Dyslexia Simulation Evokes Emotion and Empathy

Dyslexia Simulation Evokes Emotion and Empathy
Westmark School

On a Wednesday morning in late October, Lund Auditorium bustled with the anxious excitement of the first day of school. Parents and guardians chatted with new and old friends over breakfast as they awaited a unique opportunity—one that would be not only illuminating but also intentionally discomforting.

Designed by the International Dyslexia Association Northern California, the ensuing Experience Dyslexia® program would provide the attendees with a firsthand experience of the struggles that students with language-based learning differences (LD), like their children, encounter in environments that favor neurotypical learners. 

The October program was the third time that Westmark would administer the simulation. The School previously offered the simulation to parents and guardians as part of our Summer Smarts program. All Westmark faculty and staff also participated in the simulation during professional learning at the beginning of the school year.

“This simulation is designed to be stressful and you may become tired and emotional,” forewarned Claudia Koochek, Head of School, reading the introduction to the program. As nervous laughter filled the auditorium, Ms. Koochek reassured the attendees that the experience would also give them a better understanding of their LD child’s needs and a new appreciation for the interventions Westmark offers.

The parents and guardians then rotated in groups through six ten-minute stations moderated by Westmark faculty and staff. The stations included two reading, two writing, and two listening activities, plus time to debrief after each. Over the course of the simulation, the facilitators guided attendees through timed worksheets and tests that simulated what it would be like to complete classwork when challenged by dyslexia, dysgraphia, or visual or auditory processing challenges. All the while, the facilitators play-acted as if they were instructors who were unaware of the struggles LD students endure. Conveying impatience and frustration, the facilitators rushed and reprimanded those who were confused or struggling to focus, and they repeatedly reminded the attendees that their work—no matter how successful—would be displayed publicly.

“My poor child!” exclaimed a parent after completing the first station.

While continuing through the stations, more than one parent became teary, moved by just temporarily feeling the frustrations that their children experienced at length before enrolling at Westmark. Multiple other attendees expressed that they had a headache or needed to take a break.

But not all takeaways were negative. Tracy, parent of Grade 7 student Paige, reflected, “This [simulation] really reinforced the resilience that my child has.”

“Empathy is important,” Ms. Koochek reassured in the final group debrief. “[Learning disabilities] affect the whole family. [This simulation creates] an opportunity for you to talk to your spouse, talk to your partner, talk to your grandparents—so they can better understand what our kids go through day in and day out.” These conversations, Ms. Koochek noted, help show that an LD child’s “experience is real.”

In closing, Ms. Koochek reassured the parents and guardians that, while their children likely underwent similar challenges and frustrations at their previous schools, the highly trained faculty at Westmark practice research-based methods that have transformed education for those who think and learn differently. “Every child deserves the right to learn,” Ms. Koochek proclaimed. Westmark ensures that right, enabling our students to discover their strengths and achieve success in and beyond the classroom.

The program “Inside the Dyslexic Brain: A Dyslexia Simulation for Parents and Guardians” has been open to Westmark parents and guardians, faculty and staff, and invited guests. If you are a prospective applicant to Westmark School or an educational professional who is interested in attending future presentations of this program, email us today!


Several parents sit at a table writing on worksheets.

Parents attempt to complete a worksheet during an auditory processing challenge.

Two adults sit at a table with worksheet in front of them.

An attendee struggles to read aloud in front of other parents.

Several adults sit at a table with worksheet in front of them.

Marla Yukelson, Director of Lower School, facilitates one of the stations.