Elgin filmmaker embraces dyslexia in documentary
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org September 15, 2013 3:38PM
Alejandro Macias of Elgin, who is dyslexic, reads from a book in a scene from "Embracing Dyslexia." | Submitted
Updated: October 17, 2013 6:03AM
ELGIN — About a month into the 2011-12 school year, as they were transferring their son Alejandro from one private school in Elgin to another closer to their home, Luis Macias and his wife learned the first-grader was testing behind in reading.
That came as a surprise to them — they had no other children by which to gauge his progress — so they took the school’s advice, Macias said.
Alejandro was pulled out of class to meet with a resource teacher, and his parents hired an after-school reading tutor. He repeated the first grade when his teacher and principal said at the end of the year he still wasn’t at reading level.
“It started out pretty good. It seemed like the best thing to do,” Macias said.
“Then halfway through the school year, we started having issues. We were having homework battles. We would always end up with temper tantrums and us yelling at him, and that was pretty much the rest of the year.”
As Alejandro moved into second grade, things got even worse: He began complaining about headaches and throwing up at school, he said. That’s when his grandma, a former teacher, suggested he be tested for dyslexia.
And sure enough, Macias said, his son was dyslexic.
Making it right
That experience is what led Macias, a video editor for a graphic design firm in Barrington, to make the documentary “Embracing Dyslexia,” now streaming online for free at embracingdyslexia.com.
“This film is my chance to make things right. I can’t take back the decision to hold Ale back a year, something that will always be a terrible memory for him. I can’t take back the many times I accused Ale of being lazy and not trying hard enough,” Macias said in his director’s statement.
“This film is my way of trying to prevent other children and their families from having to go through what we did.”
The stories that Macias and other families and experts share in the documentary are stories Holly York said she hears “over and over and over again.” York works with children and adults with dyslexia through York Educational Services in Elgin. Before joining York, she worked in Community Unit School District 300 for 29 years as a special education teacher and administrator.
There are families that are told by schools that dyslexia does not exist, she said. There are families such as Macias’ that are warned by schools not to tell their children they have dyslexia because they don’t want to label them.
And there are few teachers who are trained to teach students with dyslexia, she said.
Dyslexia is not a visual impairment or reading disorder; it’s a language processing disorder, York said. People with dyslexia read by shape rather than by sounding out phonetics, she said.
“I don’t understand why at this time teachers are not getting quality training in what dyslexia is in college courses, because one out of five people have dyslexia,” she said.
Not long after his son was diagnosed, Macias and his wife attended a seminar in Elgin led by Susan Barton, an internationally recognized expert on dyslexia. He was surprised how few teachers from his son’s school were there, and he wanted to reach those teachers and parents and adults with dyslexia.
He launched his first Kickstarter campaign in summer 2012 to fund “Embracing Dyslexia,” he said. That campaign didn’t reach its funding goal, meaning the filmmaker wouldn’t have gotten any of the money people had pledged to the project through the website. So he reached out to those donors personally and started work on the film with about $5,000.
In February, a second, successful Kickstarter campaign raised the money he needed to complete the documentary, he said.
“Embracing Dyslexia,” which features Alejandro, York and Barton, among others, premiered Aug. 31 at the Marcus Elgin Cinema. It soon will be available on DVD, Macias said, but he always wanted to make it available to everyone, free on the Internet.
That’s because he wants parents and teachers to know what signs to look for, and for the general public to have an awareness of what dyslexia is. You never know when speaking up, as Alejandro’s grandmother did, might change a child’s life, he said.
“These kids are smart kids,” Macias said. “Unfortunately, we associate the inability to read with being dumb, and that is not the case. You just don’t know who you’re going to come across.”