Honest, informed conversation is the best place to start toward dyslexia success.

We need to keep having conversations with students to help them better understand their skills and needs as they grow and encounter new challenges with dyslexia.

The Importance of Talking about Dyslexia

As I write, we are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic; my clients are still in and out of virtual learning, which they are very tired of. If nothing else, many have learned that they “like” school (really, they miss their friends). I marvel at our educators who keep pivoting on a moment’s notice from in-person to virtual teaching to deliver the curriculum to their students. What all of this has done, though, is made it a bit harder for our students with dyslexia and IEPs to get the individualized services they need. It has also affected the students who have yet to be identified for services under an IEP. And, in the meantime, they continue to struggle and see themselves as poor learners. My good friend, Dr. Michael Ryan, has some information about the challenges our students with dyslexia can face in the classroom [1].

As a parent, it can be overwhelming to watch your capable child struggle. I have experienced this with the many families with whom I have the pleasure of working, either when I conduct the initial diagnostic assessment or while we continue together on the journey of intervention. It is very important that we identify a student’s learning profile of strengths and weaknesses and explain that profile to the student.

Upon completion of the diagnostic testing at 3LI, we first meet with the student’s parents (who have watched the assessment from behind a one-way window) to discuss the preliminary findings, which frequently result in a diagnosis of dyslexia. To a family, we recommend that the student be told the diagnosis—to be given the word "dyslexia" and its definition. Some families opt to tell their child on their own after they leave my office. Most ask that I meet with their child. I have met with kiddos as young as six years old and discussed their dyslexia with them.

As I’ve said, and per the definition of dyslexia, these students are capable learners. They are well aware that they are struggling with reading and writing, and their peers in the classroom are not. Understanding their profile of strengths and weaknesses and being given information about dyslexia begins to set the stage for success. We then need to get them started with structured literacy intervention [2].

But the first step, after a diagnosis, is explanation, and this will be ongoing. We need to keep having the conversations with the students to help them better understand their skills and needs as they grow and encounter new challenges. This, in turn, will build self-advocacy skills. You can’t advocate for yourself if you do not understand what you need or what you deserve, in the case of accommodations.

I am privileged to work every day with remarkable clients who have dyslexia. I have found that the students who have the most resiliency and strongest social-emotional wellbeing are those who experience the word "dyslexia" as a part of the everyday conversation in their homes, classrooms, and intervention settings. As I like to say, "We need to get it in their frontal lobes." I recently diagnosed a third grader with dyslexia. The family wanted to be sure that his first grade brother was also not dyslexic and asked me to do a few tests. As we were beginning, the first grader said, "I don’t know if I have dyslexia." About mid-way through, he asked me, "Do you think I have dyslexia?" Clearly, dyslexia is discussed in their household.

In this edition of our newsletter, we are highlighting information to help you, as parents, educators, and interventionists, talk with kids and teens with dyslexia to help build self-advocacy skills. We have a lot of tips on the website. Honest, informed conversation is the best place to start.

As always, I am grateful to my colleague at 3LI, Dr. Lauren Katz, for not only always reading these pieces, but for her diligence in helping ensure we stay at the cutting edge of understanding the research and evidenced-based intervention.