I'm writing to you in the hopes of getting some advice. As a part of my field placement I work at an after-school program in Michigan. One of our 5th grade students has been struggling with math and reading; she is behind grade level for both. Many of her difficulties and issues seem like dyslexia. By that I mean, they are very similar to the issues I had when I was her age. She has no formal diagnosis and I think she is often told that she is just a lazy student. Do you have any advice for us in helping her out? Like most of our students, she comes from a low-income family that does not have the resources to provide out-of-school support. Thank you in advance for your help. As you can imagine, this student really hits home for me, so I'd like to do as much as I can for her.


Dr. Pierson's Response: 

My first question is, has she been referred or evaluated for a suspected learning disability by the school?

On paper, RTI (Response to Intervention) is an excellent concept. In practice, there are some challenges. Many schools have the best intentions, but just do not have the resources that RTI requires for our kids with a learning disability to succeed. RTI can result in the kids not getting the service they need as they work themselves through the varying levels of support, until they finally receive an evaluation for a suspected learning disability and eventually get a program geared to their needs. I know it can be rather frustrating for all involved—teachers, parents, kids.

Have you talked with her parents? I think your best bet is to meet with her mother or father and talk about your concerns—how you see yourself in her—and help them understand the options through the school, that special education does not mean she is stupid, and then help them navigate the special education system, which can be no small feat.

By 5th grade, this young lady knows that she is struggling. If you are comfortable, you could talk with her about your own learning challenges and successes. She needs to know that she is indeed not 'lazy.' If you put the word 'lazy' in DyslexiaHelp's search bar—it'll pop up in a number of success stories. It is so infuriating that this is still happening. You could begin to share some of these success stories with her. Help her see her gifts.

Last, we know the importance of the one person who believed in the dyslexic who helped them get through all these challenges. You may just be the person to get this young lady moving in the right direction! I applaud you.