Imagine that your brain works differently than others, but it was never explained why. Imagine asking for help to learn how to read but never receiving it. Imagine graduating from college only reading at a fourth-grade level. Imagine these reading struggles preventing you from succeeding in your career.

Now imagine finding out that you have dyslexia, but it was never identified, and you did not help until you were an adult.

I do not have to imagine this because that is my story and unfortunately, this story is far too common among students with dyslexia.

In Michigan, it is estimated 20% of people struggle with dyslexia. While some students can overcome this challenge, too many go unidentified and do not receive the help they need in school. No student should have to experience the same hurdles I had in learning to read so I could reach my full potential. This is why I support Senate Bills 567 and 568, which are currently in the Michigan House of Representatives.

These bills would create a better process to identify students who may be struggling with the characteristics of dyslexia. The bills will also provide teachers with additional training so they are more equipped to instruct students like me. Most importantly, the legislation would require schools to provide all students with the resources needed to improve their reading skills. I wish I had received that help, but instead I was passed on from grade to grade without ever becoming a strong reader.

Middle school is where I started figuring out that my brain was different from my peers. I could not read or write like them. When the teacher called on me to read aloud, I struggled. As I was struggling, I watched everybody laughing at me. I never gave up and practiced every day. The more I tried, the more I was teased and picked on for not knowing how to read. My teachers, though well intended, were never given the skills or training to help me overcome my reading difficulties.

In high school I continued to struggle. I needed a plan to keep me in school and I decided to use sports to motivate me. To be on the team you had to maintain a 2.5 grade point average. I did just that by going to class every day, participating in class, and turning in my work right or wrong. By just showing up and doing work, I was able to graduate while still reading at a fourth-grade level. After high school, I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to Central Michigan University to play football.

In college I faced my most challenging times. My reading issues continued both in the classroom and on the football field. I struggled because I could not read the plays or understand the concepts. It took years for me to master the playbook that to me seemed like a dictionary. Once I was able to get on the field, though, that is when I was able to show my God-given talents. I did so well in my senior season that the NFL scouts were interested in me. I eventually graduated from CMU still reading at a fourth- grade level.

After college, I signed with the Detroit Lions and needed to prove myself to stay on the team. But the NFL playbook was even harder than the college playbook. I thought with hard work and talent that I could show them what I was capable of, but not knowing how to read the playbook hurt my chances. The Lions cut me several times, but they kept bringing me back because I had the talent to play at the next level. I put in the time to study the playbook but because of my dyslexia I could not master it. Eventually, my talent was not enough to overcome my inability to read, and I had to give up on my dream of playing in the NFL.

Not every student is going to have the opportunity to try out for the NFL, but all students have dreams and goals for their life. Undiagnosed dyslexia and a broken system that allowed me to slip through the cracks cost me my dream, but we can do better. We can change the law to prevent this from happening to other kids.

After my wife became pregnant, I wanted to be that father that read to his daughter. Fortunately, I was able to find a retired teacher named Susan who was patient enough to tutor me. She was the first person to be able to explain why my brain worked the way it did. She taught me to decode, read and spell multi-syllable words. With lots of hard work, I became a better reader and now love reading books to my daughter.

I was blessed to have found Susan and that she had been trained to teach reading based on what science tells us about how our brain acquires the ability to read. Not everyone is so lucky, which is why passing these bills is urgent. Most students cannot afford a private tutor and not all teachers are trained in how to instruct students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties.

My journey has led me to spread the word about dyslexia and the importance of highly trained teachers. I am living proof that anyone can become a better reader if given the right opportunity and instruction. These opportunities need to be provided in our schools. Nobody should have to wait until they are an adult to learn how to read.

I continue to speak with kids who struggle to read and to their teachers. I share my story with them. I encourage them not to give up and remind them that every child can learn how to read. These are smart kids, but too many of them are not receiving the help they need to become strong readers. We cannot continue to let them down. The bills being debated in the House of Representatives will help these students. Now is the time to change the law and provide struggling readers and students like me with the help they deserve so they can achieve their dreams.

Now is the time to change the law and provide struggling readers and students like me with the help they deserve so they can achieve their dreams.


This opinion piece appeared in The Detroit News. Deon Butler grew up in Inkster and graduated from Central Michigan University. He is a speaker, mentor and author.