My son is a 9-year-old 4th grader. He was diagnosed in first grade with dyslexia. He has since been in a dyslexic program where he received services five days a week for 45-minutes a day. I was approached this year by our new first-year dyslexia teacher and asked if I would be okay with him only getting 30-minutes, four days a week during his classroom reading time. I was also told he was almost done with the program, so that was her reasoning as to why she wanted to shorten his time. My question is legally how long should he receive services? And my understanding is that it should not be during classroom reading time!? Please advise me on what my response should be.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

Without knowing your son's profile of strengths and weaknesses and where he skills stand now, it's difficult to fully answer your questions. What is the reason for the reduction in time? "Being done with the program" depends on what the program is and doesn’t necessarily mean he’s acquired the skills he needs. Is it because your son has now achieved age/grade-level skills or achieved his goals in reading, spelling, and writing? I am assuming that the teacher provided data relative to his current skill set. Standardized assessments in reading, spelling, and writing will demonstrate where he is relative to age/grade. I'm suspecting that if he still needs intervention, then he still has challenges. I would ask to see the data, including updated standardized measures.

Your son is now at a critical time relative to learning vis a vis the curriculum. It is at 4th grade when the curriculum changes from learning to read to using one's reading to learn. If his reading and writing skills are not at grade-level standards, he is going to struggle to access the curriculum AND demonstrate what he has learned. We know that beginning at 4th grade, 60% of the words students encounter are morphologically complex, and therefore, it is imperative that students receive instruction in Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes, which we typically don’t begin teaching until 4th grade. This is one reason why “finishing the program” really doesn’t mean that much per se.

I find that sometimes students reach a level where they can be successful without intervention for a time and then we need to pick up again. But, I would approach this with caution at this juncture in your son’s educational career (i.e., 4th grade). I recommend getting Sally Shaywitz's book, Overcoming Dyslexia [1], if you have not already read it. It provides excellent guidance relative to intervention -- and it is written with parents in mind.

The bottom line for me is -- if his teacher is continuing to recommend intervention, then that indicates that he still has work to do (i.e., language structures, skills, and strategies to learn). The literature is clear that the earlier and more intensive the intervention, the better the outcomes. It behooves us to give students as much intervention as we can until skills are solidified.