I live in Michigan. I am having my 3rd grader tested next week for dyslexia. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I struggled in the same way that my daughter is struggling. I was never officially diagnosed—or maybe the tests weren’t as sensitive in the 1970’s as they are now. She has been getting reading help since first grade. I am certain we will soon need math help as well (once the MEAP scores come out). I am taking her in for an assessment and I am certain what the results will be. I have been asking teachers about this since kindergarten and finally came to the conclusion that they will continue to tell me that her writing backwards letters and numbers is still age appropriate (even when it is not), she continues to be behind in math, etc. I would like some information regarding my daughter’s rights and my rights as a parent once we get the diagnosis. There is no doubt in my mind that she is dyslexic. I found an article online that gives the 37 characteristics consistent with people who have dyslexia. My daughter has 20 of the 37 characteristics/behaviors. I have a friend who has a son with Aspergers. She said that the school district is required to assign a social worker to my child and the social worker, teacher, principal and myself will come up with a plan for educating my daughter. Is this correct? I would gladly take any advice that you can provide to me. Up until now we have been undiagnosed wandering through the school system. Again, thank you for any advice and articles that you can provide.


Dr. Pierson's Response: 

Well, first of all, we know that there can be a genetic component to dyslexia; knowing that helps us when we make the diagnosis.

I think your best bet to get informed is to read the information on our Know Your Rights page as well as the information about the special education process under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As a parent, you have the right to make a referral for special education evaluation for a suspected learning disability (LD) to get the ball rolling in order for your daughter to receive services in the schools.

And last, the information about IEPs will be helpful as you go into the IEP meeting. This will also fill you in on who attends the IEP meeting. You, as the parent, are an integral member of that team. Relative to a the need for a social worker, if your daughter is having issues relative to behavior or social relationships, then, yes, they may assign a social worker to the team. Typically, for a student with a learning disability who has no behavior issues, the team will be the school psychologist, who does the cognitive testing and maybe achievement testing, the learning disabilities specialist/teacher, who may do the achievement testing, a speech-language pathologist for the language assessment, the general education classroom teacher, the principal, and then a special education teacher if different from the LD teacher. Other members could be there depending on need. Ask your school who will make up the team.

I suggest bringing an advocate to the IEP meeting, as well as to help you navigate the whole process. Your local school district Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education should be able to provide you with some names. The folks at the Michigan Dyslexia Institute might also serve as advocates; you could ask them. You could also contact a private practitioner in your area; I have served as an advocate for families and attended IEPs, most typically for kids with whom I’ve worked.

Despite a diagnosis of dyslexia, depending on her scores, your daughter may or may not qualify for school-based special education services under Specific Learning Disability. (That does not mean she is not dyslexic or LD; just that her scores aren’t poor enough.) It depends on how severe her deficit is, as well as what criteria your school district is using to determine eligibility. Some people have an outside evaluator assess, but the school team may want (most likely will want) to do their own evaluation. We've got information as to what needs to be evaluated to make a dyslexia diagnosis (or under the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Educations—a specific learning disability in basic reading skills, reading comprehension, reading fluency, and/or written expression).

Importantly, you also want an oral language evaluation (conducted by the school speech-language pathologist) that includes phonological processing because oral language undergirds learning to read, spell, and write. Many times our dyslexic kids' language deficits are missed because of either a) a lack of a referral for testing in this area or b) because the examiner does not dig deeply enough and the tests used are not sophisticated or sensitive enough to pick up on the subtle language differences these kids have.

I would ask for any reports ahead of time so that you can review them. At my private clinical practice, we schedule a meeting with the parents (and the child at some point as well) after sending the report because even though we try to write it "parent-friendly," it is impossible to avoid jargon—and you, as the parent, need to understand the jargon, your daughter's strengths and weaknesses, and importantly, how to remediate her challenges.

You are getting at this at the right time. Your daughter's 3rd grade curriculum is moving from "learning to read" to using "reading to learn"—a very important difference in the way material is presented and what is expected of the student. It will be important that she can access the same curricular information as her peers so as to not fall behind. The evaluation should include accommodations for the classroom and modifications of the curriculum specific to her to ensure her success. I wish you the best. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you.