Wrightslaw: The Untold Story

Note: Today's blog post is an excerpt from "The Untold Story" written by Peter Wright of Wrightslaw and is the first in a 3-part series exploring the inspiring story of one man's personal experiences with dyslexia, from student to nationally known advocate. We'll follow Peter through his early years all the way to his landmark Supreme Court victory that has made a positive difference for thousands of children that have learning differences. We'll conclude this series with a new interview with Peter himself. Read here and stay tuned! In 1951, my kindergarten teacher told my parents, "Peter does not listen to his teachers, does not respond to school rules and definite directions . . . listening and doing are necessary requisites for first grade." The following year, my first grade teacher said, "He makes most of his numbers backwards . . . I am having a little trouble understanding Peter; he is a nice little boy, but he does not appear at all interested in first grade . . . I know he has a good mind."

Later, teachers said that, "He is fussy, too free with his fists." "I am quite disappointed in Peter . . . He does not pay attention to directions and he has to be spoken to frequently for talking." (Next marking period) "Peter continues to disappoint me . . . He does not do his best at all times because he does not keep his mind on his work and wastes a great deal of time . . . I hope he will try to improve before the closing of the school year as he is a capable boy."

At different times, I was labeled as borderline mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed. During my public school career, I was never viewed as having college potential so I was placed in the general track, where I took touch typing for two years (when it was called typing, not keyboarding).

Who is Pete Wright? For the special educators in the audience, I was one of your children.

From elementary school to the third grade, I reversed not only my spoken speech, pasghetti, for spaghetti, concepts, over under in out, and reading and writings were filled with reversals. I also had what was called "mirror writing".

My teachers told my parents that I could do well if I would only try harder. I had ants in my pants and could not sit still. I was eventually diagnosed as having strephosymbolia and word blindness. These are labels for what we now call Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

I received extensive individual tutoring every day after school in 1953. In 1954 I attended a residential camp. I continued one-on-one tutoring the next year. I was prescribed Dexedrine and took that through elementary and junior high school years as a means to reduce the hyperkinetic behavior.

The tutoring technique used with me in 1953 is what is known today as the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory, visual auditory, kinesthetic tactile approach to language learning. My tutor was Diana King who later founded the Kildonan School and is referred to in several of the cases that preceded Carter.

I attended Washington D.C. public schools and, by the end of the 11th grade had a strong D+ average. My parents sent me to a small New England prep school with student teacher ratio of 6 to 8 students per class where the professors were aware of my dyslexia.

After graduating from that school, I attended Randolph Macon College in Virginia and worked in Virginia’s juvenile training schools and juvenile courts. At the same time I attended Virginia Commonwealth University and took 30 graduate credit hours in psychology, intending to become a psychologist. I needed a practicum which was hard to do while working full time.

While working as a probation officer, I became involved with the Orton Dyslexia Society and the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (now LDAA). Many of the youngsters that I worked with in the training schools and juvenile courts had undiagnosed, unremediated learning disabilities. I used educational remediation to reduce delinquent behavior and spoke at the National Conferences of the ACLD and Orton Dyslexia Society about LD and juvenile delinquency in 1974 and 1975.

Later in 1975 I attended Law School and immediately became involved in special education litigation after passing the Bar. By the early 1980’s I was handling a large number of special ed cases and in the Fall of 1984 was a primary speaker at the National Orton Dyslexia Annual Conference which was held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I held a training session for lawyers and parents about special ed law and actual trial tactics in the litigation of special education cases.

That led to my talking to parents and educators at the North and South Carolina Annual Orton Conference in the spring of 1985 at Wingate College, North Carolina. Shannon Carter’s parents were in the audience. Who is Shannon Carter? Stay tuned for next week's blog post about her landmark Supreme Court case...