Mother of Third Grader Seeking Help for Assessment

My daughter has dyslexia and struggles with reading. I try to help her at home, but it’s a daily battle with her getting frustrated and upset and crying. I don't know what else to do. The school did the CTOPP test and she did very poorly on all sections and they said she was dyslexic. Is there an kind of tutoring or help that you can recommend? Or do you know of any organizational supplies or other resources to help? The school is no help at all and she is going into 3rd grade and falling very far behind. What apps do you suggest? She loves games—it takes the pressure off so she doesn't get so upset.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

I am sorry that it is such a struggle to figure out what your daughter needs. DyslexiaHelp is strictly a resource center and informational website, so we do not provide any direct services, but I’ll offer a bit of advice.

So, first of all, if she is indeed dyslexic, given that dyslexia is a learning disability she may qualify for special education services in the public schools under the rule for Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Special education services are mandated under federal law, therefore, these services are paid by tax dollars and are free to you (and your daughter). I have a lot of information about knowing your rights and the special education process here [1] (look for more information under the tabs on the right).

It is very important that she get the support she needs in school. If you have gone through the IEP process, which I suspect you might have given that the school tested her, and you disagree with the results, you can request an outside evaluation (Independent Educational Evaluation—IEE). Again, this is all mandated by law, so read the additional tabs when you go to the above link.

To begin, your daughter will need a good diagnostic assessment [2] to determine her profile of strengths and weaknesses. A good comprehensive assessment not only determines whether she qualifies for special education services, but lays the groundwork for developing goals and objectives for therapy. This assessment should include testing of both her spoken and written language skills. Many times I have found that diagnosticians look at reading, but fail to look at spoken language, which undergirds the ability to learn to read, spell, and write. The assessment will also identify the necessary accommodations and modifications she needs to succeed in school and life!

Then, she needs some kind of individual intervention—either tutoring or therapy. I've got information about that here [3]. I typically refer people to the International Dyslexia Association provider list for their state, which you can find at [4].

Relative to apps—there are tons of them, but without knowing her strengths and weaknesses, which the assessment will pinpoint, it's impossible to recommend. If she scored poorly on all sections of the CTOPP, then some work in phonemic awareness is probably in order (the CTOPP-2 assesses three areas of phonological processing—phonological awareness, phonological memory, and rapid automatic naming), which you can search for here [5]. Search through ‘early elementary’ under Phonics and Phonemic Awareness under the tabs on the right. This would be a good place to start.

Until you find someone to work with her, I would try to minimize the anxiety around reading, spelling, and writing at home. Read her assignments to her and have her dictate her answers. Additionally, if she is willing to listen to audiobooks that would be good as well. A program that highlights text as it reads aloud would be ideal for her. I’ve got information about some text-to-speech programs and devices here [6].

I also suggest that you read Sally Shaywitz's book Overcoming Dyslexia [7]. Learning about dyslexia will help you know how to help your daughter and Dr. Shaywitz wrote this book for parents.

Last, you might want to try contacting the parents at Decoding Dyslexia in your area. You can connect with them by searching your state on Facebook. Decoding Dyslexia is a grassroots group of parents and they are all about advocacy—someone there might be able to help you work with the school district, find a diagnostician, and then find a tutor or clinician.

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