A parent is asking “Why don’t they test dyslexia in all children?”
My answer is that morally speaking, they should, but legally speaking, all schools are supposed to test children for learning disabilities such as dyslexia when there is a reason to do so. The reason to test dyslexia in a child can be as innocuous as a suspicion on the part of a professional teacher or staff member that something (perhaps) unknown prevents a particular student from learning.
Schools are supposed to act as required by law. There is no absolute requirement to test dyslexia in all children, so schools do not currently assess all students for dyslexia unless there is a particular reason to do so. When a parent, teacher or staff member believes that an assessment may be needed in an area of suspected disability, that belief provides a particular reason to ‘test’ or ‘assess’ whether a learning disability such as dyslexia is present. There are many reasons to believe that a particular child should be assessed for a learning disability.
Imagine being a teacher. You are staring into the faces of 20 eager students seated at their desks and looking at you expectantly. Each one is different. Each one looks different. Each one has a different name. Each one has a different background. Not one of them approach learning in the same way. Some of them have disabilities that impact learning, and all of them have the ability to learn if provided special education services and accommodations.
In my experience in a typical K-12 class, there will be an average of at least five kids in twenty who do not seem to focus on the lessons written on the board or textbooks, who write letters backwards, who seem unable to keep handwritten text organized and spaced properly on a page, who squirm, daydream, speak out of turn, fail to follow directions, become defiant, hate school, and/or distract the class from the lesson plan. Any of these characteristics can be indications that something is preventing each of these students from learning. Students demonstrating any of these behaviors could be candidates for testing dyslexia and assessment if there is a suspicion that a disability may be causing the behaviors interfering with learning.
A disability does not have to actually exist to trigger the law’s duty to ‘Child Find.’ It is enough if there is an area of suspected disability.
Although it is the school’s responsibility to implement ‘Child Find’ policies to identify and then remediate learning disabilities, savvy parents with advocacy experience will always want to assure in advance that everybody does the right thing, and follow-up afterwards. Here’s how we do it: put in writing all reasons for the concerns that a disability may exist. Explain that whatever the cause may be, it is impeding your child’s learning. Cite examples, and ask for a psycho-educational evaluation at the school’s expense to determine whether a learning disability is interfering with your child’s access to the educational curriculum. This will trigger a timeline, and the school will have a certain amount of time to respond. Deadlines do tend to motivate action, but a parent who is pro-active will not wait for the school to schedule an assessment; for many reasons it is advisable to take a child to a private psychologist who specializes in psycho-educational evaluations.
Some parents feel that psychologists employed by a school district have a first loyalty to the school district/employer and not to the child being tested. These parents feel there is a built-in bias or conflict of interest when the testing staff are employees of an entity which may have adverse interests to their child. There are nonprofit organizations and some private psychologists providing sliding fee scales depending on a family’s ability to pay for the private evaluation(s), which can become costly. Finally, the testing psychologist writes a report, or assessment, about a student – these should be written only after careful study, testing, observation, interviews with teachers, staff, parents, friends (if applicable) and review of student’s work product. No single method of evaluation is sufficient to determine whether a learning disability exists.
A parent can call for an individual education plan (IEP) meeting at any time by writing and delivering a letter to the appropriate school staff. Schools may fail in their ‘child find’ efforts, but no parent should! Any parent who believes something is interfering with her child’s ability to read, write, spell, and do math ought to have her child evaluated to see whether a learning disability exists, and find out what can be provided in the way of educational services and accommodations to allow this child to receive an appropriate education.
So, if you think your child has dyslexia, be a squeaky wheel and get a dyslexia test for your child. Nobody will do your child’s educational advocacy for you. For more information, ask someone with experience to teach you to advocate for your child’s educational needs. Be sure to bring every educational document in your possession, including IEP documents, testing from the past, teacher letters, etc.
It is with adult vigilance, follow-through and careful observation that all students who need it will be ‘found’ through ‘Child Find.’ That is, they are identified, assessed, and provided with the educational services and accommodations needed to learn effectively.
Nan Waldman, Esq. is a special education and disabilities consultant in Los Angeles with 20 years of experience in the field. She is also a parent and primary caregiver of a child with disabilities, a teacher, an advocate and a lawyer. Nan Waldman, Esq. can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org