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August 21, 2012

Dyslexia and the Special Education Law

Written By: Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley
X Dyslexia and the Special Education Law by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

Dyslexia and the Special Education Law by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

The mere utterance of the word dyslexia within the confines of a school campus can stop a conversation and create a divide between a parent and that school. This does not have to be the case and there is information teachers can arm themselves with and become a resource and support for parents/guardians who are concerned about their children. I listed a few myths and misconceptions below and their counterpart, the truth.

Dyslexia and the Special Education Law

Dyslexia is a broad term and we do not recognize it:

Not so fast. It is listed in IDEA as one of the qualifying conditions: Yep, right there under Specific Learning Disability (SLD), check it out for yourself:
Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

Also important to note is that SLD is a broad term which encompasses several conditions. This is important because stating that dyslexia is a broad term as an excuse to dismiss it is ubiquitous in many an IEP/SST/504 meeting – it is just not true.

It’s too early to test for dyslexia:

Symptoms of dyslexia present themselves as early as three years old. Standardized testing can detect it as early as kindergarten – if conducted by a trained professional. Legally, failure to identify a child who is obviously struggling can cost the school district in the future, so don’t be afraid to recommend a student for testing early in their schooling. This will not only save the school district money in the future, but possible save the child from an unpleasant school experience.

We will just hold him back and he will ‘soar.”

This might the most detrimental thing we can do to a child with dyslexia. If a child with dyslexia is held back and the intervention is the same as the year before, he will not improve. The intervention has to change, not the child.

I don’t need to defend my credential:

Well, yes you do. Please resist the very natural temptation to become defensive when asked about your credentials: No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gives parents the right to ask the following questions:

(1) Whether the teacher has met State qualification and licensing criteria for the grade levels and subject areas in which the teacher provides instruction;
(2) Whether the teacher is teaching under emergency or other provisional status through which State qualification or licensing criteria have been waived.
(3) The baccalaureate degree major of the teacher and any other graduate certification or degree held by the teacher, and the field of discipline of the certification or degree.
(4) Whether the child is provided services by paraprofessionals and, if so, their qualifications.

A teacher educated about dyslexia can be the one person who saves a child and his/her family from years of frustration and anxiety. That teacher can play a pivotal role in changing the whole culture of a school. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child and a village of advocates to raise a child who struggles.


About the Author

Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-owner of the Dyslexia Training Institute and a published author and researcher of dyslexia. She received her doctorate in Literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. She is a trained Special Education Advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. Dr. Kelli is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs.Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, as well as a board member of the Southern California Library Literacy Network (SCLLN). She is a professional developer for California Library Literacy Services (CLLS) as well as a Literacy Consultant for the San Diego Council on Literacy. She was awarded the Jane Johnson Fellowship and the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) scholarship. Kelli has presented at numerous conferences as well as provided professional development for k-12 teachers. She created and produced Dyslexia for a Day and recently published Dyslexia Advocate: How to Advocate for a Child With Dyslexia Within the Public School System. Join the Dyslexia Training Institute on Facebook.

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  • ReadingMathematically
    October 15, 2016

    During the first two months of this school year, my second grade students have been “tested” to the point of exhaustion. They have taken the NWEA, SIPPS, Rigby, Accelerated Reader, and online math tests through Moby Max. We have become victims of the “assessment-drives-instruction” and the “assessment is the pathway to intervention” culture (The instructional minutes lost to weekly testing is a topic up for discussion in the next article). Although none of these tests are specifically designed to identify dyslexia-specific learning disabilities, they do so inadvertently. The bottom 20% of the test scores tend to belong to our learning disabled students, the very same students who tend to have some level of dyslexia (20%= the 1 in 5 theory). These are the students who receive Tier2 and Tier3 interventions during the school day at our schools (Tier2 instruction is the “reteaching” of the same material with smaller groups of students, Tier3 instruction is even smaller groups of students, utilizing differentiated instruction (“differentiated instruction” means using different materials and teaching methods to teach the same concepts)). The key to success, the single factor that determines whether or not all of the Tier2 and Tier3 instruction works for our dyslexic students, is the quality of the teachers providing that instruction. The key to success for our dyslexic students is if they are lucky enough to have dyslexic knowledgable and dyslexia friendly teachers throughout their academic journey from grades K through 12. If you have not yet found that special teacher for your child yet, you are welcome to visit my classroom and sit in on our daily dyslexic reading, math, and writing classes–where great things are accomplished everyday with dyslexic students.

  • DianaLou1
    March 5, 2016

    Does your son have an IEP now? In my opinion, the school doesn’t want to give him the label of dyslexia because there are specific reading programs that are scientifically proven to help dyslexics, but they are expensive. Lindamood bell, Barton and The Wilson reading program are all multi-sensory programs. Schools will also tell you that dyslexia is a medical issue and that they are not able to diagnose medical problems. I am also in NY.

  • PhilHamlet
    November 2, 2015

    I agree
    it is parents responsibility to take action as soon as possible for children
    with special needs. I also think the government should provide them with the
    high quality standard of education they deserve as well as the normal
    students are having. I don’t think it such a hard thing to ask for if we are
    all work hard enough for it. 

  • KathrynChappell
    July 5, 2015

    We had to fight for our second son as well to be tested.  Bring up the law.  I would go to your Superintendent and ask them why your son cannot be tested. Check out NCLB’s website.
    They have contact information there.

  • jdegroat
    September 10, 2014

    I am having a really hard time getting the school to test my son for diagnosis of dyslexia. This testing was highly recommended by his pediatrician. The school keeps telling me it is just a learning disability what else can they do for him. They are asking me what they need to do different when he is diagnosed with dyslexia. I do not know. I am having a hard time finding answers. I would like someone to call to help me with my second school year fight. My son tested 2 ages ahead on his IQ, so they say he just is not getting it. He gets picked on, he does not want to go to school. Does anyone have any ideas? I truly need someone to help guide me through what I need to do. Does anyone know someone I can contact to help? (I am in NY state)

  • Jennifer
    June 16, 2013

    My son attends a University Model school which simply means that he attends a class two days a week and the other 3 we do at home to better prepare him for college and allow me to have more control over what he is taught. The lesson plans are emailed to me and there is great parent/teacher communication. My son has just completed the 2nd grade. We have struggled from the beginning with his reading. We are using SWR and have seen wonderful results with my younger son who is 6 and reading at a 2nd grade level while my older son is reading below 1st. His teacher and the principle of our school recently met with me and told me that they feel as though my oldest my have dyslexia and I should have him tested. Our school is VERY small, 1 class for each grade with the class size between 5 – 12. With that said they do not have the resources to help me and advised me to seek help from my zoned public school. Our public school said that they would need to evaluate him for 60 days in the class room (which I am not even sure how they could do that with the type of school we use) and then some board would meet and discuss wether or not to help him and due to us not attending the public school, they would only help him if it was a speech issue which they do not believe it is. Our school has recommended I seek private help but I can not afford private. Do you know of any government resources I might qualify for? As of now our school wants to hold him back as the third grade requires the students to read to learn. My son is devastated and I feel completely lost.

  • Sarah
    January 30, 2013

    As a dyslexic I fought long and hard for my son. However, we finally had to not only change shool systems, but states also for him to excel at school. I just hope that there comes a day when he stops blaming mefor ruining his life, which is how he sees the change of schools.

  • Brandi Jordan
    January 23, 2013

    Hi Crystal,
    She’ll need to have an official diagnosis to receive accommodations, I believe. We also homeschool, but had an independent Ed Psych evaluation done for our son for just that reason. We had ours done through a large university that is nearby that has a whole Ed Psych testing center. I wouldn’t wait to get it done, as your daughter will most likely need those accommodations (i.e. – extended time, distraction reduced area, etc.). She will need to submit proof in the form of an official diagnosis to receive any accommodations at college, as well. I’d encourage you to check out the ACT/SAT websites to find out what proof they require for disability accommodations. Feel free to email me at! =)


  • Crystal
    January 22, 2013

    I homeschool. My oldest is 13 and we realized several years ago that she has dyslexia. She has never been diagnosed with dyslexia. We have done a great job working with her strengths and developing tactics for any weaknesses at home, but I am concerned about the time frame in her life when she will need to take the ACT or SAT. I know there has to be some kind assistance given to those with dyslexia on these tests, but I really haven’t got a clue as to how to obtain it for her. Will she need to be diagnosed with dyslexia first and if so, how do I go about getting that done?

  • CAS
    August 23, 2012

    Great advice. Never missed a chance to quiz teachers about their qualification on “back to school” night. It is a perfect and natural venue to collect information in a non-threatening but informative way.

  • Brian
    August 21, 2012

    Sadly, I’ve had many parents state their child is Dyslexic in Child Study Meetings and the others there always state right away that it is unlikely the child is dyslexic and move on to something else. They say they will grow out of the reversals, reading words backwards, writing numbers in reverse order, etc by the time they are in 3rd or 4th grade.

  • Brittany Negri
    August 21, 2012

    From being a guest teacher as a reading specialist, I can definitely see how these myths are played out in the public school districts. During my two and half months filling in as a reading specialist, I was able to see how reluctant the school was in regards to testing. I sat, as well as participated, in several monthly meetings about students who were struggling, yet most of the students were not being tested due to the many excuses by the school, which were strictly imposed on them by the district due to money. This drove me absolutely crazy! There were several children who deserved and needed to be tested in order to get them the support they needed to move forward in their learning. These students were plagued by excuses such as: we have had him/her in a special intervention group for two years, it is too early (first grade) to test him/her, we should revisit this child half way through the year to see if things change, he/she is too immature so lets hold them back, and there are so many other excuses as to why they should not test these children who clearly need to be tested for dyslexia in order to get the further assistance they deserve!

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