[Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a four-part series on dyslexia. Links to the other parts are included in the blog.]
In Part 1 of our discussion on dyslexia, we talked a little bit about the disorder and the difficulties dyslexics encounter when reading, spelling, and even verbalizing. Now we’re going to look at both diagnosis and intervention – steps to actively help students achieve their maximum potential.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than two million students ages 3–21 have learning disabilities, and the vast majority of them have trouble with reading. In fact, the term dyslexia is often used to mean disabilities with reading.
There is no single test for dyslexia, and getting a formal identification often involves a team of professionals. Before you can definitively diagnose dyslexia, though, you have to rule out other problems that may be affecting the reading and learning process.
Step 1: Get a medical exam. Your child’s pediatrician may test his vision and hearing to see if these could be affecting his ability to read. The doctor will also ask you about your child’s development and whether other family members have reading problems or other learning issues.
Step 2: Get a referral to a specialist. The pediatrician may send you to a psychologist or other professional who specializes in learning issues for testing. These specialists can provide insights into how your child thinks. They’ll do tests to zero in on which areas he’s struggling with, doing tasks such as reading words, and doing some rhyming, spelling, and writing, among other things. Psychological testing can also determine whether ADHD, anxiety, depression, or other issues are interfering with learning.
Step 3: Put it all together. The specialists will discuss their individual findings and recommend ways to help your child. Here are a number of ways professionals can help with dyslexia.
Schools have been working for decades to help students with reading issues. Your child’s teacher may be familiar with several methods of reading instruction and try different approaches to help your child.
One possibility is a type of tutoring called phonological awareness training. This can help improve your child’s understanding of how sounds and letters go together.
There are accommodations that can be used to help in the classroom. These might include allowing the student extra time on tests or letting him use tools like word-prediction software. Additional, common informal supports include taking a multi-sensory approach to link together listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and having kids repeat directions back to the teacher.
A more formal support is response to intervention. RTI is a process some schools use to provide extra help to students who are falling behind. Routine screenings identify which kids need help to develop certain skills, and those kids receive small-group instruction either within or outside of their regular classrooms.
You can also pursue an evaluation for special education services, which will determine if your child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). A key part of the IEP is establishing yearly goals, which could include increasing your child’s vocabulary or improving his reading comprehension.
The plan will detail specifically how the school intends to help your child meet these goals. For example, it might schedule twice-a-week sessions with a reading specialist or give him voice recognition software.
Public schools have reading specialists available that work with students one-on-one or in small groups and who can help your child focus on improving his reading skills. You can also look for private tutors, but make sure they have a background not just in education, but also in training as a reading specialist.
Your Child’s Doctor
Sometimes dyslexia can take such a toll on your child’s self-esteem that anxiety and depression can set in, making school and reading even more difficult. Talk to your pediatrician about what you’re seeing, and ask if seeing a psychologist could help your child manage stress.
Each state has at least one parent advocacy center. These non-profit organizations are staffed by parents whose own kids have disabilities. The parents are experienced in the educational and learning disability processes and have learned how to navigate the system. They can help you find a way to get additional assistance for your child. You can find the center in your area through the Parent Technical Assistance Network.
What can you, as a concerned parent, do yourself to help your child overcome dyslexia? Come back next week for part 3 of this article, which will address those issues.
 National Center for Education Statistics. U.S. Dept. of Education. “Fast Facts: Students with Disabilities.” http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=64
 “Parent Center Listing.” Parentcenternetwork.org. Parent Center Network. Web. http://www.parentcenternetwork.org/parentcenterlisting.html