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New College for Dyslectics Has Excess of Applicants

January 23, 1987|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Each semester, it costs $19,500 to send a student to Landmark College in Putney, Vt. No financial aid exists; classes are rugged; the school is not yet accredited, and the campus in winter, according to one Californian, resembles Siberia with less to do.

Yet in its third semester, the two-year residential college has 134 students enrolled--more than its capacity--and has had to turn away half the applicants, according to Landmark College President James Oliver, who spoke last week to three dozen parents of prospective students and supporters in a Newport Beach home.

The reason is that the college is the nation's only institution of higher learning devoted exclusively to dyslectics.

Landmark College represents the "Cadillac of programs offered for dyslectics at the college level," said Joan McNichols, president of the Orange County branch of the Orton Dyslexia Society, a nonprofit support and advocacy group, which sponsored Oliver's talk, along with the Newport Community School, a Costa Mesa elementary school for dyslectics now in its first year of operation.

Dyslexia, also known as a reading or learning disability, is a permanent neurological disorder. It affects an estimated 15% of the population regardless of intelligence or sociocultural opportunities.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday January 26, 1987 Orange County Edition View Part 5 Page 2 Column 3 View Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Tuition at Landmark College in Putney, Vt., the nation's only college for dyslectics, was incorrectly stated in a story in The Times on Friday. Tuition is $19,500 a year.

Researchers have identified five types of dyslexia, said McNichols. The types are: dyslexia (reading and spelling errors such as mistaking "was" for "saw"); dyscalculia (the inability to calculate numbers such as mileage, time or change); dysgraphia (the inability to write even though the mind is full of ideas); dysnomia (inability to remember names of things such as months of the year, days of the week or people). A fifth group suffers from dyslexia-plus, the language disabilities plus an attention disorder, either hypo- or hyperactivity.)

Parents attending the meeting said their children's invisible handicaps made their elementary and secondary schooling a nightmare of teachers' rebukes and self-doubt.

Paradoxically, the brain defect, thought to occur during fetal development, may cause other areas of the brain to be enhanced thus producing in some dyslectics extraordinary talents along with liabilities, say experts. One Landmark student had spent his elementary years in both the gifted and handicapped programs, Oliver said.

"A very high percentage of those who get into college have dyslexia," said McNichols. "They often have high scores in math. But they simply cannot handle reading and writing at a college level."

Some Landmark students such as Mark Spencer, 23, of Fullerton, were told as children that they would "grow out" of their reading problems. "I can guarantee that's not true," he told the group last week. Even with a series of private tutors, he said, it took "everything I had" to barely pass his elementary and high school classes.

Though athletic and popular, Spencer felt that he had let his parents down, he said, since his older brother had straight A's through business and law school.

After graduation from Troy High School in Fullerton, he tried several community colleges and became an expert at dropping classes each time he realized he would not pass. Even in football, he drifted to second and third string, then dropped the sport altogether because he had to read and study the playbooks, not just listen to the coach. Eventually he gave up college and started his own auto detailing business.

But last August, his father, Charles Spencer, a Fullerton psychiatrist, saw a Mobil Oil ad that featured information on Landmark College. Mark applied and was accepted at the last minute. He took entrance tests at Landmark West, a separate school for dyslectic first- through eighth-graders in Culver City.

Since Mark had never been labeled dyslectic, he wondered what a school of dyslectics would be like. He said his "imagination ran wild" picturing a campus of nerds and misfits.

Instead, he found friends like himself--prolific storytellers who shared familiar tales such as how they avoided tests by acting up in class and getting kicked out. Some had enrolled right out of high school. Some were as old as 27.

A student body of dyslectics is not a problem but an asset, Oliver said. "They are probably less prone to drugs and alcohol. They are really motivated. They're not here to experiment with life styles. They're here to learn."

Landmark College students are 80% male, a situation that brings complaints from the men students, Oliver said. Dyslexia is thought to strike more men than women, though some have argued it is easier for women dyslectics to hide their problems with verbal abilities. Oliver said Landmark is trying to recruit more women.

Landmark College applicants--all diagnosed dyslectics--must have average or above average intelligence (as determined by a variety of tests), a lack of significant emotional problems and a demonstrated commitment to improve, "the toughest thing to identify in advance," Oliver said.

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