Why Aren’t We Talking about Dyslexia?:
Dyslexia and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”)
By Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq.
Parents of students with reading disabilities may find that there is a lot of controversy surrounding one little word: dyslexia. Too often, parents are frustrated to see that their child’s IEPs or evaluations from a school district did not include the word dyslexia even when outside professionals made that diagnosis. This may lead parents to pursue a private school program to meet their child’s reading and educational needs. So is dyslexia a disability under the IDEA? Here’s what parents pursuing tuition reimbursement for private school or seeking an appropriate program from a school district need to know:
- Yes, dyslexia is included in the IDEA
Yes, students with dyslexia who require special education and related services are protected under the IDEA. The IDEA and its regulations both specifically contain the word, “dyslexia.” 20 U.S.C. § 1401(30)(B); 34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(10). Dyslexia is, therefore, unquestionably recognized by the IDEA.
- But, dyslexia falls under a broader category
Bear with me for some legalese here. The IDEA and its regulations include dyslexia under the broader category of Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”). The IDEA’s regulations define a SLD as:
[A] disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(10). As you can see, SLD is a broad category which includes many disorders/conditions. Basically, the underlying condition causing the SLD may be dyslexia, but the child’s disability under the IDEA would still fall under the larger category of SLD. It is important to note that students are still entitled to services to address the deficits caused by dyslexia and that students may have multiple eligibility categories (for example, a student may have a SLD based on his/her dyslexia and an Other Health Impairment based on ADHD as educational classifications).
- Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia are SLDs, too
The same can be said for dyscalculia and dysgraphia: they are conditions which may be the basis for determining that the child has a SLD. Unlike dyslexia, however, dyscalculia and dysgraphia are not specifically named in the definition of a SLD in the IDEA or its regulations. Just because they are not specifically mentioned does not mean they do not count. In fact, in an October 23, 2015 “Dear Colleague” Letter, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services clarified that dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and dyslexia are all “conditions that could qualify a child as a child with a specific learning disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”
- Nothing in the IDEA prohibits the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in IEPs or evaluations
There is no prohibition on using the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia, and school districts should ensure that they do not have policies which prohibit those terms in IEPs or evaluations. Nonetheless, the most important part of evaluating and programming for children with disabilities is addressing the child’s unique needs regardless of which terms are used. If you believe your child’s needs were not appropriately evaluated or programmed for in your public school district, you may be entitled to tuition reimbursement for a private school that meets your child’s needs, where he/she has the supports necessary to make progress.