“Dyslexia” – it’s a word that has become a part of our vernacular. It used to be that the word was reserved for diagnostician’s offices and schools. Now we hear it everywhere. Even TV characters like Christine Yang (Grey’s Anatomy) and Sam Evans (Glee) have dyslexia.
You may be surprised to learn that one of Dallas’ own helped put dyslexia on the map. Back in 1961, when gas was 25 cents a gallon, the Cowboys went 4-9-1, and Princess Di was born, a pediatric neurologist named Dr. Luke Waites moved to Dallas. Though Dr. Waites’ arrival may not have been noteworthy at the time, he would eventually become a pioneer in dyslexia, a field that many of his colleagues at the time felt did not even exist.
The year before Dr. Waites’ arrival, Aylett Cox, a teacher at The Hockaday School, had begun a teacher-training program at the school using the Orton-Gillingham method. The Orton-Gillingham method was a way of teaching students who were having trouble with reading, spelling, and writing. It was a pre-curser to Alphabetic Phonics and Take Flight, two curriculums commonly used with learning different students today.
Dr. Waites joined the faculty of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas in 1961 and over the next few years, as a tenured professor, started evaluating children for dyslexia. Children identified as dyslexic by Dr. Waites were referred to Aylett Cox at Hockaday for remediation.
In 1965, Dr. Waites moved the child neurology program to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, bringing with him a list of 150 kids that needed evaluations for dyslexia. The Child Development Division was born. Aylett Cox moved her teacher training program to Scottish Rite and Child Development was able to offer developmental academic evaluations, specialized language instruction for dyslexic students in a laboratory setting, and a training program for teachers interested in helping these students.
In 1968, Dr. Waites and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital hosted a meeting of the World Federation of Neurology. It was here that a group of physicians from all over the world developed the first written definition of dyslexia. This was a defining moment (literally) that officially put dyslexia on the map. As a result of this event, Texas would become a leader in the field and eventually be the first state to mandate that public schools identify and properly instruct students with the characteristics of dyslexia.
In 1995, the newly built Luke Waites Child Development Center at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children was dedicated in his honor. Children ages 5 to 14 who are Texas residents, have a physician referral and have learning problems in reading, writing, and math continue to be eligible for testing. Dr. Waites passed away on January 11th, 2013, but his legacy continues.
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