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I am an Academic Language Therapist in Kansas and have several dyslexic students I work with. I am not allowed to go into the schools. They must come to me after school. The district in our area does not seem to be addressing the dyslexic students problems with an effective program. We have seen several students who have spent their entire school career in special education but still cannot read!

Our district does not like to use the word dyslexia and refuses to recognize that there are programs that work and those that do not. What can these parents do to force the schools to use a program that has been scientifically proven to work? Can they force the schools to allow the therapists they are paying for into the schools? We have so many kids being left behind because their parents do not know how to advocate for them! PLEASE HELP US!!!!


Dear Tracey:

Your question raises concern about a systemic failure of schools in your area to address the needs of students with learning disabilities. First, you indicate that there is confusion about the schools’ willingness to serve children diagnosed with “dyslexia.” The specific terminology that was adopted for the definition of “specific learning disability” in the IDEA was hotly debated when the law was first passed in 1975. The statute ultimately focused on the presence of processing disorders that adversely affect the ability to learn various academic skills.

However, the SLD definition expressly referenced “dyslexia” as one of the conditions that were examples of learning disabilities. Some clinicians use dyslexia as a diagnostic label instead of or interchangeably with the term “learning disability.” Others use it to refer to a specific type of learning disability. In either event, the statute was written to include, rather than exclude, children with dyslexia, if due to the dyslexia, or any other learning disability, their academic performance is adversely affected and they require special education.

Under the 2004 amendments, schools encouraged to utilize research based interventions in regular education, prior to diagnosing children with learning disabilities, in order to rule out the possibility that the students were underachieving due to inadequate instruction, rather than due to a processing disorder. Despite this, if a student is diagnosed as having a learning disability, including dyslexia, and had not made appropriate progress when provided research based interventions in regular education, they likely should be identified as eligible for special education based on their learning disability.

Your question also raises the concern that the failure to diagnose children as having learning disabilities may result in their losing the opportunity for effective, research based instruction that is able to remediate the disability. Based on the new Response to Intervention system, children suspected of having learning disabilities may be offered research based interventions within regular education. Where this occurs, for some children, these interventions may be sufficient.

Unfortunately, many schools lack adequate staff trained in these research based methods. It is unclear, if not doubtful, that such instruction will be sufficiently available around the country. Further, even given the availability of those interventions, which are not necessarily designed to specifically remediate learning disabilities, some children may not make adequate progress due to their LD and may need special education.

For those children, the law now requires that special education programming utilized scientific, research based programming to the extent practicable. This means that the research based methods for remediating learning disabilities will need to be more widely available and should allow for children to get more intensive and effective help then they may have received in the past.

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