Matt's brainchild was conceived in 1999, when his English teacher at Santa Catalina School in Monterey, Calif., asked students to pick a topic for a yearlong study project. Matt chose dyslexia for personal reasons: His brother Andrew, now 13, suffered from the learning disability and struggled for hours each night to do his homework. "It took him longer to process information," says Matt. "It was frustrating for everyone."
For months Matt read books, searched the Internet and talked with experts. His research—and his observation of Andrew, who hadn't been diagnosed until fourth grade—convinced him of the importance of early intervention. So he devised a plan to test kindergartners for their ability to understand how sounds translate into words; kids deemed at risk would be screened three times a year for three years.
With the help of teachers, Matt pitched the idea to Pacific Grove district officials. "I was moved emotionally and by the quality of his research," says superintendent Jack Marchi, who approved the test. Last December Matt's plan won an $87,300 grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Matt, who in August moved with his father, Forrest, 48, a telecommunications executive, and mother, Cynthia, 47, a homemaker, to San Antonio, hopes schools nationwide will adopt the test. "I don't want people diagnosed when it's too late to do a lot about it," he says. "No one should have to go through what my brother went through."