Anne Webber has been passionate about helping students with dyslexia and learning differences for more than 20 years. In 1994, she came across a book titled, “The Gift of Dyslexia,” by Ron Davis. She decided to read this book after meeting Jason, who would later become her husband, who is also one of her greatest sources of inspiration. Anne was instantly attracted to Jason’s out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem solving. He was very driven to “just get out of school,” a place that had battered him around for his entire school career except for a select few exceptional special education teachers. “The Gift of Dyslexia” book helped her to understand the dyslexic mindset and shaped her thinking to realize the gift that dyslexia can be.
As a teacher, Anne recognized early that most dyslexics do not realize their gift. Sadly, it’s because they are often told they are “not smart” or “they are not trying hard enough.” Could you imagine having a gift that you cannot even open? Or worse, the gift you have makes you feel anxious, worried and defeated every, single day at school. Anne made it her mission to make school a safe place for all her students. She was on the lookout for kids that would normally slip through the cracks and worked tirelessly to get to know them better and adapted her teaching to their learning styles and unique needs.
Anne has worked with all types of students from the inner city to affluent suburbs. Learning differences do not have boundaries. In her early career, Anne worked with English Language Learners in Long Beach, CA who struggled because they were learning a new language and culture, plus learning how to read. Later, Anne worked in Huntington Beach, CA where she focused on helping students with Autism, ADD, Speech Disorders and Dyslexia in the general education classroom. It brought her joy to discover what made each child unique and special and made it her mission to find and focus on their strengths. Through building respect and trust her students felt comfortable enough to take risks and put in the hard work to achieve academic success.
After a decade in the classroom, Anne decided to expand her role outside of the classroom as an educational consultant. While teaching, Anne recognized that there was a lack of training and support for teachers who were working with students with learning differences in the typical classroom setting. Anne met with the Director of Curriculum and instruction at the district and explained the need for training and ongoing support for teachers. Luckily, the Director of Curriculum agreed and helped her to connect with the school board to facilitate bringing her in as a consultant instead of a classroom teacher. In this role she was able to provide support to teachers by delivering trainings regarding best practices for inclusion before the school year started. Then, during the school year Anne would provide ongoing support at the request of the school principals or classroom teachers. The support she provided included: curriculum modifications and accommodations, managing support staff, student behavior management, interacting/conferencing with parents, ongoing coaching and mentoring as well as attending SST and IEP meetings.
Once Anne became a mother, all her training and experience with learning differences came in handy. She was able to spot her son’s (Matt) speech delay and had him evaluated by the Orange County Regional Center. It turned out that he needed extensive speech and occupational therapy. Working as a consultant provided her the flexibility to be able to continue to support teachers and concurrently participate in her son’s speech and OT therapy. Forever an optimist, Anne thought it was lucky to have caught the speech delay and he completed all his therapy by the time he entered kindergarten. It turns out that the speech delay was just the on ramp to a much longer highway of learning challenges. Matt was not catching on to reading and memorization was very challenging. Anne was trying to fill in the gaps at home after school, but the gaps kept getting wider and her son more resistant. By second grade, Anne had him privately assessed and discovered he “qualified as a student with a Specific Learning Disability.” (S.L.D.) Yes, no one said the word dyslexia.
Fast forward to fourth grade and he could no longer keep up with the academic demands and he developed debilitating school anxiety. Anne started looking into other options and found The Prentice School in Tustin, CA. Life changed in unimaginable ways when Matt became a student there. He went from being worried and stressed to being happy about school. He could come home and ride his bike and go to soccer practice instead of spending several hours on homework. Attending a school that teaches the way he learns had changed his entire life. Instead of struggling to hang onto the fringe in the classroom he is now a leader academically and socially.
Remember the on ramp to the highway of learning differences? Well, the same year that Anne got Matt settled at The Prentice School, her daughter Elise was in seventh grade. Elise had always been a strong student, but organization was very challenging. By middle school, things were starting to unravel. The decision was made to have her daughter assessed and yes, Specific Learning Disability. In her case it is ADD, the inattentive type that is so often missed by teachers because these types of students are generally kind, helpful and hard working. Unfortunately, these kids are in turmoil because their executive function skills are not developed enough yet to achieve success in school. Elise is in high school now and very successful after learning organizational strategies and trying out medications.
Anne was thrilled to join as a member of the Board of Directors of Dyslexia Voice in August 2018. She was instantly attracted to the three columns in their mission: Awareness, Solutions and Results. On her own, Anne had been spreading awareness which is an important first step. After getting the word out about dyslexia, action needs to take place with solutions and results. Anne looks forward to assisting with dyslexia events, teacher trainings and providing audio books to students with dyslexia. The time has come to recognize the strengths that students with dyslexia bring to the table. Their unconventional way of thinking is an asset, not a liability. Anne firmly believes that the time has come for us to take a long look at the way teachers teach and students learn. A true reformation is needed where teachers can teach the way students learn with research based, systemic, multi-sensory curriculum that works for ALL students. The research is out there, we just need action.
Anne has set the bar high. Her goal is to start with Orange County, and then beyond at the state level. She aspires to have all students evaluated by age 5 to determine if they have early indicators of dyslexia. These kids must be taught the way they learn from the beginning, rather than having them fail first and possibly never recover. Most importantly, teacher training is the key component. A course on dyslexia should be a part of every teacher training program at the university level. In addition, teachers already in the classroom need ongoing support and training as well. It’s going to take baby steps, but you will never make it to your destination if you don’t take the first step and keep on going for however long it takes.