Meet a Dyfference Maker: Michelle Keiper

I had the privilege of interviewing Michelle Keiper, a former teacher, mother of a child with dyslexia, and the founder of Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma. Michelle is a passionate advocate for dyslexia and has been instrumental, not only in our family’s dyslexic journey, but in many other families’ journeys as well! 

Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma was the first helpful resource I found when we started our research.  When I talk to people who think their child might have dyslexia, the first thing I tell them to do is to find their state’s Decoding Dyslexia group.  Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma has a public Facebook page, as well as a private Facebook group for parents.  

Michelle is passionate about helping other families because she is all too familiar with the battle of getting the right resources for her own son. Michelle is a former teacher but wasn’t familiar with dyslexia. She knew her son was highly intelligent, but he continued to struggle in school.  She spent much of her time trying to help him, but nothing seemed to work. When her son was in kindergarten and struggling to get by, she was shockingly told “well not all kids go to college.”  

After moving to a different state, he was evaluated by his school and qualified for dyslexia services.  Instead of utilizing the interventions from their state’s handbook and procedures, Michelle’s son was put in front of a computer to conduct his school work.  After getting the run-around and not getting the help her son needed, Michelle knew they could not stay where they lived. Michelle and her husband moved to the Tulsa area. 

When her son started school in Oklahoma in the 4th grade, his teacher was willing to learn how to help her son with his needs. Michelle wanted to help change things for others, so she decided to start an Oklahoma Branch of Decoding Dyslexia. Since Michelle was a former teacher, she has a unique perspective and knows it is extremely important to have open communication with your child’s teacher, especially when they are struggling in school.  So, she invited his teacher to be a part of the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma team. 

Michelle said the biggest struggle with starting the group was lack of resources, awareness and knowledge of dyslexia in Oklahoma. “I needed to help parents understand why their kids were struggling,” she said, so she started with a Facebook page, hoping to reach those families. After she created the page, she began connecting with other states’ Decoding Dyslexia members. A week after launching, she was invited to New York City to meet with Sally Shaywitz, founder of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and author of Overcoming Dyslexia, which was a wonderful experience.  

Michelle, along with others on the Decoding Dyslexia team were instrumental in helping state legislators write the Oklahoma Dyslexia Handbook. The Oklahoma Dyslexia Handbook is a comprehensive guide that provides guidance to educators, students, families, and community members about dyslexia, and the best practices for identification, intervention, and support for children with dyslexia. The Oklahoma Dyslexia Handbook can be found here:

Michelle credits the success of dyslexia intervention and awareness in Oklahoma to the collaboration between the State Department of Education, parents, and teachers. She encourages teachers as well as districts to reach out to the department for any support or guidance they might need. 

When I asked Michelle what the biggest challenge for Decoding Dyslexia was she said implementation. She strongly encourages parent collaboration within school districts. It’s helpful when multiple parents can encourage and ask questions of the district about implementation of the handbook.  Michelle actually encouraged me to give a copy of the Oklahoma handbook to my childrens’ teachers as a back-to-school gift, which I thought was a great idea!

“The success of Decoding Dyslexia was built on a grassroots movement of parents coming together,” said Michelle. Building a coalition of parents who worked together was extremely important to help change what was happening (or not happening) in classrooms. 

Michelle said, in Oklahoma, we have guidance through IDEA for special education, early intervention for literacy through RSA and (free) LETRS training for teachers. LETRS training is a wonderful resource for teachers based on the science of reading and is currently being offered to all Oklahoma teachers.

As a parent, how can you make a Dyfference? 

Michelle encourages parents to: 

  • Develop relationships with their child’s teachers and school staff 
  • Engage in ongoing communication about their child’s learning and development
  • Ask their child’s teacher if they are aware of  trainings and suggest they look into taking the courses  
  • Share resources such as with your child’s teacher and school

I’m personally very thankful for all of the hard work, time, and effort Michelle has put forth.  She is truly paving the way for others and making a big Dyfference!!

DD-OK and OSDE partnering together to provide a professional development for OK teachers, Michelle Keiper with Todd Loftin Deputy Superintendent OSDE Special Education Service.

Michelle and her son, she is so proud of his hard work and his advocacy!