I have a 13 year old son in 8th grade. He has struggled through school most of his life. He had an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and was diagnosed with dyslexia and an informal diagnosis of dysgraphia.

Last year, just about this time, he was struggling at school and they did not want to implement his IEP, so we left. He was tested as he entered the new school and they said he tested so well that they dropped the IEP. He did very well until the end of the year, when he began to make friends with kids who were not the best influence for him. This year has been awful. He has struggled with bad grades and is getting into trouble constantly. He has talked back to the teacher and is constantly goofing off.

So, with all this being said, is there any information you can suggest for us?

Dr. Pierson's Response: 
I am sorry that your son is struggling so. Let me see - relative to your son losing his IEP -- this is not the first time I have heard this. These dyslexic kids are smart; and many times, following intervention, their scores improve and they no longer perform poorly enough, despite still needing the services. We know that as a student gets older, the demands of schooling change; and for our kids with dyslexia -- they are challenged to just keep up with the curriculum, particularly because even if they have learned to decode, they usually have persistent challenges with fluency and so are slow readers. Moreover, vocabulary and the language of the curriculum become increasingly sophisticated and move away from the literal to the nonliteral; our students with dyslexia can sometimes hit the wall as they enter middle school and beyond.

I have a couple of ideas for you -- 1) The school staff must certainly see the change in behavior and be concerned about it. Given his recent history, you now have evidence that he is not succeeding. Under federal law, if you disagree with the school’s evaluation, you have the right to ask for an outside evaluation (Independent Educational Evaluation - IEE) at the school's expense. He is definitely going to need support in high school. The two options are either an IEP or you can request a 504 plan for him. You can read more here. 2) I would get him some outside tutoring or therapy. The challenge will be finding someone who understands how to work with a student his age. He needs strategies to approach the academic demands of high school; and to get him ready for college. There is a lot we can do. We can teach students how to read efficiently through effective strategy use. He may need vocabulary work-- and we want to work with him on such things as Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, & suffixes. There is also much to be done with writing as well.

He might benefit from learning to use some speech--to-text software if he has difficulty getting his thoughts down when writing and a professional can work with him on that. Some more information on different software is available here.

He also needs to learn to advocate for himself -- which can be worked on in therapy. This is a very important skill to have as he moves through school and life! A good clinician/tutor will also help him understand his strengths and weaknesses. Most of the kids I work with do not need to see an additional therapist, as in a psychologist, because we are dealing with the learning issues that are causing angst in therapy. That said -- some kids do need a psychologist, so you'll need to determine whether he would benefit from talking with someone.

In summary, I would ask the school for a meeting to determine a course of action so that he can meet with success. And, get him some outside help this summer. I typically refer people to the International Dyslexia Association provider list.Again, be sure to ask whether the professional has experience and expertise working with adolescents.

Finally, I'd have your son start reading Dr. Michael Ryan's Letters to a Young Dyslexic. Dr. Ryan is dyslexic and walks the walk. You can look over the stories together to determine which ones might ring a bell for him. And then, there are all of our Success Stories on the website -- many of which tell the same story -- about the struggles in school until one is able to pursue his/her area of strength/interest.

I hope some of this is helpful to you. Should you have other questions -- do ask!! Best of luck!