Harpoon Notes for June 27, 2018

Joan Knoertzer played a wonderful piano prelude, then led the assembly in singing “God Bless America”. President John, presiding over his final RCAA meeting (has the year gone by that fast?), escorted Joanie to the podium. One can always depend on a musician to do triple-duty at a Rotary meeting, and Joanie was no exception, for she would also give the Inspiration. There was a hush of expectation in the room as Joanie faced her audience. Then, “Oh, my, I forgot my notes!” Without missing a beat, John and Joan, arm-in-arm, turned like a well-driven chariot, on a dime, back to the piano. Affable laughter echoed wall-to-wall as the two consummate performers shuffled to the dais. It was like Tim Conway and Carol Burnett…”Missusawiggins!”

“I want to read to you from a book, Literary Laughter: God’s Gift,” Joanie began, “which tells us what happens when we smile. We can learn from laughter, like when we slip on a banana peel.” John dutifully held up the fruit by way of illustration.

Then Joan, joined by Steve Pierce, led us in singing “Smiles (That Make You Happy)”, followed by “Smile, Sing a Song,” a perennial Club favorite. Ninety spirited Rotarians and their guests did justice to the music.

John returned to welcome all Rotarians and guests. “Wow, Joanie, great job doing the prelude, giving the Inspiration, and playing during the songs! Welcome everybody.” After introductions of visiting Rotarians and guests, John asked Club treasurer Mark Ouimet to come to the front for a special ceremony. Mark then proceeded to drag a supremely heavy bag — of something — to the audio-visual table. “Mark is bringing up a bag of gifts for our many volunteers, the people who have kept me going this year,” John declared. “When I read your name, please come up and Mark will give you the gift,” to which Mark added, “like getting your diploma.” As the list of volunteer honorees stretched longer than a novel written on a bolt of industrial paper, your reporter will simply say that it was an impressive ceremony. From committee chairs to brand new Rotarians, from the tool handy to math wizards, from webmasters and editors to people who can procure small forests of trees — even those with the lung power to blow 100 balloons, our Rotary club’s convivial fretwork of dedicated members were finally revealed en masse. The prize — one of those luscious Schakolad gilt-wrapped discs of Valhalla. One recipient could be heard to exclaim, “I’ve finally gotten a gold medal.”

Once again our speaker emanated from the ranks of the Club. New member Karen Wasco introduced her mentor and employer, Dr. Joanne Marttila Pierson. After citing Joanne’s professional credentials and accomplishments, among them her expertise in dyslexia and other learning disorders and as a “spokesperson for language skills,” to being a highly demanding aerobics instructor, Karen concluded, “It is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Joanne Pierson.”

The title of Joanne’s presentation was “Dyslexia and Other Reading Disorders: Fundamentals and Flops”. “Thank you, Karen,” Joanne said warmly. “it’s always good to have an employee give the introduction!” She also praised her business partner, Lauren A. Katz, then launched into the dilemma of dyslexia among the general population of the U.S. “Approximately 5-17% are affected — and if you include those with ADHD, it’s upwards of 20%. That’s a lot of kids.” Joanne then described an all-to-familiar scenario: “Kids who started out bright, reading early, et cetera, then they hit school. Parents say, ‘What happened?’ What is dyslexia? It’s a language-based learning disorder.” She showed a couple of charts, which looked like incomplete Olympics rings; one illustrated the confluence of “Form, Content, and Use,” the architecture of language; the other illustrated “Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing.” All intersect, but not all children (and untreated adults) make the connection. “As soon as literary demands kick in,” observed Joanne, “deficits become apparent.”

Joanne then cited the work of therapists Gough and Tunmer, who developed The Simple View of Reading — listening skills + decoding ability = good reading skills. Similar to dyslexia but “really, a special case,” is hyperlexia: “They can read the words, but they don’t comprehend.”

Getting back to dyslexia, Joanne stated flat-out: “My main point is, dyslexia is not a problem with a person’s visual system! The words aren’t moving on the page…it’s an indication of the effort they’re having to put into reading.” In addition, she points out “the underlying language difficulties impact word reading and spelling…[It’s] the Matthew Effect — the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Yet the kids are smart. “The intelligence and language capabilities [of these children] tend to be average or above average.”

Red Flags:

Joanne listed a number of warning signs, the first of which is a family history of language and reading difficulties: “Genetics does play a role.” she noted. The other signs are: Highly unintelligible speech and developmentally atypical disorders; limited interest in and familiarity with books; doesn’t enjoy reading and avoids it; difficulty with letter-sound correspondence; acts frustrated/exhibits behavior problems.

In a nutshell, it comes down to early detection and corrective measures. “‘English is not crazy,’ as our book [Joanne and Katz’s book] declares. It’s very rule-bound. Yes, it has many exceptions, but it has rules. We can teach this, but it has to be satient [cultivated].” Joanne concluded by recommending two books, Overcoming Dyslexia, and Fish in a Tree.

John thanked Joanne for her engaging and informative presentation. Then, for the last time, he reminded everyone of JET: “Join leaders, Exchange ideas, Take action.” Such were President John’s parting words. That is until Steve Pierce jumped up to remind the assembly that the next meeting, after next week’s July Fourth break, would be the presidential changeover. This prompted thunderous applause from grateful Rotarians; grateful for a year of John’s warmth, musical virtuosity, and excellent leadership. And yes, it was unanimous — heaps of green poker chips. Bravo!

Congratulation Rotary Club of Ann Arbor President, John Ackenhusen, for making our year of 2017-2018, entertaining, fun, most informative, and above all- —JET- Join Leaders, Exchange Ideas, Take Action!!!