If your child is having a hard time learning to read, struggling with pronunciation or spelling, and finding it difficult to recognize words, it may be time to have them tested for dyslexia.
Dyslexia, or developmental dyslexia, is the most common neurobehavioral learning disorder. Between 80% to 90% of those diagnosed with learning disabilities have dyslexia, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Overall, dyslexia affects an estimated 1 in 5 Americans.
Here is what parents need to know about testing for dyslexia in schools, where it often manifests most clearly.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is characterized by deficits in accurate and fluent word recognition, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Students with dyslexia have difficulty with spelling, word recognition and decoding, despite normal or above-average intelligence. As a result, reading comprehension may be impacted.
The brain-based reading disorder can manifest in different ways, depending on the child’s age and stage, as well as the context of the school and instructional methods being used, says Rebecca Mannis, a learning specialist and founder of Ivy Prep Learning Center in New York.
“For the vast majority of people, this disability is language based,” Mannis says. “They can’t match the ‘phonology,’ or sounds that letter patterns make, to letters. This can result in misreading words and needing a great deal of time to read the text. (It) therefore interferes with reading comprehension.”
For some individuals with dyslexia, reading challenges are related to things like difficulty with visual memory. For example, dyslexic people may struggle to remember words like “though” or “eight” which can’t be sounded out. Some also have difficulty paying attention, Mannis says.
Under the umbrella of developmental dyslexia, there are different varieties, says David Flink, founder of Eye to Eye, an organization that helps students with learning differences in New York. Students with dyslexia might have difficulty learning words as a whole; an inability to process sounds within words; difficulty matching words and meanings in reading and/or speech; or a combination of these problems.
What Are the Signs of Dyslexia?
The most common signs of dyslexia are omitting or transposing letters when reading or writing; taking a long time to complete a reading assignment; having difficulty decoding multisyllabic words; or experiencing difficulty reading aloud, says Kathryn Starke, a literacy consultant, reading specialist and author in Virginia.
Children with dyslexia struggle with phonetic awareness, which includes things like rhyming and sound repetition in words, Flink says. “They may also become more reserved and less willing to engage with others, lose confidence in themselves, become disinterested in school, act out and get upset more easily,” he says.
It is also common for students with dyslexia to have problems enunciating common letters, vowels or blends, says Raymond Witte, dean of the College of Education at the University of Toledo. “A slow and disjointed reading pattern is likely,” he says. “Extreme frustration can be demonstrated by students as they are working hard and putting forth effort to read just like their peers. These students know they are having problems but they don’t know why.”
If your child shows these common signs, education experts say you should request testing for dyslexia in school.
How Do Public Schools Address Dyslexia?
United States public schools are legally required to identify children with dyslexia. “More than 90% of students with disabilities attend traditional public schools, and those students are entitled to special services,” Flink says.
There’s no single test that confirms a diagnosis of dyslexia. Rather, a series of reading tests, along with observations from parents and teachers, are considered. Dyslexia testing involves four components: phonological awareness, decoding, reading fluency and comprehension, and rapid naming, says Shantell Berrett Blake, director of professional services at Reading Horizons in Utah. Tests that address these components can be used to diagnose dyslexia.
[READ: What is an IEP?]
“Students can then be provided with targeted instruction based on assessments related to reading,” Blake says. “Most states now have dyslexia laws and mandates in place that ensure identified students receive evidence-based instruction utilizing a structured literacy framework, aligned with the science of reading.”
For those with significant reading problems, direct one-on-one instruction and remediation outside the regular classroom can be provided by professionals such as a special education teacher, a speech and language pathologist, and/or a school psychologist, Witte says. “However, if possible, more inclusive practices are recommended where students receive help and assistance within the regular classroom environment,” he says.
In most cases, students with learning differences will require some form of accommodation during instruction, Flink says. “In addition, many students in public school are a part of an IEP or 504 plan which addresses explicitly the forms of accommodations and/or support a school may provide a student to insure they have an equitable opportunity to to learn in a ‘least restrictive learning environment.'”
What to Expect if Your Child Has Dyslexia
For many parents, a child’s dyslexia diagnosis can be overwhelming, and they may even experience grief as they come to an understanding of the specific challenges their child faces, Blake says. Understanding what dyslexia is and how it affects the child as a whole can help a parent to navigate through their child’s experience with empathy.
“There will be lows, but also highs,” Blake says. Dyslexic students “can build strength and resilience as they learn to overcome their challenges if they develop a growth mindset. If the child understands how dyslexia affects them, they can better navigate their world from a place of strength.”
The main idea to take away is that your student isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing, they just learn differently, Flink says. “The second thing to remember is that they are not alone … knowing 1 in 5 of their peers are experiencing the same thing right next to them provides the sense of community.”
Understanding how they best learn is also powerful and can promote self-esteem and self-advocacy, Flink says. “Early testing and identification of students’ learning differences can ensure that they have the accommodations they need to build a roadmap to success,” he says.
How Do Private Schools Address Dyslexia?
As a general rule, private school students don’t have the same legal protections as their public school peers, Flink says. “However, private schools may provide other important factors that support a student’s learning — such as their location, technology and flexibility — that may not be available in the public school,” he says.
“What matters, though, is that each child’s situation is unique,” Flink says. “To ensure the school is equipped to handle their student’s needs, parents should thoroughly explore what is offered in each setting.”
Dyslexia Resources for Parents
Here are some resources that experts say may be helpful to parents.
— Decoding Dyslexia is a parent-led advocacy group with branches in many states that can provide information.
— The International Dyslexia Association is a nonprofit dedicated to education and advocacy.
— The Reading League provides resources and support for teachers and parents.
— Understood is a nonprofit dedicated to providing parents with credible information about learning differences, including dyslexia.
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What Parents Need to Know About Testing for Dyslexia in Schools originally appeared on usnews.com