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Expert Q&A

What can a parent do when a school representative says dyslexia/dysgraphia is not a learning disability?

Dear Mr. Cohen,

I live in the state of Michigan and have a question regarding dysgraphia and dyslexia. My daughter just recently had her 3 year re-evaluation. The school psychologist advised that her difficulty in writing is due to dysgraphia/dyslexia which is considered to be the result of physical and visual problems. Because of this it is not technically a learning disability. He said dysgraphia/dyslexia should only be covered under OHI (other health impaired).

Is this true? If so, will her accommodations as listed in her IEP continue to be in effect through college? Our concern is that they kept saying that you never know what will happen in the future regarding IEP law. Based on that we are insisting that she be classified as both LD in written expression and OHI, do we gain anything by doing this? We figure the more documentation the better.


Dear Julie:

First, dyslexia is explicitly referred to in the federal definition of specific learning disability, so the evaluator is incorrect. Second, the definition also refers to processing disorders which impact written expression. That includes dysgraphia. Third, the definition is not based on a specific clinical label being used or excluded. Rather, it is based on the presence of a processing disorder which adversely affects key areas involved with language. Dysgraphia makes more sense within LD, than OHI, as OHI requires the presence of a health impairment which results in limited strength, vitality or alertness. Dysgraphia doesn’t fit these criteria, but does fit LD.

With respect to college accommodations, those accommodations are decided by the college. The presence of a specific accommodation (and documentation of the disability and accommodation in high school) is a necessary, but not sufficient basis for getting the accommodation. The college still has the right to make its own independent determination of whether the accommodation is necessary and reasonable. As to whether there is an advantage to a dual label, I can make arguments either way, but in general, the presence of both labels is less important than 1) the use of the appropriate label, 2) documentation of the clinical and educational bases for the label (including both disabilities), and 3) clear documentation that the accommodations are necessary to address the disability.

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