I've just changed jobs from classroom teacher to assistant principal. Part of my responsibilities is with our child study team. We have a young man whose parents believe that he is dyslexic and when his mom talked to the pediatrician was told that testing can be done at school. When I checked in with my special education experts, they said that we do not do dyslexia testing. They can check for a learning disability, but apparently, they don't definitively say dyslexia. I am at a loss for how to direct this parent. I was hoping you could give me some information that I could use to point this family in the right direction.

I'm thinking I can definitely put together a 504 if we have a medical diagnosis. We've been collecting data and have put in several interventions that seem to be working. He is finally at the beginning of third grade as a third grader and shown a year's worth of improvement in his reading and writing so far. Our special ed team believes that even if he goes through the learning disability testing that they do, he won't qualify for services because of the growth he has shown.

The parent clearly cares a lot about her child but is adamant that she specifically wants dyslexia testing. Could you please help me as I am at a loss for how to even go about this for her?

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

Indeed, this is a challenging situation and one that I encounter frequently in my private clinical practice. And, given that this student has had intervention -- and we know intervention works -- it can be harder to then qualify him for services under the interpretations of the special education guidelines. Here is a piece that I wrote that touches on some of the challenges.

It has been my experience that most pediatricians do not diagnose dyslexia. As you have noted, the school team has the skill set to diagnose a specific learning disability (SLD), which dyslexia is. If this student has an SLD in reading, then a 504 Plan will not meet his needs as he needs structured literacy intervention. This can be another hurdle, as the special education staff may not have training in structured literacy intervention. Accommodations will also be key.

I'd recommend the team assess the student for an SLD and take it from there. Of course, the parents could also opt to go outside and get an assessment on their dime, which can be cost-prohibitive for many families.

I'm impressed that you are taking the time to research this question on behalf of this student and family.