To: Brad Last, Aaron Osmond,
Subject: RE: SB 117 - Interventions for Reading Difficulties Pilot Program
Date: Tue Mar 03 20:28:45 MST 2015

To the House Education Committee,


I am writing to you as a member of PC Reads, a physician at the University of Utah, a member of the Park City community, and like many Utah adults, a parent to children with dyslexia to ask that you support S.B. 117: Interventions for Reading Difficulties Pilot Program. In strong support for  S.B. 117, I advocate for 1) the need for our schools to recognize that dyslexia exists, (2) enable and provide professional development to our educators so that they can be EDUCATED on reading disorders, including dyslexia and (3) implement reading intervention programs that have been proven (are evidence-based) to work with struggling readers at an early age thus providing the basic skills needed.


I was introduced  and joined PC Reads unfortunately after our 20 year old son was killed in a car accident while camping at college this past September. Joseph James Morelli was severely dyslexic and unlike other children was not diagnosed till he was a freshman in High School in New York. We were at that time in the Cold Spring Harbor School district (NY), a public school system, which we believed was among the best in the nation. We trusted them and they failed us through the early years. My husband and I, both MDs, trusted the teachers. This is what they do - teach, and even though Joseph was having issues with reading and comprehension since kindergarten, we were told he was “average”, a boy, and would mature at his own pace. It was not until he suffered severe depression, anxiety, headaches, and panic attacks with low self-esteem as a freshman and appeared to be failing every class, did we pursue outside testing, hire a lawyer, and finally get the intervention Joseph needed.  Once diagnosed, we met with the school, obtained an IEP and with extra time he excelled and learned that he was actually smart and gifted in math and science! As parents we felt like we had failed him all those years. We always knew he was smart but something did not make sense – why did his grades not reflect his ability, and why did the teachers not recognize this.


Being diagnosed and having to “relearn to read” through Orton Gillingham (OG) at the age of 13 was truly a challenge and very hard.  Had he only been diagnosed early.  Studies and data demonstrate that given the skills at a young age, the brain is able to adapt and learn to use these skills to read, enabling the much needed foundation to form during those critical early years of brain plasticity. This is not unlike teaching a second language to children nor like correcting for poor vision, amblyopia, with patching again at an early age. But dyslexia is a lifelong challenge. These children are gifted and bright. Undiagnosed, they are capable of compensating until the work gets too hard then they can no longer compensate; then they fail. And fail miserably.


Had we not listened to his pediatrician to seek outside testing; had we not had the funds and resources to afford the expensive testing, Joseph would have failed miserably and I am sure pursued a troubled course. Even with his IEP and an award from the state for a top ACT score in science and math, upon graduation he was still at a 6th grade reading level.


Now in Utah, and much more aware and educated on dyslexia, we recognized that our youngest daughter at the age of 5 was struggling very much in the same manner as Joseph had at the same age.  We had her tested – an although too young to confirm the diagnosis of dyslexia, it was recommended to us that she be tutored in Wilson, a similar program to OG using multisensory phonemic and phonological awareness. Park City has a charter school that uses the Wilson Fundations and I am happy to report that she has caught up to grade level and loves to read now at the age of 8. 


Parents, teachers and educators need to be made aware of dyslexia. These children exist and are struggling. We need to do a better job of providing the resources, education and instruction so that ALL our children can read and thereby succeed to the best of their ability. We need to recognize, diagnose and intervene early!


Our loss has been devastating and tragic, and our lives next the same, yet we hope to have something good come out of the bad. We have set up a scholarship in order to recognize Joseph’s challenges and achievements and to help high school and college students with learning challenges who are pursuing a career in STEM fields. We are working closely with high schools in the SLC region, the U of U, and with Montana State ( the college Joseph was attending) to allow this scholarship to flourish and for Joseph’s name to continue. The outpouring of support has been tremendous.  The link has a more detailed story of Joseph’s life.


Thank you for taking the time and interest.

We appreciate your commitment and service and look forward to what we can do together to help our children’s futures. Please vote yes to SB 117


Barbara Wirostko Morelli MD



Barbara Wirostko M.D

Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor

John A. Moran Eye Center

Dept. of Ophthalmology, University of Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah

Cell – 347-453-1521