.
Diane Briggs: Oftentimes,.. some of the reactions are, “Oh, well, we won’t expect him to do as much as everyone else.” And I do try to dispel that as quickly as possible, we’ve gotta keep the expectation up there, and the child will rise.
Molly: Ethan’s a really lucky kid. He’s got a terrific Braille teacher — and those are very hard to come by. Only 10% of people who are blind ever get to learn Braille. Even more rare is the unusually dedicated support of his parents. The Ligons have embraced Braille. And they’ve fought to get Ethan the services he needs.
Leslie: I’m tenacious as a junkyard dog, I’ll fight for my kids. I’ll fight for Ethan, who’s blind, and for Spencer, who’s sighted. I’ll do whatever it c- it takes to teach them how to fly and how to be independent, because that’s what we all want for our kids.
Molly: Like Ethan, my dad was one of the few children who had the chance to learn Braille. I’m so glad he did. The love of a good story has always been a strong bond between us.
Molly: As I raise my three-year-old daughter, I’ve come to see that there are some things that are easy to pass on — like my brown eyes — and some that are much more difficult. But it’s hard to think of anything we can give a child that’s more important than the chance to read.
Molly: To learn more about teaching reading to children with disabilities, please visit us online at pbs [dot] org.
Molly: To order a DVD of “A Chance to Read” — or to order the entire “Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers” series — please call 1-800-757-6845.