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.
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
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
Because dyslexia is primarily associated with difficulty in learning to read, it cannot be reliably diagnosed until your child is the age at which reading typically begins. For most children this happens around the age of six. The following are some common characteristics that may be signs of dyslexia in preschool-age children:
- Jumbling sounds of words in speech, such as saying “pasgetti” for spaghetti” or “mawn lower” for lawn mover.”
- Confusing words signifying direction in space or time, such as “up” and “down,” “in” and “out,” “yesterday” and “tomorrow.”
- Forgetting or confusing the word for known objects, such as “table” or “chair.”
- Delayed speech development.
- Unusual speech patterns, such as frequent hesitations or stammering.
- Difficulty with learning.
- Difficulty remembering and following directions.
- Difficulty learning nursery rhymes and rhyming words.
- Difficulty in learning (and remembering) names of letters.
- Enjoys being read to but shows no interest in letters or words.
- Difficulty with clapping a simple rhythm.
In most cases you will probably not be aware that your child has dyslexia until he is in first or second grade. When reading instruction begins in earnest, your child is likely to lag behind and will begin to show signs of frustration at school. After several months, you may realize that your child simply hasn’t caught on to reading in the same way as his peers. He may still have difficulty recognizing letters of the alphabet, or he may know the letters and their sounds but seem unable to put them together to form even simple words. You may notice that he seems unable to remember words that he has seen before and struggles to sound out every word he sees.
The surest sign of dyslexia is simply the fact that your child seems bright and capable at home and at play, yet he struggles with reading, writing, and spelling. School-aged children with dyslexia will exhibit many of the following symptoms:
- Confusing letters with similar appearances, such as “b” and “d” or “e” and “c.”
- Writing that contains frequent reversals, transpositions, or inversions.
- Difficult remembering common sight words, even after repeated practice.
- Stumbling, hesitating, or making mistakes or omissions when reading small, easy words like “and” or “from.”
- Spelling phonetically and inconsistently such as writing “foniks” for “phonics” or “skul” for “school.”
- Complaining of dizziness, headaches, or stomachaches while reading.
Your first indication that something is wrong may be complaints from your child’s teacher about his behavior and problems he is experiencing at school. Many behavior problems stem from the dyslexia itself; your child’s teacher may complain that he doesn’t pay attention or follow directions, or that he is slow to complete class work. These issues may be the direct result of your child’s confusion and inability to understand much of what is going on around him. Other behavior problems may be deliberate and could be an expression of his frustration and anger; he may intentionally try to disrupt the class to create distractions so as to avoid having to complete his work. He would rather be known as the class clown than the class “dummy.” He may even want to incur punishment, if punishment means being sent to sit in the hallway or principal’s office. To a child with dyslexia, such punishment can be a welcome reprieve from the torture of the classroom. Some common behavior problems that your child’s teacher may report are:
- Laziness, carelessness, or immaturity
- Disruptive behavior
- Being easily distracted
- Resistance to following directions
- Reluctance to work on assignments
If you suspect that your child has dyslexia, you will want to seek testing and a diagnosis. Diagnostic testing will help you better understand your child and may guide you to make better choices. Ideally, testing should give you a map of your child’s strong and weak points, and a set of recommendations as to how best to meet his educational needs.
Karina Richland, M.A. is the Founder of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Ms. Richland is a Certified reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com
October is National Dyslexia Month and a local tutoring center in Newport Beach is helping spread awareness by offering free assessments, resources and special events throughout the month of October.
Owner of PRIDE Learning Center in Newport Beach, Karina Richland, reports, “Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects about 20% of the nation. That means that one out of every five children in the Newport Beach classroom struggles with dyslexia.” Richland, a dyslexia specialist and owner of 5 dyslexia-tutoring centers throughout Los Angeles and Orange County says “Most children with dyslexia in this area go undiagnosed for years. With early detection, proper intervention, and certain accommodations in school, dyslexics can actually improve their reading skills dramatically.”
Warning Signs in School-Age Children
• Child uses memory skills in reading not decoding strategies
• Reads a word on one page but doesn’t recognize it on the next page
• Confuses look alike letters like b and d, b and p, n and u, or m and w
• Makes many reversals
• Substitutes a word while reading that means the same thing
• When reading leaves out or adds small words like “a, the, to, are, of”
• Reading fluency is poor
• Avoids reading as much as possible
• Misspells many words
• Writes illegibly
• Appears lazy, unmotivated, or frustrated
“The sooner a child with dyslexia is given proper instruction, particularly in the very early grades, the more likely it is that they will have fewer or milder difficulties later in life” states Richland.
PRIDE Learning Center provides one-on-one reading help for students with learning differences, including dyslexia, auditory and or visual processing disorder and ADHD. PRIDE specializes in an Orton-Gillingham reading approach for students struggling with dyslexia.
Throughout the month of October, parents or grandparents can bring their child in for a free assessment that will measure their reading abilities. To schedule an appointment contact the Newport Beach PRIDE Learning Center at 949-891-0125 or visit the website at www.pridelearningcenter.com