Dyslexia and Special Education
Let’s get this out of the way first: It is my opinion that students with dyslexia do not belong in special education—if they are taught properly how to read, and their learning differences accommodated in the general education classroom, they shouldn’t need pull-out services. But the fact remains that too often our children with dyslexia are not taught to read with effective reading programs in the early grades, and when they fall behind their peers, they end up in special education remedial programs.
That’s why so much time and energy needs to go into early identification and proper reading programs in the early years! Until that happens, our children will have to get the services they need for their dyslexia in special education programs.
Parents may be surprised to learn that school officials do not “diagnose” dyslexia (or any other disability), rather, they determine whether the student qualifies for special education services based on their testing results. It’s important to understand this difference.
It’s also important for parents to understand that very often school districts will choose not to use the word “dyslexia,” (even though they certainly may, according to Federal law). Instead, they will often say that the student qualifies for special education services under the term “Specific Learning Disability.”
Many parents feel confused by this terminology—particularly because virtually no one outside of special education departments has ever heard of SLD!—and many parents have spent countless hours trying to figure this all out. Do not be mislead: If your child qualifies for special education services under the category of Specific Learning Disability, it is quite likely your child has dyslexia, but the schools just don’t typically use what has been called “The D Word!”
Semantics aside, what can you do if your child qualifies for special education services?
You will have the opportunity to work with the team at the school that will meet to go over all the testing results and determine the way forward. Your child may qualify for an “Individualized Education Program (IEP),” which will provide for educational goals, specialized instruction and classroom accommodations to help achieve them. This is part of your child’s right to what’s called “Fair Appropriate Public Education (FAPE),” as guaranteed by Federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). You are a part of this team and must educate yourself in order to help the rest of the team understand what works best for your unique child.
If your child is a struggling reader, and qualifies for special education services under Specific Learning Disability, the type of reading program your child will likely need should be personalized, direct, multi-sensory, structures, systematic, sequential and cumulative. Students with dyslexia need one-on-one reading instruction with a qualified reading specialist who has experience working with dyslexic students; they should not be planted in front of a computer. Learn more about Reading Programs and Dyslexia
I hope you never hear the phrase, “A boilerplate IEP,” as I have heard offered by a principal during an IEP meeting! Remember that the “I” in “IEP” is “Individualized.”
Another way to support your child with classroom accommodations is with a “504 Plan,” which is governed under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). A 504 does not include specialized instruction, but may allow accommodations like extra time to complete assignments, alternative setting for testing, etc.
For a discussion of the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan, consult Wrightslaw.
One additional note: After you take the time and make the effort to get special education services for your dyslexic child, you may discover that the special education services offered are not adequate for your child’s needs. For this reason, you must become well-educated and knowledgeable about dyslexia, your child’s learning style, and classroom needs. You are an equal member of the special education team, and must stay on top of issues at all times in order to effectively advocate for your child! We can all wish for a different reality, but a word to the wise should be sufficient.