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Dyslexia Basics: What Do I Need to Know About My Child's Reading Disability?

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What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability characterized by difficulty with reading. It impacts the individual's ability to recognize words accurately and fluently by associating sounds with symbols, a process known as decoding. Dyslexia can make it challenging for the person to read, spell, and write, and hinders learning in all areas by limiting a child's exposure to advanced vocabulary and background knowledge. Students with dyslexia are often highly intelligent, motivated learners, but they can quickly become frustrated by their reading difficulties.

Please note that this definition of dyslexia refers to a broad body of research that is constantly growing due to the contributions of dedicated reading and language experts. If you believe that your child may have dyslexia or another kind of reading or learning disability, you should seek an evaluation by a properly trained and experienced professional. It's important to diagnose and address a child's reading disability as early as possible to help encourage his academic progress and avoid a gap in skills over time.

How Is Dyslexia Different from Other Kinds of Disabilities?

The reading deficits brought about by dyslexia are neurobiological in origin, and stem from deficits in the individual's language ability (phonological processing). Dyslexia is not caused by low cognitive ability, ADHD, or vision issues -- although all of those conditions can certainly contribute to the learning difficulties experienced by the dyslexic child. You also may have heard that dyslexia causes people to read or write letters backwards or "flipped." While this sometimes happens, letter reversal is not necessarily a sign of dyslexia, and it is certainly not its distinguishing feature. Instead, children with dyslexia are typically observed to struggle when trying to read aloud and "sound out" words. They can find writing exercises difficult, and they may read too slowly to understand and respond accurately to comprehension questions.

Other kinds of specific learning disabilities include dysgraphia (a disability that impacts written expression) and dyscalculia (a specific math disability). However, dyslexia can impact these subjects as well, because of the importance of literacy skills in navigating all academic areas. For example, a child's achievement in math may be limited by his struggle to accurately read word problems.

My Child Has Dyslexia. What Kinds of Special Education Services Does She Need?

After your child is properly assessed and diagnosed with a specific learning disability in the area of reading, she may require specialized reading instruction, along with instruction and related services in other areas such as writing, math, or speech and language services. Special education and related services designed for the dyslexic child should be individualized to meet the child's specific needs. Your child's IEP should contain specific and measurable annual goals designed to address her educational needs in reading decoding, reading comprehension, encoding (spelling), and writing, to name only a few possible areas impacted by dyslexia. The IEP should also specify the time, location and duration of her specialized instruction in reading and other academic areas, as well as the service provider who will be responsible for implementing her instruction. Many children with reading disabilities can benefit from the use of a structured, multisensory language-based learning program such as the Orton-Gillingham teaching methodology.

Your child's reading skills should be reassessed at regular intervals, and compared against baseline data to ensure that she is making an adequate level of progress. You can request ongoing data on your child's progress in her reading program, as well as an IEP team meeting to discuss her progress and revise and update her program as necessary.

My Child's School Refuses to Use the Label "Dyslexia" - What Should I Do?

Some states, including Connecticut, have added "Specific Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia" as a separate category of Primary Disability for purposes of the IEP. In other words, this is a new category that can be used to identify a child with a disability who requires special education and related services. Connecticut's IEP contains the catch-all "Specific Learning Disabilities" category as well. To qualify as SLD/Dyslexia, the child must first meet the Specific Learning Disability eligibility criteria, and then also meet the specific criteria for Dyslexia.

Regardless of whether your child's IEP identifies him as a student with dyslexia, the IDEA requires that his school program address all areas of his disability that impact him educationally. If your child's evaluations indicate deficiencies in his reading abilities, ask for specific goals to address those weaknesses. Sometimes the evaluations appear to be inaccurate or incomplete, or you believe they have not properly assessed your child for possible reading or other learning disabilities. In this case, you can request an IEE (independent educational evaluation) by an independent dyslexia expert to more thoroughly and accurately assess your child. A special education advocate or attorney can assist you in making this request and in obtaining the evaluations and programming your child needs to make progress in reading.

Does your child receive special education as a student with Specific Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia? Are you going through the LD evaluation process now? Share some wisdom gleaned from your experience with other parents via the comments below!

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