By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations
While in 2013 there were only 22 states that had laws regarding dyslexia, as of March 2018, 42 states have dyslexia-specific laws, and as discussed in the article Dyslexia Laws in the USA: A 2018 Update by Martha Youman and Nancy Mather, 33 legislative bills related to dyslexia were introduced between January and March 2018 alone. These dyslexia laws address such things as dyslexia awareness, teacher training, early screening of risk factors, interventions and accommodations, and rights of individuals with dyslexia. In addition to identifying the need to address these matters, at least 10 states have developed dyslexia handbooks, and New Hampshire (where I practice as an evaluator and consultant) has developed a dyslexia resource guide. With Governor Charlie Baker’s signing of S2607 on October 19, 2018, Massachusetts now joins the list of states with dyslexia training, screening, and intervention mandates.
To see such progress in the identification and intervention of dyslexia is exciting for everyone who is connected to this community. As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I have worked with individuals with dyslexia and related disorders for many years, and in 2017 I had the pleasure of being one of the many professionals involved in the development of the NH dyslexia resource guide. Since that time, it has been encouraging to see a number of school districts embrace training opportunities and develop early screening efforts. While that is so, across the nation several states still do not have dyslexia-specific laws, and most states that do have them continue to experience uncertainty about how to implement said laws. Based on my personal experience and observations, there appear to be some basic steps or efforts that may improve the effectiveness of these efforts:
- Use the term “Dyslexia.” Historically, the term “dyslexia” has been rejected or discouraged by most schools, instead preferring to label the associated learning profile as a Specific Learning Disability in reading; however, dyslexia specialists and advocates have long argued that this latter term is problematic because it fails to acknowledge the neurobiology of dyslexia and it does not inform interventions, accommodations, and related services with the level of specificity that is dictated by the defined diagnosed label. To address this concern, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Education issued a formal letter clarifying that “there is nothing in the IDEA or [the] implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP.” Until schools are willing to routinely use the term “dyslexia,” the potential success of dyslexia laws is significantly challenged.
- Educate families about universal screening and differentiated instruction. The screening and intervention requirements outlined in most dyslexia laws fall within the purview of general education, aiming to identify children with risk factors for learning disabilities and support their needs through multi-tiered systems of support, such as Response to Intervention (RTI). As such, there are not as many defined requirements regarding progress monitoring and reporting, or the coordination of the child’s “team” (i.e. parents, teachers, and other pertinent school personnel), as there would be within special education procedures. Families need to be educated about these universal screening procedures and methods of differentiating instruction within the general education curriculum so that they can understand their child’s challenges and monitor progress in a more informed manner.
- Coordinate general education and special education screening and evaluation procedures. While the screening and intervention procedures discussed in dyslexia laws are generally within general education, a child should be referred for special education consideration if he or she is not making progress with the increased levels of RTI support. To optimize the utility and impact of the early screenings and to ease the referral process, the criterion that is measured within the general education setting should map onto the criterion for special education eligibility as much as possible; however, should a child require referral for special education consideration, it will also be critical to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of why the child is not progressing, allowing for more individualized and appropriate interventions.
- Ensure the dissemination of dyslexia handbooks or resource guides. While the dyslexia community is enthused by state dyslexia laws, many teachers and school personnel are not aware of these mandates or the associated resources. These resources are a treasure trove of information about how to delivery differentiated instruction and integrate instructional methods and accommodations that are likely to be helpful for all students.
- Continue raising awareness. Parents, teachers, and school personnel should all be educated about learning profiles, early warning signs, screening procedures, and interventions. School districts should take advantage of the resources provided by their state, which often includes the availability of a state-appointed reading specialist who can provide training or aid the dissemination of information or development of screening and intervention procedures.
There has been great progress in the recognition, identification, and remediation of dyslexia within American schools; however, this work is only just beginning. At the core of this issue is the need to recognize dyslexia as a defined, neurologically-based learning disability that can be identified at an early age and can be effectively remediated through targeted, evidence-based interventions.
Through our evaluations with students in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, clinicians at NESCA aim to identify and define learning profiles such as these and provide recommendations for targeted instruction as well as systemic support and training. Please visit our website at www.nesca-newton.com for more information.
About the Author:
Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.
To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (603) 818-8526.