is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in East Central Illinois whose personal experiences give him a unique insight into the minds of his clients. He treats people with learning differences, such as dyslexia, and other language-based disorders, but he also has dyslexia himself.
When Will first began school, it wasn’t long before he realized he was different from his classmates, noticing by the second grade that he wasn’t able to keep up with peers when it came to reading and writing.
“When we were given a set amount of time to write, other students would have full paragraphs written when I only had a sentence or two,” Will explains. “The limited amount of individualized attention I received did not have a significant impact on my reading ability, and the word 'dyslexia' was tossed around, but I never received a formal diagnosis in grade school. It wasn't until much later in life while pursuing higher education for my career that I began to think about the nature of my struggles more and more.”
The added stress caused by dyslexia made school an environment to be dreaded. “When I was younger, school was usually pretty unpleasant,” Will says. “The early grades weren't terrible, but as soon as the differences that I experience in my reading and writing abilities became prominent, that's when school turned awful. It stayed bad right up until the time I dropped out at sixteen years old. "One of the more frustrating aspects of dyslexia for individuals who struggle with it and their families is that it’s not new. Dyslexia has been recognized and researched for decades yet, despite the wealth of information available, the learning difference often goes undiagnosed and unaccommodated.
“It amazes me that we were talking about dyslexia when I was a kid, and here we are 40 years later still talking about it,” Will says. “We're making progress, but it's slow.”
Though he was disheartened by his difficulties in grade school, Will’s educational journey did not end at sixteen. After dropping out of high school, Will joined the military and started a period in his life that proved to be a path to self-discovery.
“One of the things that led me back to education was being in the middle of Fort Benning, Georgia, at boot camp for the army reserve, taking some tests on how to put an M-16 back together. I realized during my training that I was incredibly good at memorizing tasks that were visual-spatial and sequential— so good that it took practically no effort at all."
"Being good at something, after having such a miserable time in school, made me realize that I do have strengths.”
Much to his own surprise and that of his friends and family, Will decided to pursue college. “I said it so many times that I'm surprised it didn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I used to swear that college was not for me. I think my decision to continue formal education is sort of the definition of insanity,” he says with a laugh. “School is something that I hated so much, but in college, I realized I could learn a lot visually and auditorily without having to read much text.”
This encouraging discovery compelled Will to go on to complete two master’s degrees and become a speech language pathologist (SLP), a career that Will finds fulfilling on a personal level. “After I began my career, I realized that in being an SLP, I could help younger generations avoid the same terrible school experience that I had,” he explains.
A member of the Iroquois Special Education Association, Will sees a wide range of children and adults who struggle with articulation, phonology, and language disorders. In an effort to further support individuals who have dyslexia, Will and several colleagues formed a “dyslexia team” focused on identifying the best accommodations available, providing self-advocacy guidance to students, and exploring ways to further personalize each student’s academic experience. Will says, “The aspect we stress the most is that there’s no blanket accommodation that works for everyone. Each student has their own unique needs.”
Will is currently working with a local school district to provide accommodations, including Learning Ally, in the classroom. “Our students here at Milford Grade School started using Learning Ally on iPads and Android tablets this past summer. They’re really excited about it, and the audiobooks are helping them reach their accelerated reading goals. I think Learning Ally is a wonderful program.”
As someone who has personally experienced the difficulties of a learning difference, Will has this advice for students and their families:
“Whatever you're working on, embrace it. Let it be your friend. The best example I have of this is stuttering. When I tell stutterers to make stuttering their friend, they usually look at me like I'm crazy, but what I mean is, know your challenge intimately, learn how it affects you, and then learn what you can do about it. In knowing your strengths and relative weaknesses so well, you are better able to find the formula for success in whatever it is that you want to do. You will also be able to communicate with others, as to how you can contribute in a significant way in class, in work and in life in general.”