For years, Jacob Blumenstein, 17, of Bloomfield Hills, struggled to read. As he described it, when he looked at the page of a book or text on a computer, words would jumble together. Letters bounced around the way a cursor would on an old desktop computer screensaver. Reading comprehension and decoding would take many times longer than his elementary school classmates.
Worst of all were classroom times when teachers required students to read aloud.
"I really struggled with reading and dreaded going to school," said Blumenstein. "I hated when I had to read aloud to the class, but I loved being read to. Some of my favorite childhood memories were when my mom or dad would read children's novels to me."
It was not until Blumenstein was tested in middle school that he discovered he had dyslexia, a learning disorder that impacts up to 15 percent of the population nationwide. Blumenstein also copes with dysgraphia, which can hamper a person's abilities with handwriting and putting one's thoughts on paper.
Now a senior at Detroit Country Day School, Blumenstein followed his entrepreneurial passions along with his desire to help kids struggling with dyslexia by creating the website kidsread2kids.com. Working with friends and his younger sibling Reuben, 13, Blumenstein creates YouTube videos of young volunteers reading classic children's novels. Kidsread2kids.com has a growing roster of volunteers and has won the accolades from organizations such as Points of Light and the International Dyslexia Association.
The website also includes links to online e-book and e-reader libraries, a text-to-speech app that translates text into spoken word, and resources from dyslexia support groups. The website's blog focuses on interviews with children's book authors who share their joys and travails with writing and reading when they were growing up.
Blumenstein said that his website is being used by children in almost 80 countries, and he is in the process of creating an online book club for kids with dyslexia and other learning challenges. Access to all this is completely free.
Though his early years in school were tough, life for Blumenstein improved once he was diagnosed and received support and accommodations. Once he developed coping and learning skills, he was able to catch up academically with his peers and was able to take more advanced courses in high school.
Blumenstein said he wants his website to reach kids who have struggled like him to help them understand that "everyone has the capability of greatness."
"Once you understand your own limitations, you can find tools to work around it," Blumenstein said. "Now that I've regained my self-confidence, I want to help other people with dyslexia, people who had negative memories trying to read. I want them to know that reading can give them joy and knowledge. Active listening is an important skill everyone needs to have.”
Looking to the future, Blumenstein hopes to continue to develop his entrepreneurial and business skills. Last year, he attended a summer program created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology held at Northwestern University. He hopes to pursue business in college. He is also working with the International Dyslexia Association to work on programming for youth and young adults to raise awareness about dyslexia.
Blumenstein wants parents of children struggling with reading to know that "for kids with dyslexia, trying to cope with a reading disability in school is like running a marathon every day. They are really trying as hard as they can and if they are given the right supports and resources, they can succeed."
Photo: Laurie Tennent