Seeing learning disabilities through film

BY MARISA WAY | APRIL 06, 2010 7:30 AM

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For Sarah Entine, text was inadequate. The Grinnell College alumna chose to tell the story of how learning disabilities affected her family through a camera lens.

“I wanted to do a film on the topic because a film would be more accessible than something that was written,” she said. “[It’s] for people who have a hard time reading or focusing on reading anything.”

Her film, Read Me Differently, will play at 4 p.m. today in the Bijou. Admission for the screening is free, and Entine will be present to answer questions after the event.

Although she has a master’s degree in social work, and only minimal experience with filmmaking prior to this project, she felt her struggle with an undiagnosed learning disability (which she discovered at the age of 29 was dyslexia) might be able to help others dealing with similar issues.

“It was this huge revelation in my life,” she said. “For me, it goes beyond an academic experience. It affects me in more ways.”

Read Me Differently spans several generations to examine how learning disabilities have affected Entine’s family. Her grandmother, Sylvia, struggled with attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia.

Entine’s mother, Jean, was never diagnosed with a specific disorder but faced struggles with learning and communicating that were similar to her daughter’s.

The film is being brought to campus through the UI’s Council on Disability Awareness. Carly Armour, an official with the group, organized the screening. She said she was contacted by Victoria Brown, a previous instructor of Entine’s at Grinnell College, about showing the film in Iowa City.

Armour said the council was excited about the prospect of showing the film.

“My hope is that viewers will have an understanding of what it means to have a learning disability,” she wrote in an e-mail to the DI. “… The point is to increase awareness so that students are not falling in between the cracks or unnecessarily struggling academically.”

Armour, who is employed as a Student Disabilities Services adviser, said that in 2009 there were 641 students registered with disabilities on campus. Students with learning disabilities were the largest group.

Despite that, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, only 25 to 35 percent of students with learning disabilities are provided with technology to support their education.

Entine said the simple fact of discovering she had dyslexia helped her to better understand herself.

“Things that my friends or my family would expect to come easily weren’t impossible, but they were stressful for me,” she said. “Finding out about [my dyslexia] shifted it from ‘There’s something wrong with me’ to ‘OK, I’m just different. How do I approach this?’ ”

Although some may fear the stereotypes that come with having a diagnosed learning disability, Entine wishes that she had known about her dyslexia at an earlier age.

“My mom was really wary of finding out any labels because she didn’t want me to be stigmatized,” she said. “But it went a little too far, because there was no information.”

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