The idea of students with learning differences slipping through the cracks is not a new topic to consider. Yet what amazes me here in 2018 is that the one learning disability (LD) that continues to greatly slip through is dyslexia. The following definition of dyslexia can be found at the International Dyslexia Association website (IDA):
Yet despite this clear definition, one of the common tools to determine many disorders, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 2013 removed the label of dyslexia to just be specific learning disability (SLD). This opened the doors for the implementation of SLD services to be more a one size fits all, rather than applying best approaches and practices for more specific disabilities. This has led to those with dyslexia not to be serviced with instruction specifically designed to meet the defined areas of concern, but with, in many case, what services the district can provide, or in the worst case, to not provide any services at all.
Many states have passed various versions of laws to address the identification of dyslexia to combat this change. In my own state of Connecticut, thanks to the work spearheaded by Decoding Dyslexia Founder Allison Quirion, there are two laws on the books. One related to the usage of dyslexia as a specific label of disability and the other related to requiring special education teachers to complete a study in evidence-based literacy interventions related to dyslexia, commonly referred to as structure literacy instruction.
Yet the laws are one thing, the follow through is another as Lyn Pollard, founder of Decoding Dyslexia Texas can attest to. Texas has had a law on the books since 1985 requiring districts to not only report the number of students with dyslexia but also to serve them. Lyn found that despite two outside independent evaluations that provided a diagnosis of dyslexia for her daughter, the school district would not accept that diagnosis, nor provide that themselves, thus refusing services. Her fight led to the uncovering of many unserved and underserved students and families in the state of Texas.
Before you think this is an isolated case, this article came across my Twitter feed recently: Anne Arundel family fights school system for denying dyslexia evaluation. This family, much like Lyn’s story, fought for the testing to see if their daughter had dyslexia after she made limited progress with other services she was receiving under other diagnosis. According to the article, the district spent more money fighting to not to do the testing than it would have cost to evaluate her. The family, like Lyn, had an outside evaluation that did in fact identify their daughter as dyslexic, and yet the school district refused to accept the outside evaluation.
I am sure there are more stories like these across the country. In the Anne Arundel case, what is more maddening is they were already providing services to this young lady. Why would they not address the diagnosis of dyslexia?
My speculation is they don’t know how….which in and of itself is mind-boggling. Multi-sensory explicitly structured language instruction, most commonly currently referenced as Structured Literacy, has been effective in the remediation of dyslexia. According to the IDA: “Current research, much of it supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), has demonstrated the value of explicit, structured language teaching for all students, especially those with dyslexia.”
Effective Reading Instruction (dyslexiaida.org) is not a special methodology or a complex program, but a direct and explicit approach that can benefit all learners. If all elementary school teachers applied this approach, a strong foundation of reading could be built in every student, and those with dyslexia, could be given a chance to succeed before they fail. Additionally, it wouldn’t be a question of providing or denying services, but just good practice all around that could in fact limit the amount of services needed later or prevent costly court battles that harm families and school districts, and mostly the learner who is not being helped.
So if it is well accepted that dyslexia is it’s own disability by definition and there is an effective form of instruction that has track of success historic in nature, then why are we letting this population slip through the cracks?
Thanks to the work of researchers like Nadine Gaab, PhD we hope that the research to practice can be the effective change. Her work to get students identified earlier, thus receiving services earlier, is so crucial and can hopefully lessen the size of the cracks and the number of students that end up in them. It’s a Myth That Young Children Cannot Be Screened for Dyslexia!
So if you are a parent who believes they share a story like Texas or Maryland, reach out to your state Decoding Dyslexia organization for support. Seek out local resources that may help you. In CT, my school, The Southport School, provides free reading screenings. Learn more about structured literacy and advocate for your school to train teachers in this approach to provide effective multi-sensory instruction for dyslexia.