I have reasons to believe my daughter may be dyslexic, and I don't know where to start. From my research, she seems to have Attentional Dyslexia.

My daughter is 8 years old in 2nd grade. She has been a fairly good reader up until recently. She is showing signs of struggle and frustration. I met with her teacher and she agreed that she saw some signs, and that her reading has not progressed this year and may have slightly regressed. My daughter is crying when it's time to read. She is reading words out of order on the page and pronouncing the letters out of order for the words she does not know. She is also spelling words with letters that are not in the word at all when sounded out. Just to name a few.

I was recently recommended to write a letter to my district asking for her to be evaluated. So I did so. I met with her teacher tonight who told me that, unfortunately, because she has a history of being a good reader, even though she has not progressed, she most likely will not qualify for an evaluation by the school. I was also told that schools do not evaluate and diagnose dyslexia.

I am dyslexic, along with several people in my family. I do not want to wait for my daughter to fall behind for her to qualify for an evaluation. We have worked with her very hard to get her to the level she is at, and I don't want her to regress.

My daughter goes to a very good school system, but they are known for not helping people with special learning needs. I am trying to know my rights and what exactly I can fight for. I will do whatever it takes to get her help. I just don't know where to start.

Do you have any suggestions for me? Is the school responsible for testing if I express concern? Is a language-based learning disability recognized by public schools? Any information you can provide for me would be greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

I am so sorry that 1) your daughter is struggling. Your daughter has one of the risk factors for dyslexia in that you have dyslexia (i.e., family history). That should be getting people's attention—that, and the fact, that she is not reading commensurate with her peers and she is frustrated.

Your daughter is entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education and part of that is testing for a suspected learning disability. Unfortunately, for many students, this means failing before getting help. Based on what you wrote, it might be best to seek an outside evaluation and then share those results with the school. I have found it helpful when families have data that supports/identifies the reading problem and are then able to share those data with the school staff.

I would recommend sending an email to the Director of Special Education requesting an assessment for a special education evaluation for a suspected learning disability. Once you sign permission for evaluation, the school has 30 school days to conduct the assessment.

These links, Advocating for Your Child [1] and Know Your Rights [2], might help you.

There is indeed the reality that the school team does not diagnose "dyslexia," but dyslexia is a specific learning disability (SLD), which is under the special education purview of the schools. Here [3] is a piece I wrote about that challenge. Although my context is MI, this holds true for other states.

It is important that your daughter be assessed as soon as possible. I just returned from the International Dyslexia Association annual conference and, once again, we heard why early intervention is so important. The data are very clear (and we've known this for years) that the outcomes for children when intervention begins early are much better than if we wait until late elementary or middle school (not that these students can’t improve).

Here [4] is another piece that I wrote as to why assessment now is important.

Here [5] is what a comprehensive assessment entails.

I highly recommend connecting with Decoding Dyslexia (DD) in your state. DD is a grassroots group of parents that is taking the nation relative to advocacy and education. You may need to get an advocate. Someone in your state’s DD group should be able to help guide you. You can search for them on Facebook.

I highly recommend getting Dr. Sally Shaywitz's book Overcoming Dyslexia (2003), which was written for parents.

Last—this piece [6], but you are already doing this!