My daughter has struggled for years with reading and spelling. She was held back in the second grade for her reading level, received some special classes in elementary school, but is still struggling.

She is very smart, creative, and outgoing, however her struggles seem to be in the classes that require a lot of reading and do not have the textbooks on a digital format. I never thought that she might have dyslexia even though it does run in the family. I didn’t realize the complexity of dyslexia and thought that is was only flipping letters or words backwards.

In speaking with a counselor at a university I became aware of help that we may be able to take advantage of through the school system. My daugher is now 17 yrs old and will be going into the 11th grade this year as well as attending some classes at a local university. I want her to be as successful as she can be not only in school but in life. I have looked into a couple of programs, however they are very expensive and do not give an “official diagnosis.” My hopes are that if she does have dyslexia and we can get an official diagnosis of such and that we will be able to get help and cooperation from the school. I will be speaking with the school administrators as soon as school is back in session to see what we can do as well.

I’m not sure where to begin and feel like I have let her down by not thinking that this was an issue sooner. Any information that you can give me as to where to start would be appreciated.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 
It certainly sounds like there are some red flags for her relative to being dyslexic. Here are a few of my thoughts. One: Yes, if your daughter qualifies for services in the public schools, she would get an IEP and an individual program developed for her That is IF she qualifies. Many times kids who are "making it" in the schools (despite struggling) will not make the cut-off to qualify. I have a lot about the process here and under the other subtabs.

The next question is: Should she qualify, whether anyone at the school knows how to work with the dyslexic student? It has been my experience that educators with expertise in dyslexia are few and far between in the Michigan public schools; and they get fewer as the kids get older. Here's some info on intervention. And please see my piece on Structured Literacy.

I typically refer people to this list of providers from the International Dyslexia Association for Michigan. (I am the current president of the MI Branch of the IDA.) Not everyone on this list diagnoses, so you will need to ask. And, importantly, you will need to ensure that the professional has experience and expertise in assessing a 17 year old. Many do not. Here is what a comprehensive assessment entails.

It will be very important to get a measure of her spoken language, in addition to written language. Many times, this is overlooked to the detriment of the student. We need to assess her receptive vocabulary, expressive vocabulary if there is indication of word retrieval/naming problems, as well as higher-level language skills, like understanding inferences and gaining meaning from context. Spoken language undergirds reading, spelling, and writing. Under this tab, you can see all the areas that may be affected (e.g., morphological awareness, phonological awareness, reading comprehension, spelling).

Private assessment is going to cost. And, unfortunately, most insurance companies do not cover dyslexia. You might want to check with your insurance -- some will cover an assessment, but not intervention. Of course, going the school route will not cost you anything as that is part of our tax dollars. As I said, she could go through the school process and not qualify despite being dyslexic. The Michigan public schools, by en large, do not diagnose dyslexia, even though the word is written right in the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE). Here is a piece I wrote about that very topic..

Well, I've thrown a lot of information at you. Let me know if you have other questions.

Importantly, know that it is never too late! Try not to think about the "what ifs" -- we can't live backwards. We can help "kids" of all ages. Quite honestly, my partner at 3LI is working with an adult dyslexic -- and teaching him to read. Your daughter is lucky to have you looking into this!