October is National Dyslexia Awareness, but at Manes and Weinberg, LLC, every month is Dyslexia Awareness Month! Our team of special education attorneys and advocates works with many families whose children have dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities every day. Today, Anne Reynolds, our Senior Education Advocate, will outline what dyslexia is and what to do if your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia.  


Most parents imagine a time when their school-aged child will pick up a book, curl up on the couch, and start reading. However, for children who have reading difficulties, this is not often the case since reading independently is a struggle. 


What is Dyslexia and what are the symptoms?  


The International Dyslexia Association (“IDA”) defines Dyslexia as a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in nature and is characterized by difficulties with fluent word recognition, poor spelling, and poor decoding abilities. While there are many early signs of Dyslexia such as difficulty with rhyming, learning the alphabet, or word finding, parents may not necessarily associate those signs as symptoms of a larger problem with reading. Often, the first time a parent considers that their child may have Dyslexia is when they are in school full-time and are unable to learn to read like their peers or older siblings. Parents may turn to their child’s teacher, principal, or other school staff to try to determine if their child has a reading disability. While these individuals may be able to provide useful information on your child such as reading levels, and functional classroom progress, neither teachers nor child study team (“CST”) members can diagnose Dyslexia, even if they suspect your child may have it. Only professionals such as a neuropsychologist or neurologist can provide a formal diagnosis for Dyslexia, even if other professionals such as pediatricians or speech therapists “think” your child may have it. Obtaining a formal diagnosis is often necessary in obtaining school-based services for your child.  


My child has a diagnosis of dyslexia now what?  


If your child has been diagnosed with Dyslexia and does not have an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), now is a good time to request a meeting with the school’s CST to determine if your child is eligible for special education. If your child already has an IEP, updating your child’s case manager with this new diagnosis (and providing reports or assessments) will be critical to obtaining appropriate services. When you meet with the team it is important to review all evaluations that have taken place (both district and private evaluations) and for the team to consider both recommendations from school staff and your child’s private professionals. Remember, parents are part of the IEP Team, so you have a say in your child’s programming.  


What kind of instruction is best for children with dyslexia? 


Recently, there has been backlash surrounding a popular reading program that many school districts around the country and in New Jersey have been using for years. Balanced literacy has been shown to be ineffective in teaching children to read. Data from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (“NAEP”) indicates that only 33% of fourth-grade students in the US are proficient readers,1 and that number is much lower among children from lower-income families, children from communities of color, and children with disabilities.2 Utilizing the right instruction to remediate Dyslexia is critical. In 2017, New Jersey published The New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook3which outlines not only the basics of Dyslexia but also how school districts should be identifying students with potential reading disabilities through Dyslexia screenings (before the middle of 2nd grade for a student with a suspected disability in reading) but also the type and mode of instruction that are critical for successful intervention. These recommendations include: instruction that is research and evidenced-based, delivered by trained or certified instructors, taught with fidelity, sufficiently intensive, and frequent assessment and ongoing progress monitoring. Such well-known research-based programs include Orton-Gillingham and Wilson.  


Dyslexia and other disorders: 


Unfortunately, Dyslexia does not travel alone; many students with Dyslexia struggle with other disabilities. Having dyslexia is correlated with higher rates of anxiety, emotional distress, ADHD, and depressive disorders. Students with dyslexia are more likely to drop out of school, and to consider suicide4 which is why it is absolutely critical that Dyslexia is identified as early as possible, along with intensive reading remediation efforts.  


We understand that you may be overwhelmed when your child receives a diagnosis of Dyslexia, or other language-based learning disabilities (dysgraphia, dyscalculia, etc.) but we are here to help to guide you through the process.