Luis and his son, Alejandro

Luis and his son, Alejandro

Director Luis Macias has always been a storyteller and a lover of cinema.  As a teenager he wrote several short stories and watched more films than any one person should.  After a brief swim in the pre-med pool, he found that he could not escape his love of films and of crafting stories.  That is when he enrolled at Chicago’s Columbia College and majored in film and video editing.

Since 1997, Luis has been working as a video editor for a graphic design firm located in the suburbs of Chicago where he gets to use his storytelling talents with every new project.  In addition to client-based videos, he has had the opportunity to produce and edit six short documentary films for director Greg Samata, several of which have had successful runs in the film festival circuit.

Embracing Dyslexia is Luis’ directorial debut.  This film is a personal project that came to life after he and his wife learned that their son’s struggles with reading, writing and spelling were because he had dyslexia, a revelation that has changed their lives for the better.

Director’s Statement

When our son, Alejandro, was in first grade, we transferred him from one Catholic school to another. Prior to entering he was evaluated for reading and math to see if he was at grade level. My wife and I were informed that Ale was behind in reading, which was a surprise because his previous school never said anything. We just assumed that this new school was more advanced because that was their reputation. It was recommended that Ale meet with the resource teacher for reading and that we hire a tutor for additional support. It was expected that by doing this he would catch up and everything would be fine.

Everything was far from fine, however. Ale would come home exhausted. He’d complain that his head or his brain hurt. We’d give him a break before diving into homework, but it didn’t help. Doing math was okay but when it came to reading, we’d have mini-meltdowns. Ale would start reading but quickly become very defiant and give up. We’d scold him for giving up and not really trying. We’d tell him that he was being lazy because clearly he was smart enough. He’d cry and cry but we wouldn’t give in to what we believed to be crocodile tears. Then there were the many, many times he would say that he was stupid or dumb. We told him to stop using those words because they weren’t true. All he needed to do was try harder and focus.

At the end of first grade we met with the principal and his teacher and they informed us that Ale hadn’t progressed in his reading as they had hoped. They felt that if we held him back a year, then he would surely catch up. We thought about it very carefully. We weighed the consequences of holding him back a year. We believed that maybe Ale started school too early (he was the youngest in his class due to him being born in July) and that’s why he was struggling. Dyslexia was never mentioned to us and, honestly, the concept never popped into our heads. So we held him back.

First grade, the second time around, was a better experience for Ale and for us — at least for the first two quarters. Eventually we started falling back into the same difficulties as before. But at the end of the year everyone felt he had progressed enough to move on.

The first half of second grade was really bad. There was more homework, more reading, more spelling and writing and this led to more anxiety and frustration. Ale’s anxiety had even begun to express itself physically. He’d complain of being sick in the mornings before getting ready for school. At school, he’d complain of headaches, fevers, stomach aches and nausea to the point of actually throwing up. On more than a few occasions the school would call me to tell me that there was something wrong and I would have to go pick him up.

Meanwhile, I had begun doing some research online trying to figure out why he was getting sick at school, but then he’d be perfectly fine at home. I remember reading a post in some forum where someone shared that they had a similar issue and that it was happening because their child was dyslexic and that the stress and anxiety from having to read in class or take tests where reading was required was the cause. At the same time, my mother had been spending some time with Ale and she had approached us regarding Ale’s reading difficulties. She believed that he may have dyslexia and that we should have him tested. We got a name of a psychologist from the Illinois Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and started the process. We informed Ale’s school that we were having him tested since his teachers would be required to fill out some paperwork and they were more than happy to oblige.

In March 2011, two months after starting the testing process, we were given the diagnosis. Ale had dyslexia as well as ADHD. At first we were worried because we didn’t know what that meant for his future. Would he be able to go to school like everyone else? Would he be able to go to college? Would he ever learn to read like his peers? I went back to the internet for the answers and I found them. Things were going to be okay. Being diagnosed with dyslexia was not going to be the end. It was just the beginning. We met with the principal and Ale’s teachers to let them know of the diagnosis and to figure out the next steps. We were told that we needed to get a 504 plan which required us to make an appointment with the local public school which meant that from March until the end of the school year nothing would change and his struggles would continue. But there was a huge difference at home. We now knew why he struggled and Ale knew why he struggled. Accusations were a thing of the past and our frustration levels were greatly reduced.

There was one more thing that happened at our meeting with the principal and teachers. I remember bringing up the issue of how do we help explain to Ale what dyslexia is and what it means for him. The principal quickly stepped in and said that she doesn’t like to use the “D” word because it labels the child and labels are not helpful. Eventually I found out that she doesn’t even allow the teachers to use the word with parents or children. I was shocked by this because I saw what a difference acknowledging the “D” word made in our lives. Why would other affected families be denied this opportunity for a breakthrough?

At the beginning of third grade, Ale’s resource teacher informed my wife and I that an expert in the field of dyslexia was going to be giving a free seminar at a nearby facility in two months and that we should consider going. She also said that she had informed the entire school personnel hoping that they would make it. We ended up going and despite repeated reminders, only four teachers went. This included the resource teacher and the kindergarten teacher. None of the first through eighth grade teachers made it. I had already known that Ale’s teacher wouldn’t be there because when I asked her a week before the event, she was quite quick to inform me that it was her birthday and she had plans. Here was an extremely important opportunity to learn about something that affects at least 15% of our school’s students and the moment was squandered.

It was after the seminar that I realized that I needed to do something to help educate others about dyslexia — especially the teachers and administrators. And that was the moment that Embracing Dyslexia was born. This film is my chance to make things right. I can’t take back the decision to hold Ale back a year, something that will always be a terrible memory for him. I can’t take back the many times I accused Ale of being lazy and not trying hard enough. This film is my way of trying to prevent other children and their families from having to go through what we did. Schools need to acknowledge that dyslexia is real; they need to understand what it is and not be afraid of the word; and they need to know what can be done to help these children. With this information they can work with parents and together make a tremendous impact on a dyslexic child’s life.

Luis Macias
Director, Embracing Dyslexia