Special Education

Dyslexia and Special Education Eligibility

Common questions about special education eligibility for children with dyslexia. Are children with dyslexia eligible for IEPs and special education? Fountas Pinnell, grade levels below, too smart for iep, significant discrepancy, specific learning disability, IDEA 504 Maryland Special Education Law

Common questions about special education eligibility for children with dyslexia

Q: If my child has been diagnosed with dyslexia, is he eligible for special education services under an IEP?

A: Maybe. A dyslexia diagnosis or “identification” of dyslexia is part of determining eligibility for special education. If your child has a learning disability in reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), or math (dyscalculia), AND she also is not achieving “adequately” in school, THEN she is eligible for special education services under an IEP. However, some kids with dyslexia don’t need IEPs—an older child with dyslexia may have already learned the skills they need to achieve in school, or they may be able to compensate for their dyslexia and still be successful. You don’t need an IEP just because you have a diagnosis.  

Q: Can my child’s school use my child’s Fountas and Pinnell level (those A-Z reading levels) to say that my child is not below grade level and therefore does not qualify?

A: No. First of all Fountas and Pinnell levels are subjective, so they aren’t very reliable. Second of all, schools can never use only ONE measure. They must consider multiple sources, and those sources should be objective. Objective sources are things like standardized test scores, like the Woodcock Johnson test or the Wechsler test (but there are many others).

Q: Does my child have to be two or three grade levels below in reading to qualify?

A: No.  Nowhere in the law is this required.

Q: Can my school district create their own requirements for eligibility? How do I know if they are making up their own requirements?  

A: No. They must follow Federal and State law. They can develop and use their own procedures to determine if a child meets the legal requirements, but those must be in compliance with the law, and cannot create ADDITIONAL restrictions. If your district has created a district specific form for SLD eligibility that says that your child must meet all of the criteria on the form, that may be an indication that the district is not following State and Federal law. 

Q: My child is smart. His IQ is high, but he is not reading as I would expect. Can the school deny him an IEP because he is “too smart”?

A: NO! High IQ (high cognitive ability) does NOT prevent a child from being eligible for special education. Many children with dyslexia have an average, above average, or WAY above average IQ (psychologists will love my super technical terms) ?. If your child’s dyslexia is effecting her academic performance, she could qualify.

Q: My child has high cognitive ability but is not performing well in school. The school says that in the past they considered this difference to determine eligibility, but they don’t anymore. Is this true?

A: NO. This type of criteria is called “significant discrepancy.” It refers to the fact that IQ scores are high, but performance (how well the child actually reads, writes or does math), is much lower. Using this type of criteria IS ALLOWED. It just cannot be REQUIRED (because it works for some kids, but not others). For twice exceptional kids, meaning those who have high cognitive ability and also a disability, having this OPTION as a way to determine eligibility is very important.  Or, conversely, if your school district has a form that says a significant discrepancy is required, that is illegal.

Q: My school says that dyslexia isn’t a category under IDEA, and that my child has to be in the Specific Learning Disability (SLD) category/coding. Is this right? I thought we could “say dyslexia.”

A: This is right. Dyslexia IS a specific learning disability according to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), which is Federal law. If the disability that qualifies your child for special education services under an IEP is dyslexia, the correct disability “code” is Specific Learning Disability (SLD). However, you can ask that they include a sentence in the eligibility discussion section of the IEP saying that your child has dyslexia. You can also ask that they use the check box on the Maryland IEP form that says dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia.


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