Dyslexia: Frequently Asked Quesions
1. What is dyslexia? Dyslexia is a common learning disorder affecting as many as 80 percent of California students with learning disabilities in special education. According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a language-based specific learning disability (a neurodevelopmental disorder that hinders the ability to learn or use certain academic skills.) and generally refers to a cluster of symptoms resulting in difficulty with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. The National Institute of Health reports that dyslexia can be inherited in some families, and recent studies have identified genes that may predispose a child to developing dyslexia. Be careful that the label does not oversimplify your child’s needs as ‘dyslexia’ typically encompasses far more difficulties than those related to spelling or reversing letters. Visit the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (sponsored by the Yale Medical School) for a very good explanation of dyslexia geared towards children.
2. My school district said they don’t test for dyslexia, is that legal? No. Dyslexia is a type of specific learning disability. Under nation-wide special education laws, school district (and charter school) tests for specific learning disabilities must include dyslexia. 20 U.S.C. Section 1401(30)(b). California law goes even further. In October of 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law requiring mandatory dyslexia screening. No later than the beginning of the 2017–18 academic year, program guidelines for dyslexia must be used to assist regular education teachers, special education teachers, and parents to identify and assess children with dyslexia, and to plan, provide, evaluate, and improve educational services to them.
3. Is there one test for dyslexia? No. There are a number of tests–no single test should be relied upon. Also, if available, it is important to have parent input regarding family history and observations and teacher input regarding classroom performance. Depending on your child’s age group, testing can include spelling, decoding, reading speed, or memory. These tests must be interpreted and explained to you by a qualified assessor. If your district’s school psychologist and speech and language specialist are unwilling or unable to administer and explain the results of these tests (and subtests) to you in detail, you may want to request an independent educational evaluation.
4. My child’s school district said he could not be tested for dyslexia until he’s in the 2nd grade, is that true? No. According to the International Dyslexia Association, children should be tested for dyslexia as early as Kindergarten or 1st grade. This is when their brains have the most plasticity and can respond more quickly and effectively to proper interventions. Signs of learning difficulties may appear as early as pre-school age (such as, difficulty learning names of letters or counting objects).
5. Our school district said that we have to wait for our child to fail before we can get special help for his dyslexia. Is that true? No. As with most learning disabilities, the sooner your child’s dyslexia is addressed and managed, the better. Dyslexia doesn’t just “go away”. Educators must be specially-trained to teach children with dyslexia. Even if your child is now a teenager and nearing graduation, it is not too late to get help.
6. My child has a below average IQ according to our school district. They said he can’t get special help for his dyslexia because there is no difference between his IQ and his low reading level. Are they right? No. In the past, school districts used the “discrepancy model” to determine a learning disability. If there was a lag or “discrepancy” between IQ (learning potential) and reading test scores (learning achievement) then children with dyslexia could qualify for special education. The discrepancy test excluded children who scored below average on IQ tests from receiving special education services to help them learn to read. According to a 2011 study out of Stanford University and funded by the National Institutes of Health, regardless of high or low overall IQ test scores, children with dyslexia show similar patterns of brain activity. The study found that children with dyslexia showed the same patterns of brain activation, regardless of whether or not they had high or low IQ scores in relation to their reading abilities. The Stanford report concludes that all children with dyslexia should be eligible for special education support, regardless of IQ. This is consistent with the new way in which learning disabilities are diagnosed.
7. My child is getting extra help at school but he does not seem to be reading any better. Is this typical? No. Just like any other learning disability, dyslexia is not a one size fits all condition. It impacts different children in different ways. If your school district has tested your child, carefully review the evaluation and ask questions about specific deficits (for example, phonetic awareness, reading comprehension, fluency, word attack, etc.). Make sure that your child’s IEP goals are geared to address those specific areas of weakness. Do not wait until the next annual IEP meeting. You can request an IEP meeting at any time if you believe your child is not making progress.
8. What do I do if I think my child has dyslexia?
- Learn more about dyslexia. Read the International Dyslexia Association Fact Sheets and visit the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity for more information.
- Meet with his teacher immediately and explain your concerns. You don’t have to wait for the next report card or “back to school” night. If the teacher shares your concerns, confirm this as part of your short “thank you” note to her.
- Submit a written request a formal assessment. Make sure that you include the date of your request and obtain a stamped “Received” copy for your records. Give the request to your child’s school principal.
- Within 15 days of your written request, the school district must provide you with an assessment plan requesting your consent to testing. Read it carefully and ask questions if you are concerned about which tests are being given. In California, the tests generally must be completed and reviewed within 60 days.
- If the school district refuses to test your child, you may want to file a Compliance Complaint with the California Department of Education (CDE). Often, the school district will initiate testing once the CDE opens its investigation. You may also consider obtaining your own independent educational evaluation and demand that the school district reimburse you if it turns out that your child is dyslexic and needs help.
- If your child is being denied appropriate services by the school system or charter school, seek help immediately. Check out parent organizations and advocacy groups like TASK, Parents Helping Parents, Disability Rights California or Berkeley Parent’s Network. Visit the International Dyslexia Association website for information and tips—they have great fact sheets. If necessary, get legal support. You can contact ADAMS ESQ for a free consultation or visit the California Office of Administrative Hearings for a list of low cost or free advocates and attorneys in your area.