We get a lot of questions daily from parents and educators and know how frustrating it is to try and find answers for your specific concerns! A diagnosis of dyslexia or other learning disorder can be overwhelming, and we’ll be the first to admit, the learning curve is a steep one.
The good news is, there are answers! We’ve compiled a few here to respond to the questions we hear the most. But if you have additional questions, you are welcome to contact us.
ANSWERS FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS
- I suspect my child has dyslexia. What should I do next?
- How does my child qualify for special education services?
- What can I do if I disagree with the school’s assessment?
- Does my child need a medical diagnosis for dyslexia?
- If my child is tested by a reputable outside agency, does the school have to accept the diagnosis?
- What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan?
- How can I craft an effective IEP for my child?
- What if my child’s school does not provide instruction that works?
ANSWERS FOR EDUCATORS
- What signs should I be looking for that would indicate my student has a language-based learning disability?
- I suspect a child has dyslexia. What should I do next?
- How does the child qualify for special education services?
- How can I support literacy mastery in students with dyslexia?
- NAVIGATING THE SCHOOL SYSTEM
ANSWERS FOR ADULT DYSLEXICS
- I suspect I have dyslexia. Where can I find help?
- My dyslexia affects my ability to do my job. What can I do?
It’s a good idea to document all the reasons why you believe your child struggles. What are his/her characteristics or actions/reactions that have you concerned? Any formal diagnosis of a learning disorder should include a parent/caregiver history statement.
Next, talk to you child’s teacher. Often, teachers are excellent resources of information regarding areas of strength or weakness in your child’s performance. If you believe your child requires extra school supports, the next step is to see if he/she qualifies for special education services.
This is a complex process that is determined by the rules for public schools in your state. First off, dyslexia is an LD that is named in Federal and State law as a Specific Learning Disability, or SLD. If you suspect dyslexia, you are looking to find out if your child is eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and related services under the category of SLD. To do so, requires meeting three different criteria as determined by the State rules.
In general, a comprehensive evaluation must show:
- The child does not achieve adequately with appropriate classroom instruction in one or more of the following areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, reading fluency, mathematics calculation, or mathematical problem solving
- The child has a disorder, across multiple settings, that impacts one or more of the basic psychological processes such as acquisition of information, organization, planning and sequencing, memory, visual and auditory processing, speed of processing, etc., and
- The child demonstrates either (a) a severe discrepancy between general intellectual ability (IQ) and achievement, or (b) inadequate rate of progress as measured over time through progress monitoring in a program using intensive scientific research-based instruction.
Once an initial evaluation plan has been agreed to and signed by the parents, data and information from classroom performance, work samples, parent input (including private tutor input/data when available), teacher and parent questionnaires, observations, standardized tests, and individually administered tests are gathered and analyzed to determine if the student meets the criteria for eligibility.
If the evaluation team (including parents) concludes that the student is eligible, the district may not begin special education services until it:
- Has held one or more IEP meetings with parents, the student (when appropriate), teachers and qualified staff to develop a written plan (the IEP) for specialized instruction, accommodations, and related services
- Provided written notice of the proposed services to the parents (PWN); and
- Received a parent’s agreement to the plan (a signature indicating informed consent).
If the school finds that your child does not qualify for special education services, you can contest the decision. We often receive calls from parents who have had their children tested by qualified providers and have returned to their schools with highly supported diagnoses of dyslexia, only to be denied services. Remember: you are your child’s strongest advocate!
There are several formal options for resolving disagreements when the special education process breaks down. In Minnesota, facilitated IEP meetings, conciliation conferences, mediation, complaints and finally due process hearings are available options. These options are summarized in chart form in a brochure published by PACER titled Minnesota Due Process Options. Additional information on these procedures can be found in the menu links on the Minnesota Department of Education’s webpage.
No medical diagnosis is required for SLD eligibility. In fact, a medical or psychological diagnosis of dyslexia will not automatically qualify your child for Special Education services. Before a teacher refers a student for a special education evaluation, the district is supposed to try (and document) at least two strategies or interventions using a system of scientific research-based instruction in academics or behavior before evaluating for special education. However, parents or teachers can by-pass this scenario if they feel the need for evaluation is urgent.
No. Schools have the right to verify and/or supplement the testing results you provide, and will generally incorporate the findings into their own comprehensive evaluation and report, which must include classroom observation.
Parents should make sure the school is aware of the exact tests and versions that were used in the outside evaluation, as the school team must avoid retesting using the same versions of these common standardized instruments.
If you do not agree with the final conclusions of an evaluation, you can request that the school district gather additional data and/or administer additional tests to resolve differences. Alternatively, you can disagree with the district’s evaluation results and request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) (in writing). An IEE is an evaluation completed at district’s expense by a qualified evaluator who is not employed by the district, has the same or better qualifications as district evaluators, and is chosen by you. The district may agree to your request for an IEE, they may suggest that district staff do more testing, or they may request a due process hearing to show that the district’s evaluation is appropriate (this last action is rare).
There are many parts to this answer — what each covers, eligibility requirements, etc. We borrowed a comparison chart from our friends at the National Center for Learning Disabilities to give you an overview. This is a great resource for you, by the way…check out their page on information in this regard and sign up to get onto their email list.
There’s a wealth of information to be found about crafting an effective IEP, and it’s worth the research! Your child’s Individualized Education Plan will serve as the roadmap for remediation moving forward, so make sure it includes three important components:
- Addresses each of your child’s deficits as determined by testing results;
- Establishes measurable outcomes and timeframes;
- Recommends interventions that are scientifically based and proven to be effective in remediating dyslexia.
Use some of the following resources, or check out our Resources Page for more information: WrightsLaw, Reading Rockets, LD Online (search for “effective IEP”), IDA Factsheet: Evaluating Educational Professionals.
Your school has a responsibility, by law, to provide your child with interventions that result in adequate progress (meets academic, grade-level standards). School districts should employ “best practices”, including research-based reading instruction methodologies that cover the five components of effective instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Instruction should be systematic and sequential, and should be delivered in a multi-sensory fashion.
Periodic assessments (referred to as progress monitoring) will show adequate progress (or lack thereof).
Interventions or additional tailored instruction may be provided within the regular classroom programs under various names, such as Title I instruction, Response to Intervention (RTI).
Sadly, we often hear about families that go through the lengthy process of obtaining an IEP for their child, only to discover that the schools are not equipped to provide the proper reading instruction for the dyslexic learner. Our answer to that: KEEP ADVOCATING! Federal and state laws require that schools involve parents on many levels. The Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA or NCLB) was written to give parents substantial and meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children. The law governing special education services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires that parents be an equal partner in all decisions involving evaluation, planning, and program implementation of specially designed instruction and supports.
And while you’re negotiating services for your child, get educated! Check out our Resources Page, find a Qualified Tutor, or look into specialized schools and programs, such as Groves Academy and The Reading Center/Dyslexia Institute of Minnesota.
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