Katherine Long spent the first Monday of her retirement reading your emails.

After 29 years at The Seattle Times, Katherine chose to leave to pursue freelancing. She capped off her time here with two stories on a subject that was mostly new to her: learning disabilities. The stories, which ran on our front pages on Sunday and Monday, July 7 and 8, detailed the struggles families face when seeking testing for learning disabilities, and the solutions some found in local schools that taught reading through “structured literacy,” a more intricate type of phonics.

The response was immediate. Over the weekend, her inbox flooded with your notes. Some of you told her about your successes with phonics more than half a century ago; some shared stories about diagnoses; others reinforced some of Katherine’s reporting about a Seattle private school called Hamlin Robinson.

We’re sharing some of the responses here, with the permission of the senders.

Do you have a story to share about learning disabilities or special education? Write to us: edlab@seattletimes.com.

Here are unedited excerpts from their emails:

David Welton, retired cardiologist, Whidbey Island

I was thought to have a serious learning disability as a first grade student in 1953, as I struggled with “Dick and Jane.” My second grade teacher recognized that I was actually not stupid, and gave me a tool to sound out words, Phonics.


By third grade I could read a Hardy Boys book in a few hours, by fourth grade I was reading “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne despite long complex five syllable words. I have given thanks to Mrs. Welch almost daily for providing the foundation of a successful professional career. Phonics works!

Richard Rian, retiree, Port Angeles

The subject is most dear to me. It was at the age of 52 when I first learned what my condition was. Several years later I was tested with the results being that I was extremely Dyslexic. The Doctor testing me said “I have no idea how you ever graduated from high school.” Asking that I take another test for IQ. Did so and the results were as the Dr. said “Off the chart.” Said I should contact Mensa.

I am writing a number of question and giving my answers if only for an exercise for myself. If these seem to make sense I would like to share these with you. Some time I feel those that have the condition might just have a key to the solution.

Kathleen Allen, nonprofit executive, West Seattle

Thank you very much for your excellent reporting in this Sunday’s Seattle Times about undiagnosed learning disabilities. It is a story that has been long overdue. My son’s experience is very similar to the children you profiled. We, too, had to leave public school and move him to Hamlin Robinson. He graduated from eighth grade this year reading at an 11th-grade level.

This is a huge equity issue that goes unnoticed because it is very easy for the schools to put the blame on the students or the families. This disability isn’t as visibly evident as autism or a developmental delay so kids often fall through the cracks. My husband and I are working professionals who have not been able to save any money for college because of all the expenses related to advocating and securing the proper education for my son. I think every day about families who have less than us and you will never be able to fight the district or pay for the additional services that kids with learning disabilities desperately need.

Mary Jo Blazina, student, Bainbridge Island

This is all so familiar — a bright, engaging daughter beset by anxiety and frustration by age six. We tried a number of things before going the Hamlin Robinson route with the help of a generous grandparent. It was a life changer. Our daughter graduated from high school with honors (for whatever reason, far better services were available to her in high school) and from college with a degree in Developmental Psychology. She’s a gem of a human — perhaps in part because of her struggles but she would have been so much better served if there had been appropriate early intervention in our public elementary school. The irony is that what Hamlin Robinson and other schools provide their students is not rocket science – it’s a measured, well-researched approach to teaching and could easily be incorporated into public elementary school curriculums.

Ironically, our younger daughter received more support from our district when she was identified as “most highly capable.” It’s ridiculous (and heartbreaking) that families are still dealing with this. Thanks for bringing it forward again.