Let me be very clear, I love teachers and I love schools. I wanted to be a teacher all of my life but my path took me in a different direction. Most parents (I am also a parent) love schools and put all of their trust into the school system. They trust the people that run them to do the right thing, be properly trained, qualified and equipped to help each and every student that walks through their door. Unfortunately, when it comes to children with dyslexia, this trust can be misguided and mishandled. However, there are things parents can do to avoid losing any precious time for their children.
Pitfall: Ignoring that inner voice and early identification
Almost every parent that walks into my office recounts when their child was about three or four years old and they were not interested in learning to read. They wanted to listen to stories and investigate the pictures, but learning the letters and the sounds was just not something they wanted to do. Most parents have an inner voice that will tell them something is amiss, but at this age it is so easy to listen to well-meaning friends and family members tell you it is normal and they will outgrow it, but that inner voice won’t go away. This might also bring up memories of the parent’s own struggle with reading and send up a red flag- don’t ignore it.
Solution: Research/Second Opinion
A simple Google search for a developmental reading chart will reveal what typical children should be doing at a particular age. Of course, there is always variation, but a medium to large deviation should not be ignored. Contrary to popular belief there are neuropsychologists that can diagnose dyslexia at this tender age. Above all else, do not ignore your parental instinct and do not allow the “he’ll grow out of it” mantra that begins at this age.
Pitfall: Trusting that the school knows how to help
I’ll say it again, I love schools, but I also know what they don’t know. I know they are not trained in dyslexia. I know the majority are terrified to utter the word. Yet, parents trust them almost completely with the education of their children. Parents believe that they must be trained in how to teach reading, even to those who are struggling. Parents also tend to believe (want to believe) it when they are told they will ‘grow out of it’ or “we are just waiting for the phonics fairies” (my favorite yet). They trust that even when the child is identified, their small group instruction is structured and individualized.
Solution: Research/Second Opinion/Speak up
Question everything! What is the teacher doing to help your unidentified student? How is she tracking his/her progress? Remember to keep track of everything, many dyslexia cases are based on failure to identify.
For those children that have been identified: Question the material being used. Is it based on the Orton-Gillingham approach? Is it a program that is responsive to your child’s identified needs? Is the teacher trained in the program? Most importantly, is the teacher trained in dyslexia? Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion or an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Don’t be afraid to have a non-partisan person of your choosing observe your child during their school day. Call an IEP meeting any time you wish.
If you cannot get your child tested or qualified, don’t be afraid to hire an advocate and record every meeting. The moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to challenge the school and be a little uncomfortable.
Pitfall: Not doing everything in writing
And I mean everything! Parent after parent has told me they asked to have their child evaluated but they did not submit this request in writing. It is not enough to mention something to a teacher in passing. A student study team (SST) is not a replacement or appropriate response to a request for testing. Document everything.
Solution: Know the law/hire an advocate/keep a paper trail
Some basics: To have your child evaluated, you have to submit a compelling letter in writing requesting the testing. Once you have done this a time line goes into effect. The school now has 15 calendar days (check your state laws) to respond. If they deny your request, it has to be in writing and it has to explain the reason for the denial. Some common, but illegal, reasons are: Response to Intervention (RTI) has not been tried yet or a Student Study Team (SST) is suggested. These are grounds for a compliance complaint. Keep a record of all of this.
Pitfall: Not knowing how to read the testing
I was recently in an IEP where the school psychologist was talking about standard scores, percentiles, normal curves and discrepancy at a pace that was hard to follow and a condescending tone that would make any parent hesitant to ask for clarification. Every parent needs to know what those tests are assessing and what the results mean.
Solution: Ask questions and know the law
Ask questions! Ask the school psychologist to explain everything you do not fully understand. Educate yourself about the nuances of testing. Many dyslexia diagnoses depend on the trained eye picking up inconsistencies in the subtests. Many schools will only report or dwell on the composite score and ignore the clear deficits that show up in the spelling, fluency, phonemic awareness, processing speed scores because they have been overshadowed by the comprehension and writing samples. Remember the composite is an average and it needs to be picked apart. Most importantly, under IDEA, there no longer needs to be a discrepancy to make some eligible under Specific Learning Disability. Yes it is true. The IEP team needs to evaluate all of the information to make a determination, not just the scores. In the case of dyslexia, this is extremely important information that every parent (and advocate) needs to arm themselves with.
Pitfall: Not knowing a spelling-only issue is not resolved by a pencil grip
I admit it, when it comes to dyslexia cases I have a lot of pet peeves. Nothing gets me hotter under the collar than the ubiquitous pencil grip. Let me be very clear, dyslexia can manifest in spelling only; sometimes that spelling is messy. The appropriate intervention for spelling is not a pencil grip. I have seen no less than ten parents be offered a pencil grip in response to a student who cannot spell. I am still waiting for a rational explanation to this ‘intervention.’
Common sense should prevail here, but I know emotions run high. Spelling issues that are a result of dyslexia require the same intervention as struggling readers. They need a multisensory, structured, systematic program (usually based on the Orton-Gillingham approach). Also, this is a great time to discuss accommodations. A student with spelling issues can be granted smaller spelling lists and the teacher can ease up on the red pen for those students who struggle with spelling. No more frownie faces for poor spelling. I will discuss more accommodations in the assistive technology pitfall.
Pitfall: Not using assistive technology
Assistive technology is the great hidden secret of the school system. Many parents and advocates will not realize that there are many technologies that would be appropriate for students with dyslexia.
Solution: Ask for an AT assessment
Ask for Assistive Technology assessment every time. Some examples of assistive technology for students with dyslexia are: Speech to Text, Co-writer, Kurzweil and even raised paper. It doesn’t have to plug in to be assistive technology.
The theme is not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid to make the school irritated to become ‘that parent.’ Unfortunately, dyslexia is still a fight in an IEP. It does exist. It is real. Tests can identify it. It is not outgrown. There are no ‘phonics fairies.’ Parents hold the key to their child’s success when it comes to dyslexia and hopefully the above information will help navigate the system and get help early.
Part one can be found here: Putting the D in to the IEP: Why Advocating for a Child with Dyslexia is so Difficult
Below you will find a video on Dyslexia for a Day a simulation kit that is great for professional development or personal use.
Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute (www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org and www.dyslexiadr.com.) She is currently writing Putting the D in to the IEP at www.dyslexiadr.blogspot.com. She received her doctorate in Literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. Dr. Sandman-Hurley a Certified Special Education Advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs. Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, as well as a board member of the Southern California Library Literacy Network (SCLLN). She is a professional developer for California Library Literacy Services (CLLS) as well as a Literacy Consultant for the San Diego Council on Literacy. She was awarded the Jane Johnson Fellowship and the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) scholarship. Kelli has presented at numerous conferences as well as provided professional development for k-12 teachers. She is currently working on her book, Putting the D in IEP: A guide to dyslexia in the school system. Join the Dyslexia Training Institute at www.facebook.com/dyslexiatraining