This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course during Spring 2014. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders, with one of those focusing on evidence-based treatments for those disorders and the other focused on a particular myth or misunderstanding about mental illness.
Dyslexia Myths Debunked by Jennifer Bowen
In my 8 years of being a Special Education teacher, I worked with many parents who thought their child having dyslexia was enough to get them on an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is not the case. Dyslexia is not a disability category in the public school system. The categories used for Special Education placement in the state of Oklahoma are autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, hearing impaired, developmental delay, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech-language impairment, traumatic brain injury, or visual impairment. In order for a child to be placed in a Special Education program, they must have a diagnosis that fits in one of the previous 14 categories. If the child has dyslexia, they usually have other reading difficulties and could possibly qualify for a Specific Learning Disability diagnosis. If the child has significant reading difficulties that result in problems at school, this would warrant further action. A psychologist or psychiatrist can give a Specific Learning Disorder diagnosis, which does qualify a child for an IEP if the team agrees that the child is having significant academic difficulties.
Dyslexia is also not something that a public school will test for in Oklahoma (for example). A lot of parents would come into the school where I worked and ask for their child to be tested for dyslexia. It doesn’t work that way. There is not a specific test to diagnose dyslexia. There are a wide variety of assessments used to measure language, functioning, and achievement that can help in the discovery of dyslexia in a child, however the school will not use these to test for dyslexia. If a child is having difficulties at school, he or she can be put on an RTI (Response to Intervention) plan. This is the only way a child that is suspected of a learning disability can go through the testing process in an Oklahoma public school system. It was specifically designed for this reason and a child with another diagnosis does not go through a RTI (Response to Intervention) plan. A RTI plan consists of three tiers (see below) and is quite lengthy. The first tier is core curriculum with differentiated instruction using normal assessments in the general education classroom. This tier takes at least 45 days. Tier two is supplemental targeted interventions that are delivered by small group instruction in addition to regular classroom instructions and is used when a child is not showing adequate progress with regular instruction. This tier is an additional 45 days of instruction. Tier three is used when the child is continuing to not make adequate progress, even with extra interventions and instruction. It uses intensive targeted instruction that are specialized and/or intensified. Tier three lasts an additional 15 days. After collecting data from all three tiers, a team meets to decide if Special Education testing is warranted. This is a very drawn-out process. It cannot happen overnight. So don’t think that if your child is put on RTI, that they will be on an IEP anytime soon. The three tiers can take an entire school year, or possibly linger into the next school year. Most children that I have seen with dyslexia have been placed on RTI and eventually placed on an IEP and start receiving extra help in the Special Education classroom.
Another thing many parents do not understand is that it is normal for young children to write their letters and/or numbers backwards. That is a developmental skill that takes some kids longer to master. This does not mean they are dyslexic or that they have a learning disorder. If their functioning in the classroom and their school work is not suffering, they are fine. However, if they are having difficulty with reading or math and are performing below grade level, there might be a problem that needs to be looked into. Signs to watch for include working slowly and laboriously, getting frustrated with schoolwork, the inability to complete work in a timely manner, failing grades, slow reading with difficulty sounding out words, and confusing math symbols.
Not all people with dyslexia write their letters or numbers backward. There is evidence that people with dyslexia don’t see any differently than non-disabled peers. It’s not a problem with their eyesight. There may be an issue with how the brain processes the left to right brain information. It can take the brain longer to make the connections between what is seen and what it means. It also may take more steps to get to that connection. People with dyslexia may see words and letters as symbols that the brain has to compensate and translate into letters and words. There is also evidence that shows the brain’s language processing center in people with dyslexia has a harder time than people without a learning disorder.
It is also untrue that people with dyslexia can’t read. Many children with dyslexia and/or learning disabilities have difficulty reading due to problems with reading comprehension. This usually starts with trouble associating letters and letter sounds, phonics application, and pronunciation of words. Using a multi-sensory approach may help children when learning to read and associate letters to sounds. Repetition is important when children with dyslexia are learning to read. It may take longer to learn to read and require interventions, but people with dyslexia can learn to read!
Not all people with dyslexia have difficulty in school. Some children are highly motivated and get early interventions to help them manage their learning disability. The earlier a child gets help with their reading problems, the better their prognosis will be in the long run. Some children with dyslexia may only have trouble in one area of reading and excel in other academic areas.
For more information about RTI and disability categories in Oklahoma, visit http://ok.gov/sde/sites/ok.gov.sde/files/RtIGuidanceDoc.pdf or http://ok.gov/sde/disability-category