Oh, the Places We’ll Go! Second Anniversary of the “Say Dyslexia” Law

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

Seven years ago, a bright little boy entered a Tennessee public kindergarten happy and ready to learn. He knew all of his dinosaurs, and even whether or not they lived in the Jurassic or Crustaceous period. He knew that a turtle is a reptile (and even corrected his momma when she thought it was an amphibian and had to look it up), and he knew that a mushroom is a fungus.

But he did not know that a “d” represents a sound in print form, and the “d” says “duh.”

He did not know this despite being read to nightly from birth. He did not know this despite hours upon hours of work with his mom, one on one. He did not know this despite being placed into the highest rated pre-k in Knox County, a pre-K his momma camped out overnight in her car to get him into. 

His momma didn’t know why. His teacher didn’t know why. His principal didn’t know why.

Why was learning letters so extremely difficult for this clearly bright boy?!?!

It wasn’t until two and a half long years later that the momma, through hours and hours of research, tears, and testing, found out her little boy has dyslexia – which happens to be the most common reason for reading failure.


If this is the most common reason why didn’t the school know?!? Why wasn’t there more awareness?!?

That momma teamed up with other mommas and together, they founded a grassroots movement called Decoding Dyslexia-TN.

Within that movement, parents started talking. Parents found support. Another momma – from across the state – had been going through the same experience. Lori Smith and her daughter, Ryann, were fed up and said it’s time to write a law. Who is in?

That law, the Say Dyslexia Law, was passed by the Tennessee legislature on April 19, 2016, signed on June 9th, and went into effect on July 1st.

Change is slow going, but in the two years since the law passed, things started to happen.

  • A dyslexia advisory council was formed in the state of Tennessee
  • A dyslexia guide was written based on the input from that council
  • Some parents in Knox County requested to join Decoding Dyslexia because they received a letter from their school stating their child exhibits the characteristics of dyslexia
  • Some parents in Metro-Nashville were offered summer programs that are targeted to their children’s specific reading needs, based on explicit instruction
  • Schools are beginning to say the word that was once so taboo – dyslexia. They are SAYING dyslexia!

Oh! What the momma to that little dinosaur-loving boy would have given to have known her child had the characteristics of dyslexia when he was in kindergarten! That momma was me, and when the first Knox County parent entered our Facebook group after receiving a letter from the school – I sat down and cried. 

Not just cried, bawled. It is working. Change is happening. Is everything perfect? No, it’s not. We still hear stories daily of the struggle parents have, but it IS getting better.

When you know why your child is struggling, you can tackle the situation head-on with a plan.

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard on this cause. Our children will have a brighter future, and we will keep working until every child has the opportunity to learn how to read. 

About the author: Julya Johnson is the President of Decoding Dyslexia-TN, parent of two children who have dyslexia, and a tireless momma advocate for awareness and acceptance.

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