The MLO Minute: By Heather Hulse, J.D., M.S., M.A.
Many school districts and charter schools misunderstand Dyslexia or the possibility of Dyslexia, and how it relates to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). Parents of students who are demonstrating signs of possible Dyslexia are frequently advised by their child’s school that it does not test for Dyslexia. While the IDEA does not specifically provide that school districts and charter schools are obligated to assess whether a student has Dyslexia, it does require school districts and charter schools to determine whether a child who is demonstrating academic struggles is a child with a Specific Learning Disability. A Specific Learning Disability, such as in reading, could include Dyslexia.
It is important to understand the characteristics of Dyslexia, as Dyslexia is often overlooked by educators. Many people believe that Dyslexia involves the reversal of letters and/or numbers. While that may be true, it is not always evident in students with Dyslexia or the sole indicator of a potential concern. Dyslexia impacts the ability to phonemically sound out letters and words. Students with Dyslexia will often use their memory of the sounds they have learned and make an educated “guess” about a word. For example, a student may guess “sick” for “sink” or “went” for “west.”
Students will often use context cues in a sentence to demonstrate comprehension of the text. This will often cause educators to believe, and suggest, that there are no concerns with a student’s reading. This is particularly true for elementary students who have effectively memorized sight words that are used frequently. However, Dyslexia does not simply go away. As students progress into higher grades and reading becomes more challenging and the coursework and materials include less frequently-used words, it becomes readily apparent that there is problem with the student’s ability to sound out or decode words. Of course, if parents and educators are aware of the early signs of Dyslexia and the student’s pseudoword decoding or word attack skills are specifically assessed, the student can be identified with a Specific Learning Disability pursuant to the IDEA and early intervention can occur, which is imperative.
It is important for parents and educators to be aware of the specific areas of academic achievement that need to be assessed in order to determine whether the student is demonstrating characteristics of Dyslexia, which can then be identified as a Specific Learning Disability pursuant to the IDEA. These specific areas include: 1) pseudoword decoding or word attack, which involves decoding nonsense words to alleviate the possibility the student has memorized the word; 2) spelling, which innately involves the ability to sound out letters and words; and 3) letter and word recognition, which is particularly relevant for younger students and measures the ability to identify letters and words. It is not uncommon for school districts and charter schools to undertake evaluations for special education, but neglect to assess these specific areas. A student with Dyslexia may perform quite well on assessments of other areas of academics, including other areas of reading, such as reading comprehension.
If you feel that your child is demonstrating characteristics of Dyslexia and your child’s school district or charter school are advising they do not test for Dyslexia, are refusing to test, or you believe the assessments they have completed are not appropriate to assess for Dyslexia, we are here to help. Please feel free to contact us and please keep in mind that we are frequently able to provide our services at no cost to you.