dyslexia Special Education

Dyslexia and Special Education Eligibility

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?

Questions about dyslexia and special education eligibility are some of the most common questions parents ask us. If you suspect your child has dyslexia, trust your gut! Have your child tested, by the school or by a private evaluator.

Q: If my child has been diagnosed with dyslexia (or dysgraphia or dyscalculia), 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. A child doesn’t need an IEP just because they have a diagnosis, but if they need “specialized instruction,” they should have an IEP. Even if your child is getting a reading intervention in school, one benefit to having that intervention time documented on an IEP is that it obligates the school to provide it, and gives you recourse if they do not.

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 (nor are they an evidence based evaluation tool), 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 a combination of cognitive (IQ) tests and academic achievement tests, or tests of phonological processing. If you suspect dyslexia, you should ask how your team plans to test your child’s phonological awareness, phonics skills, and reading fluency.

Q: My child’s school did a few tests (for example, the Woodcock Johnson), and says there is not enough data to show that my child has dyslexia (or a learning disability), but I know they are struggling. Is there anything else I should do?

A: Parents who believe their child has dyslexia, but whose schools say they do not, should consider private testing. Parents are rarely wrong about this, and unfortunately, many parents are still given harmful messages by schools that delay identification. If you know something is wrong but are told that your child is “not far enough behind,” “is just immature,” “isn’t trying hard enough,” or that “all children learn to read in their own time,” run– do not walk– to get additional data from a professional. There are many options available for private testing– complete psychoeducational assessments by a psychologists, or less extensive educational testing with a special education consultant (look for a certified special educator). Take any testing your school did with you to the private professional. Early intervention is key– don’t wait. Do this.

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, and insisting on this requirement could put your school district in violation of IDEA’s requirement to identify all children with disabilities.

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 Specific Learning Disability Special Education eligibility that includes additional requirements (besides what is described above) and 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 about dyslexia and special education eligibility. In Maryland, review the Maryland State Department of Education’s Technical Assistance Bulletin on Specific Learning Disabilities.

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, or from having dyslexia. Many children with dyslexia have an average, above average, or superior IQ. If your child’s dyslexia is effecting her academic performance, she could qualify. Similarly, children with good grades may qualify for special education eligibility and services.

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 for eligibility (because it works for some kids, but not others). For twice exceptional students, 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 dyslexia and special education eligibility is governed by 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 (this is not new– the word “dyslexia” appears in the IDEA). 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, dysgraphia or dyscalculia. You can also ask that they use the check box on the Maryland IEP form that says dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia.