Alum Creek Elementary School student Elizabeth Bell is a math whiz.

Alum Creek Elementary School student Elizabeth Bell is a math whiz.

The 9-year-old solves math problems in her head while her mother, Carole Dorn-Bell, is still working them out with pen and paper.

"She's great at math and she's got tremendous spatial skills," Dorn-Bell said. "She's a real rock star with Legos and puzzles."

But Elizabeth always has struggled with reading. When she was in third grade, her parents noticed their youngest daughter, still in kindergarten, was helping Elizabeth with words.

The diagnosis came shortly after: Elizabeth has dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. People with dyslexia typically struggle to spell, write and pronounce words.

The family didn't despair. In fact, it was a huge relief.

"Someone asked me a couple of months ago if I cried when I found out," Dorn-Bell said. "I did, but they were tears of joy.

"At that point, she knew there was nothing wrong with her. She's highly intelligent. It's just that she learns differently. Her brain just fires differently."

Dorn-Bell knew there were other struggling families out there just like hers, so she jumped to action.

The Lewis Center resident kick-started the Olentangy Dyslexia Network, a new group that will host its inaugural meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at Olentangy High School, 675 Lewis Center Road.

Families who know their child has dyslexia, or anyone with a child with reading difficulties, are invited to attend. Parents are encouraged to bring their children to the meeting.

The event will include a screening of The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, a 52-minute film. After the movie, a panel discussion with local experts in reading, dyslexia and special needs will be held.

Free on-site baby-sitting will be provided by the OHS Service Club.

Dorn-Bell plans to host monthly meetings for the new group to provide support and a social outlet for families who face similar struggles.

All parents and students in any grade are invited to join the group.

Olentangy parent Peg Hollenback knows too well the challenges of dyslexia. Her son, Michael, was diagnosed in first grade.

"The isolation is amazing," she said. "You think it's just your child, and when you see them struggle, you think, 'What have I done wrong?' "

Michael is now a senior at Olentangy High School. Despite his trouble with reading, he's enrolled in several Advanced Placement classes and loves history.

Hollenback now works with the Central Ohio Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and volunteers her time tutoring dyslexic students through the Orton-Gillingham program, a multisensory approach to teaching reading.

She will speak as one of the panelists at the Jan. 16 meeting of the Olentangy Dyslexia Network.

"This group is absolutely essential," Hollenback said. "Districts are under so many constraints, but we need parents to demand appropriate screening and follow-up intervention.

"These parents are told their child is just not trying hard enough, or they're lazy," she said. "It's just not true."

In the year since her daughter's diagnosis, Dorn-Bell enrolled her in after-school tutoring, and she's doing better -- but it's a constant struggle.

She said she hopes the new group will be an outlet for children such as hers to meet their peers and gain confidence.

"We want parents to get support and fresh information, but we also want it to be a friendly setting where the kids can really feel special -- because they are."