By Dr. Laure Ames
Director of Shelton Evaluation Center
The Shelton Evaluation Center works with students who have dyslexia on a weekly basis. The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia in the following way: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
Despite years of research into what dyslexia is and how it can be remediated as well as both state and federal laws requiring the identification and servicing of dyslexia, parents frequently struggle to get their child identified and served. I struggled for years to get my own son identified and served in his public school, and I hear the same frustration that I had from parents today.
Dyslexic students are not a small number of students in our population. According to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, “Dyslexia affects one out of five people. Dyslexia is the most common reading disability — 20 percent of the population is struggling with this hidden disability. It crosses racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. With proper instruction and accommodations, it can be remediated. Many students remain undiagnosed and untreated. As a result, they struggle with the impact of their dyslexia. The diagnosis and treatment remain elusive in public schools, and even more so in urban school populations, and African American and Latino communities.”
Recent statistics show that only 15 percent of fourth graders read on grade level in a local public school system in Dallas. The results of reading failure impact students, families and society. Dr. Reid Lyon, Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health, addressed Congress in 2001 and stated that, “The educational and public health consequences of this level of reading failure are dire. Of the 10 to 15 percent of children who will eventually drop out of school, over 75 percent will report difficulties learning to read. Likewise, only 2 percent of students receiving special or compensatory education for difficulties learning to read will complete a four-year college program. Surveys of adolescents and young adults with criminal records indicate that at least half have reading difficulties, and in some states the size of prisons a decade in the future is predicted by fourth grade reading failure rates. Approximately half of children and adolescents with a history of substance abuse have reading problems. It goes without saying that failure to learn to read places children's futures and lives at risk for highly deleterious outcomes. It is for this reason that the NICHD considers reading failure to reflect a national public health problem.”
Remembering my son’s struggles, my attempts to advocate for him and students like him, and knowing how important it is to identify dyslexia and intervene early, I have watched in awe as a group of dedicated parents with Decoding Dyslexia, educational advocates and lawmakers have worked tirelessly over the last several years to clarify existing laws in support of dyslexic students. House Bill 3928, named for Shelton student Beckley Wilson, is the latest result of that dedication. Some of the significant changes coming as a result of the law include the fact that students with dyslexia and families have access to the unique educational rights of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and schools must offer evaluations for dyslexia via IDEA and include all areas of suspected disability (vs. the previous limited, dyslexia-only evaluations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). Significantly, the identification of dyslexia (or any Specific Learning Disability) no longer requires a significant variance among specific areas of cognitive function or between specific areas of cognitive function and academic achievement, an invalid identification model used for years in our schools. Further, the IDEA multidisciplinary evaluation team must include a highly trained member with specific knowledge about the reading process, dyslexia and related disorders and dyslexia instruction. This person’s signature is required to ensure dyslexia professionals are not excluded from new district evaluation practices under IDEA. And finally, the law requires school boards to create a policy requiring compliance with the Texas Dyslexia Handbook and subsequent TEA guidance.
Dr. Shaywitz has said that it is “inexcusable” to miss the diagnosis of dyslexia as it can “determine the course of a child’s life.” Maybe this is the real progress needed to resolve the inequity often experienced by our dyslexic students.
For more information about diagnosing students with dyslexia and learning differences, visit Shelton.org.