The International Dyslexia Association traces its roots back to 1949 when the Orton Society was formed to continue the pioneering work of Dr. Samuel T. Orton. Dr. Orton was a psychiatrist from Iowa who, as early as 1925, identified the syndrome of developmental reading disability. In 1967, the name was modified to The Orton Dyslexia Society and in 1997 the name was changed to The International Dyslexia Association (Founded in Memory of Samuel T. Orton) to reflect the commitment of the association to the “wide dissemination of research-based knowledge” on the nature of dyslexia.
The seed of the Hawai‘i Branch of the International Dyslexia Association was planted in the summer of 1934 when Beth Slingerland, a Punahou School teacher, went to the mainland to study with Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman. After Mrs. Slingerland left Hawai‘i in 1944, this seedling of interest was kept alive by her friend, Lucinda King who, along with Katherine Hyams, Barrett McCandless, and Jacquelyn Sprague, formed the core of the early Orton Dyslexia Society members in Hawaii. These four ladies were instrumental in the beginning of the Hawai‘i twig on the Orton tree in the early 1980s.
The first issue of the Hawai‘i branch newsletter, dated summer 1986, reports that in a December 1984 meeting in Susan Baker’s home, a slate of officers was approved and bylaws were customized. Official recognition as a branch came later in 1987.
Presidents of the organization have been Linda Currivan, Monte Campbell, Sandi Olsen, Jane Anderson and Roseyn Devlin, Jane Anderson and Susan Walker Kowen, Ron Yoshimoto and Sandra Keawe, Sally Lambert and Sue Voit, Elizabeth Ishii, Ryan Masa, Charles Bering and Natalie Haggerty.
Newsletter editors have been Amy Littlejohn, Katherine Hyams, Linda Uyehara, Jane Raissle and Elizabeth Ishii.
Early conference speakers were Dr. Sylvia Richardson in 1985 and Dr. Albert Galaburda in 1986. Nearly 120 people attended the first conference. The Pacific Basin Learning Disabilities Conference held annually from 1993 to 2004, co-sponsored with the Learning Disabilities Association of Hawai‘i (LDAH) and in association with local schools and hospitals, exposed Hawai‘i to national experts like Priscilla Vail, Edward Hallowell, Louisa Moats, G. Reid Lyon and many others. An annual fundraiser and silent auction sponsored by the Hawai‘i Branch raises funds for branch activities and administration.
From a twig of 18 members, the Hawai‘i Branch has grown to a full-blown branch of over 100 members and manages an annual budget of over $100,000. Teacher professional development and public awareness workshops are held throughout the year on Oahu and other islands. An annual symposium has featured researchers, authors and educators in the field of learning disabilities. The Hawaii Branch hired its 1st Executive Director, C. Kent Coarsey, in August 2006. Current Executive Director is Margaret J. Higa who has worked for the Hawai‘i Branch since 1999.
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