Does your child struggle to read?
- Does your preschooler have trouble with common nursery rhymes, can’t learn and remember the names of the letters in the alphabet, or have a hard time recognizing common rhyming patters like cat, rat and bat?
- Does your kindergartener or first grader read “puppy” instead of the written “dog” when looking at an illustration? Does he or she have trouble sounding out words or connecting letters with sounds?
- If your child is a second grader or up to young adult, does reading come slowly, does he or she avoid it if at all possible?
- If in high school, is a foreign language almost impossible to learn?
- For all age groups, does your child have difficulty finding the right words to say, pronounce names and places incorrectly?
What are your child’s strengths?
- Does your child have a great imagination, a good understanding of concepts, like to solve puzzles?
- Does your child have excellent verbal comprehension?
- Does your high school student have good thinking skills like reasoning and abstraction?
- Does he or she learn best by doing, or excel in areas not driven by reading?
- For more clues, please see The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, http://dyslexia.yale.edu/clues1.html.
If some or all of the above answers are positive, your child may have DYSLEXIA, a very common learning disability. Some experts say up to 80% of all people with learning disabilities have dyslexia.
Here’s the good news:
Dyslexia is treatable. Schools can help.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. People with dyslexia are scientists, architects, authors and more. Go ahead, Google famous people with dyslexia. You’ll find lots of amazing people who have overcome their dyslexia and done incredible things.
You may be thinking that dyslexia is only about reversing letters, and your child doesn’t do that. Dyslexia is now understood to be a disorder of the language system in the brain.
Dyslexia “reflects a deficiency in the processing of the distinctive linguistic units, called phonemes, that make up all spoken and written words.” Shaywitz, S. (1996), Dyslexia: A New Model of the Reading Disorder Emphasizes Defects in the Language-Processing Rather than the Visual System, Scientific American, 275(5) 98.
That means that your child’s brain has trouble decoding words, or breaking words into their distinctive sounds.
Think of your brain like a bunch of paths in the forest. Typical readers can see the word “bed” three times, sound it out and remember it, and the fourth time they see the word, their brain sends a signal from the logic part to the long term memory part that what they are seeing is the word “bed.” The signal travels a distinctive or well-worn neural path from the logic to long-term memory. They’ve got it.
In a dyslexic brain, the neural path from logic to long-term memory is not distinctive or well worn. There may be branches or blocks preventing the signal from going though, or the path may be so lightly drawn that is really isn’t a path. Dyslexic readers will have to see and focus on the word “bed” over four hundred times to have it go to long-term memory!
Researchers at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity have taken numerous fMRIs of typical and dyslexic brain to show these differences. Their website is a wonderful resource. Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center also has a great book called Overcoming Dyslexia that is well worth reading, and has excellent pictures of the fMRIs.
What can you do?
The brain is most pliable and able to put down new neural pathways in childhood. The time to act is now – delays in reading prevent children from learning and will make them fall further and further behind in school. Teachers call the K-3 grades the “Learning to read” grades, and grades 4 and up “Reading to Learn.”
Dyslexia is not a life sentence!
Dyslexia is treatable. Evidenced-based multisensory programs like Orton Gillingham, Wilson Reading Method or LindaMood Bell are effective at teaching dyslexic students to read and actually lay down the neural pathways that are blocked or missing. The programs are multisensory and intensive, and while they take several years, if done correctly and by qualified teachers, they do work.
First things first: evaluate your child and find out exactly what is wrong.
If your car stops running, you have several options, but just knowing that the car doesn’t start is not enough to determine the problem. Reading problems are the same. You need to know specifically what is wrong so you can know the specific type of education intervention that is necessary.
The first thing you need is an evaluation to determine if your child has dyslexia. You can see a specialist privately, or you can ask your child’s school to evaluate. There are pros and cons to both methods. Private evaluations by qualified professionals can be costly, but if dyslexia is found, they will unequivocally state that your child has dyslexia and needs specific educational methods to address reading deficits.
Did you know that schools have the responsibility to identify children with disabilities?
A federal law called Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA makes states responsible for finding children with disabilities and then educating them according to their unique needs. This means that Ohio has the responsibility to search out children with disabilities, from birth through age 21.
If you suspect your child may have dyslexia, you have the right to request an Evaluation from the school.
If the school determines your child has dyslexia, it will implement an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) tailored to his or her needs, and your child will receive the educational services he or she needs to learn how to read. If dyslexia is in your child’s evaluation, schools must use programs or curricula that are evidence-based to address the dyslexia.
Is it really that easy?
In some enlightened school districts, it really is that easy. Unfortunately, most school districts make it very, very difficult. If you are running into roadblocks, consider hiring an advocate or attorney.
What if the school won’t conduct an evaluation?
At this point in the process, some school tell parents that they are going to try different interventions before evaluating the child. This is often called response to intervention (RTI). RTI sounds reasonable, but legally schools must try these interventions at the same time as they evaluate the child – they can’t unnecessarily delay an evaluation.
What happens at an evaluation?
An evaluation must be completed within 60 days of getting your consent to evaluate. It must meet certain requirements. For example, an email telling you your child has been given one test and found not to have a disability is not an evaluation as Ohio defines it. Some of the rules for an acceptable evaluation are:
- An evaluation should be done on a form called PR-06 (Evaluation Team Report),
- An evaluation team includes the parents, the child’s teacher, and many other staff from the school district.
- The team must formally meet to discuss the results of the evaluation,
- Parents must be given the report so that they can meaningfully participate in the meeting,
- The school must not use one single assessment to determine if your child has a disability, but use a variety of assessments and strategies, including information from the parents, the classroom teachers, and medical professionals if necessary.
What does the evaluation team decide?
The evaluation team has to decide three things at the meeting:
- If the child has a disability
- If that disability has an adverse effect on the child’s education, and
- If the child needs special education and related services.
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
If the team decides the answer is yes to all three of the above questions, your child will be identified as having a disability, and the school will have 30 days to write an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. Your child is covered under IDEA and has the right to specialized instruction and accommodations.
This is where is becomes very important to have “dyslexia” in the evaluation, not just “learning disability.” The goals and services of the IEP must be written specifically for your child with dyslexia, and must be tailored to actually provide educational services to address the dyslexia.
What if you disagree with the team’s determination?
Parents are a part of the evaluation team, but the school district makes the ultimate decision. If you disagree with the evaluation results, you are entitled to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at pubic expense. This is an evaluation done by a non-school related professional. The school may not just deny your request, but must respond in one of two ways:
- Grant you the IEE, or
- Prove to a hearing officer that their decision was correct.
When should I bring in outside help?
Unfortunately, many schools put up roadblocks for students with dyslexia. District may not evaluate, may evaluate but not be specific enough in the report to find dyslexia, or may offer educational services that are not scientifically tailored to actually help. We have seen IEPS that only look at how fast a child reads, not whether they understand what they are reading. We’ve seen schools deny dyslexia as though it doesn’t exist, or blame behavioral problems on children when the underlying problem is their dyslexia. The school to prison pipeline for struggling readers is tragically all too real.
If your school is putting up roadblocks, consider bringing in a skilled advocate or attorney to help ensure that your child gets the appropriate educational services and accommodations. There is no reason children with dyslexia should struggle to read.