Daughter's Writing Challenges not Being Met

Hello—I just read your online article about how dyslexia impacts access to the curriculum—Bless you! I have a teen in 11th grade with an IEP whose school states that her "written expression disorder does not impact her access to the curriculum." They agree that she struggles with organizing her ideas and getting her ideas down on paper so she can't complete homework or in-class essays. They say she should be able to manage this by going to the school writing center during her study hall time (you have to wait in line for help and teachers do not know "how" to help her dyslexia/written disorder.) They are recommending she take two senior years to graduate instead of giving her any writing program or direct help.

I am a professional in the field and I have hired experts, but we can't seem to get them to understand she has a writing disorder—they think she is at fault and even told her so. I have tried everything and need help. Deeply grateful.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

I am so sorry that your daughter is not getting what she needs from the school. My first bit of advice would have been to bring an advocate with you to the IEP, but you've already gone the route of hiring experts and, I assume, bringing an advocate to the meeting.

Your daughter has a right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) and that means teaching her the needed skills and giving her the accommodations she needs.

I have a lot about writing here and on the subtabs. You might want to share this information with her school staff. She needs direct, explicit, systematic, evidenced-based instruction. Her spoken language skills should be assessed so that we know that challenges in that area are not affecting her ability to write. If a student has difficulty with verbal expression, we can frequently see challenges manifest in writing. It is very important to work on both verbal and written expression if this is the case; and many times these can be done in concert. The good thing about the written message is that, unlike the spoken word, it stays on the page and can be analyzed and reworked. We also need to know whether she has any difficulties with word retrieval as this, too, can impact one's writing. Working memory should also be assessed as that can affect writing. You'll want to be sure that the professional conducting the assessment understands the critical role of spoken language in learning to read, write, and spell and, importantly, has expertise and experience evaluating a student your daughter's age.

She needs to be taught how to write for different purposes. Learning narrative structure can aid in writing stories; and learning the different expository structures (e.g., descriptive, persuasive, compare,contrast) is particularly important given her age and grade. Hopefully she is using some type of speech-to-text program to help her get her thoughts down. I’ve got a number of programs listed on this page. Her IEP should reflect the proper accommodations. For example, she should be able to record lectures so she doesn't get encumbered when she is taking notes and not be able to process the content. Teachers could provide copies of their notes or Power Points. She should be able to take oral exams and when writing is required, I'm assuming she has an accommodation for additional time. If keyboarding is not an issue for her, then she should have access to a laptop or tablet.

I might also suggest connecting with Decoding Dyslexia for support. You can search for them by state on Facebook. This is a grassroots group of parents that is taking the nation, so to speak, and they are all about advocacy. Someone in that organization may be able to help you.

Last, I recommend Sally Shaywitz's book Overcoming Dyslexia. It might be helpful if the school staff read that too!

I hope this points you in the right direction. Let me know if you have other specific questions.