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Understanding, Identifying, and Assessing Dyslexia

“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”
– Muhammad Ali, champion boxer and activist with dyslexia

Understanding Dyslexia

Dyslexia is defined as a difficulty with processing the phonological component of language resulting in struggles with decoding, word reading accuracy and fluency.  Underlying causes of these challenges are typically associated with phonological deficits or hindrances in the ability to process the sounds of written and spoken language. Additionally, children with dyslexia often struggle to master writing and spelling and frequently display trouble with reading comprehension as a result of their word level reading difficulties. These struggles are specifically language-based contrary to the popular misconception and misassociation with vision or intelligence.

Identifying Dyslexia

Children with dyslexia typically have difficulty decoding single words, reading words accurately and with automaticity, learning the connection between sounds and letters, and spelling. If left unidentified, these children may read significantly less than the average student, which can result in a lack of general background knowledge and a limited vocabulary which impacts reading comprehension.

In early childhood and even through grade school, children with dyslexia may still be unsure which letters make which sounds or have trouble sounding out familiar words. These students may have difficulty remembering how words are spelled or how vowels produce different sounds depending on their surrounding letters. Additionally, these children often confuse or omit small words or prepositions. These struggles can cause students with dyslexia to take longer to complete simple tasks and may result in repetitive and easily identifiable mistakes.

Assessing Dyslexia

Early identification, assessment, and intervention are essential to minimize the effects of dyslexia. A Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a framework that effectively and uniformly implements and adopts a core curriculum that is effective for the majority of students. Students who are “at-risk” can be identified early through the universal screening system so effective and immediate intervention can be provided. This is imperative because, after 3rd grade, the challenges of dyslexia require much more intensive instruction and many more resources.

If challenges persist despite effective core instruction and supplemental intervention, the school may determine that a comprehensive evaluation for special education is needed. Dyslexia is a condition that could qualify a child as having a specific learning disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act IDEA. However, recognizing dyslexia within a public school setting does not require a clinical diagnosis—school systems are often staffed with trained school psychologists, reading specialists, special educators, and speech language pathologists capable of administering formal and/or informal diagnostic assessments to identify areas of strength and areas of difficulty, which are used to implement high-quality, appropriate instruction.

Parents may also choose to seek a formal, clinical evaluation from qualified experts to diagnose the learning difficulty. Clinical professionals diagnose conditions found in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). An IEP team considers any information that is available when it’s determining if a child is eligible for special education, which includes a clinical diagnosis.

In an educational evaluation of dyslexia, the student may be assessed for phonological awareness and memory, Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), vocabulary, decoding skills, reading fluency, writing ability, and spelling. This assessment can also include testing for difficulties associated with other similar Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) such as dyscalculia, dysgraphia, or dyspraxia.  

A diagnosis does not always qualify a student for special education, but may qualify the student for 504 accommodations. If a student is found eligible for special education, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is developed. This is a federally enforced program for schools that provides individualized, specially designed instruction to accommodate and support the student in school.

How Hill Learning Center Can Help

We can make a difference. Hill Learning Center is dedicated to transforming students with learning differences and attention challenges into confident, independent learners. Contact us if you’re interested in taking the next step.

Sources: International Dyslexia Association, Understood

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