Muhammad Ali was a great boxer, philanthropist and activist. However, before Parkinson’s syndrome muted him, he spewed blistering audacities, “I’m handsome. I’m fast. And can’t possibly be beat.” 

His bravado veiled the disorder that tried and tortured him throughout his life. His high school academics earned him an attendance certificate. In 1964, Ali took the U.S. Armed Forces qualifying test — his failure was catastrophic. 

The culprit? His undiagnosed dyslexia. 

Delighted, the media scorned and shamed Ali who retorted, “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest.”

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a neurologic specific learning difficulty, characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities. Imagine mocking a colorblind person’s inability to distinguish colors. Imagine ridiculing a wheelchair-bound person’s inability to sprint. 

The neurologic disorder was identified in 1881, and in 1887 ophthalmologist Rudolph Berlin coined the term dyslexia. At last in October 2015, the Alabama State Department of Education adopted and established dyslexia amendments to the Alabama Administrative Code.

When I worked as a fire department paramedic, we often treated fall victims, especially seniors. Our medical advisor instructed us to first determine why the person fell. For example, if the person tripped, we treated them for the bumps and bruises caused by the fall. However, if the person fell because their heart skipped beats, we treated them for their heart irregularity. Imagine the calamity if we infused fall victims with strong cardiac medications but treated a patient with an irregular heartbeat for bumps and bruises.

Thanks to the genius embedded in House Bill 388, sponsored by state Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), misdiagnosed calamities will decrease because the bill ensures K-3 students read on grade level before they’re promoted to fourth grade. Furthermore, the bill provides early dyslexia identification, specific support for dyslexic students and prepares college students who are aspiring teachers to develop expertise science-based reading instruction.

Mariana Castleberry has a fifth-grade son who has dyslexia.

“We struggled a lot to decide whether to keep him in public school with his friends or move him away,” Castleberry said. 

Dyslexia advocates believe if dyslexic students aren’t diagnosed until they’re in fourth grade, the majority will struggle throughout their school career. In other words, dyslexic people are not dumb. Don’t demean them; don’t deride them. 

Bill and Camille Cosby had one son, Ennis. In the 1970s Bill earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts. However Dr. Cosby and Ennis clashed because Ennis earned low grades. 

Perhaps it pricked Dr. Cosby’s pride to see his son underachieve in school, due to what he deemed a character defect — the irony’s supreme. Dr. Cosby’s judgment proved grievous and gruesome. It’s shocking the good doctor didn’t have Ennis tested for dyslexia.

While Ennis was attending Morehouse College, a friend encouraged him to get a dyslexia evaluation. After he was diagnosed with dyslexia, he received intensive academic training at Landmark College, a school designed for students with learning disabilities. When Mikhail Markhasev murdered Ennis, he was working toward his doctorate in special education. Ennis’ diagnosis erupted into a joyous daybreak that ended his long night of captivity, to paraphrase Martin Luther King.

Collins pointed out the dyslexia rate for prisoners is 50%. Ameer Baraka typifies the group. Born in the New Orleans projects, Baraka hated spelling tests, being forced to read aloud and being mocked by other students. Angry and humiliated, he quit school as a sixth-grader, chose crime and landed in prison, where he was diagnosed as dyslexic.

House Bill 388 should reduce horror stories like Baraka’s and instead produce redemptive narratives.

Marc D. Greenwood is a Camp Hill resident and weekly columnist for The Outlook.