I have a grandson who was diagnosed with dyslexia over the summer as school was about to start. I informed the school as I was told to do for him to get the help he would need. I had previously voiced my concerns about him to the school, asking if they thought there was a problem, but all they would tell me was they thought he was lazy. Now all of a sudden, this same resource teacher tells me she teaches the same curriculum as a dyslexic teacher would teach. I think he would do better with a different teacher. My question is -are the resource teachers qualified to teach the same? He gets aggravated with himself because he can’t read like everyone else, I’d love to help him.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

I am sorry your grandson is struggling. A student with dyslexia who has received the right kind of intervention should show progress. It has been my experience that many special education teachers have not been trained in structured literacy, which is the approach that the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) has identified to teach students with dyslexia. The resource teacher should be able to provide you with her credentials in using a structured literacy [1] approach. You could also ask to see the reading program that is being used at the school to remediate dyslexia. I've got some of the programs listed here.

It has been my experience that the curriculum for pre-service teachers, both general and special education, does not include specifics about structured literacy. This is slowly changing, but we are far from seeing this manifest in the classroom. Some school districts are coming to understand the science of reading and changing their practices. Unfortunately, many still adhere to using reading programs that teach students to "look at the first letter and then guess the word based on the sentence" or "look at the picture." This is not what we espouse or teach in structured literacy intervention and can be detrimental to the student with dyslexia or reading disorder.

The school staff should be able to provide you with the data that show your grandson’s progress. I would ask the resource teacher why she thinks he has not progressed despite her teaching ‘the same curriculum as a dyslexia teacher.’ I would expect her response to be grounded in data. If he has been getting the right intervention, perhaps it has not been frequent enough. Dr. Sally Shaywitz writes in her book Overcoming Dyslexia that it takes between 300-500 hours of intervention. How often is he being seen? We know that intensive intervention schedules yield better outcomes than non-intensive ones. Of course your grandson is getting aggravated. By definition, students with dyslexia are capable learners. Unfortunately, many times their behaviors are mislabeled as "lazy” when in reality, these students are working so much harder than their peers. They get tired. They get frustrated when their hard effort does not reap fruit. And if I had a teacher telling me that I was lazy after working so hard; well, I'd give up too.

F.A.T City by Rick Lavoie is a video that could be a worthwhile staff development activity. F.A.T. stands for Frustration, Anxiety, Tension. Mr. Lavoie does a brilliant job simulating what a student with a learning disability is experiencing. It would be helpful if the training was facilitated by someone 'in the know' who could then lead the teachers in discussion about ways to change their teaching to better meet the needs of students with dyslexia. This person could also facilitate follow-up sessions, which will be key to creating new practices and changing old. The film is dated, but remains current and applicable. I hope these ideas will help you work with the school staff to get your grandson the program he needs and deserves so that he can meet with success. I wish you the best.