Identification of Dyslexia
Evaluating for Dyslexia
If a child is dyslexic, it's going to impact her whether it is diagnosed or not, causing havoc in her life. Not identifying the problem does not make it go away.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, 2nd Edition (2020)
School Identification Versus Clinical Diagnosis
WI Statue 115.777, Special education referrals
Who is required to refer a child suspected of a learning disability to the local education agency?
Any employee required to be licensed by the local education agency (teachers)
Any person not specifically listed
Must be in writing
Person making the referral must notify parents of referral
Must have written procedures to accept referrals
Must notify parents within 15 days
Must have parent consent to conduct a special education evaluation
Overview of a Dyslexia Evaluation
A diagnosis of dyslexia puts all the pieces together so they are not floating unattached fragments. They are coherently joined together in a pattern that makes sense and leads to a road map - an effective plan of action.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia 2nd Edition (2020)
Evaluation Support Resources
Dyslexia, Specific Learning Disability, Specific Learning Disorder, or Reading Disability
People are often confused by the use of different terms to describe the same or overlapping conditions.
As mentioned above, “Specific Learning Disability” (SLD) is a category of disability in special education law. Dyslexia is listed as one type of SLD in 20 U.S.C. §1401(30), 34 CFR §300.8(c)(10), and Wis. Admin. Code § PI 11.36 (6) (a). The U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued guidance in 2015 clarifying that there is nothing in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that prevents schools from using the term “dyslexia” in special education documents. If a parent requests an evaluation for dyslexia, a school should respond, even if it doesn’t normally use that term. “Dyslexia” is not a term reserved for medical practitioners.
Parents should be aware, however, that Wisconsin’s process for identifying a student with SLD consists of looking at eight different areas of possible impairment: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading fluency, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics problem-solving. Of these, only basic reading skill and reading fluency are incorporated in the most common definitions of dyslexia. Reading comprehension is merely a possible secondary consequence, and the other areas are separate impairments. Because dyslexia is often found in the company of math, language, and written expression impairments, it would be not be prudent to unintentionally limit an evaluation to basic reading skill and reading fluency by insisting on using only the term “dyslexia.” It may be helpful to refer to “dyslexia” in an IEP document to point out the nature and brain-based origin of the reading disability and suggest certain interventions for basic reading skills and fluency. However, it will not address any co-occurring disabilities.
“Specific Learning Disorder” is a term found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used by medical practitioners to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders in the domains of reading, written expression, and mathematics. Subskills under the domain of Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in reading (315.00; F81.0) include word reading accuracy, reading rate or fluency, and reading comprehension. Subskills under the domain of Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in written expression (315.2; F81.81) include spelling accuracy, grammar, and punctuation accuracy, and clarity or organization of written expression. The DSM-5 refers to dyslexia as “an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities.”
The DSM-5 definition of dyslexia covers two of the three reading impairments, one of the three written expression impairments, and none of the mathematics impairments. Some outside evaluators (normally psychologists) will provide a diagnosis of dyslexia, while others will specify a specific learning disorder with impairments in one or more areas. If outside evaluators use “dyslexia” as a diagnosis, the DSM cautions that they must also be careful to include any other reading, written expression, or mathematics weaknesses that are not included in the DSM-5 definition of dyslexia.
A “Reading Disability” is a general term that covers disabilities in basic reading skills, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. If this term is used in an evaluation, it is important to clarify exactly which aspects of reading are deficient, and to what extent language comprehension deficits are involved.
Dyslexia Identification Versus SLD Determination (Not All Will Qualify)
A diagnosis of dyslexia does not guarantee eligibility for special education. Eligibility for special education in Wisconsin is a two-part process.
The school must document that a student has a Specific Learning Disability. This is done through a comprehensive evaluation process that, among other things, involves showing that a student, after two intensive interventions, demonstrates both inadequate achievement and insufficient progress in the area(s) of weakness, and that the inadequate achievement is not due to certain exclusionary factors.
Then, if the student is determined to have an SLD, the IEP team must determine if special education is necessary (Wisconsin DPI PI 11.35 and 11.36). An outside diagnosis of dyslexia may be helpful to the school in evaluating a student, but is not determinative of whether they have a SLD or need special education.
Dyslexia Connection: Wisconsin students with dyslexia who qualify for special education services will exhibit primary deficits in basic reading skills and reading fluency. Secondary deficits in reading comprehension may also be exhibited due to limited reading experience or due to a co-occurring language comprehension disability. After a structured literacy intervention, individuals with dyslexia may become accurate decoders and encoders, but often lack the sight recognition of familiar words that is necessary for consistent fluency and comprehension. Students with dyslexia may also have co-occurring learning disabilities in written expression (dysgraphia) and/or math calculations (dyscalculia).
Podcast & Videos About Identifying Dyslexia
Podcasts coming soon
Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties (essentials of psychological assessment). John Wiley & Sons.