Dr. Diana King (September 2nd, 1927-June 15th, 2018) was a pioneer in the world of dyslexia. King was born in London and grew up in Hampshire. She first learned about dyslexia on a trip to South Africa to see her uncle, who suffered from the affliction. After she married and moved to United States, she taught at Sidwell Friends Academy in Washington, DC, where there was a program for dyslexic children. By the time students finished the fourth grade, they tested as well as the regular kids other children, except that they were better in spelling.
In 1955, in Farmington, Pennsylvania, King started Dunnerback, a camp for children with learning difficulties, which she ran for 28 years. Kurt Goldman, the father of one of the campers, was so impressed with how much his son had improved that he told King, “I know you really want a school, so you go ahead with your plans and I’ll worry about the money.”
In 1969, with Goldman’s help, King opened a school on a rented campus in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. She began with seven students, but by the time the school had grown to 60 children, it was time to move. In 1980 King and Goldman relocated to what had been the Barlow School in Amenia. King named the new school Kildonan after her uncle’s farm in South Africa. Kildonan practices the Orton-Gillingham system, which is based on one-on-one tutorials between teachers and students. Small classes and multi sensory instruction also help students build their self-esteem, enabling them to reach their full academic potential. Beginners are taught only ten letters rather than the entire alphabet. After reading and spelling very simple words, they slowly add other letters, always keeping a pace they are comfortable with, in order to instill a constant sense of accomplishment
Diana did not stop with the legacy of her camp and school. Along with the development of Kildonan’s teacher training program that has become a model teacher training program, Diana has also created and published teaching materials that have been used by thousands of educators, particularly in the area of teaching written language skills. Finally, Diana has become committed to sharing her gifted and caring teaching with inmates in a maximum security prison where an estimated 60 percent of the inmates are illiterate. She has shared her devotion to teaching and literacy with those individuals seeking the gift of reading after years of failure and frustration.
In 1990, Diana was the recipient of IDA’s highest award, the Samuel T. Orton Award, for her exceptional contributions to the understanding and treatment of dyslexia. Diana has also been Executive Director of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators and serves as a member of that board.
Teachers with King’s experience can tell whether a child will have a problem by the time the child is four, well before he or she has tried to read. Early intervention can prevent any kind of failure, but, unfortunately, most parents wait to get help until their children are nine or ten. By that time, King says, “they are really in trouble … incredibly depressed and discouraged and not wanting to go to school. It’s not just failing itself but what it does to a child’s confidence.”
King has been working with dyslexic children almost longer than anyone else in the field, and she is still teaching. Kildonan often accepts students at the high-school level who have only elementary-school skills. As a result they must make a gain of two or three grades every year when, up to that point, they never made so much as half a grade in a year.
“I am teaching some of them myself, and if they get confidence and are bright, they can get their skills up and go off to college,” King says. This means that the teacher and the student must work extremely hard, but it pays off: the Kildonan seniors have all been accepted in the colleges of their choice.
Today King continues to do rescue evaluations of children, writes books and travel around the world to talk about teacher methods of children with dyslexia.