This post was first published March 1, 2016.
The testing is finished, and you have your dyslexia diagnosis in hand. Now you are ready to go to your child’s school and talk about the accommodations they have to provide, right?
I wish I could say yes, but the correct answer is, not so fast!!! Mainstream schools usually are not prepared to provide services for your dyslexic child. They may be overwhelmed with requests for special services, they may not have the resources to provide extra support, or they may be completely uneducated about what dyslexia means and have no idea what support your child will need.
Once again, you must be your child’s advocate. The first step is to educate yourself by talking with others who have been a part of this process in the past. (See The Yale Center for Dyslexia for advice on whom to partner with as you prepare for your meeting.) Seek out parents who you know have been through this before. Talk with your child’s teachers to learn what they think about your child’s learning needs, ask the psychologist who did your child’s testing for referrals to other parents or education professionals who can talk with you, and chat with your pediatrician to learn what resources he or she may have.
If your child is in a public school, familiarize yourself with the difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides protection for students with disabilities by enforcing Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A 504 Plan provides accommodations for children who are placed under a 504. An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a legal document that details your child’s learning needs and spells out the services the school will provide. Kristen Stanberry, a writer and editor specializing in education, has excellent resources for parents seeking to navigate the waters of public school accommodations.
What sort of accommodations might you wish to secure for your dyslexic child? Of course, all children are different. In my earlier blog post, “What Psychoeducational Testing Can Reveal About Your Child’s Learning Profile,” I discussed the various types of issues that often accompany dyslexia. If your child is dysgraphic (trouble with handwriting), you might ask the school to allow your child to type his/her assignments. You might also ask for copies of the teachers’ notes or the services of a note taker. Your child may have visual tracking issues, so make sure that he or she doesn’t have to copy from the board or bubble in a scantron form. You might request permission for your child to use voice-to-text recognition software and a computer for writing assignments. Request that there are no penalties for poor handwriting.
If your child has dyscalculia (trouble with math), you might ask permission for him/her to be excused from timed math tests or to be tested in another setting with no limitation on time. In later grades, your child might benefit from the use of a calculator. Many children learn best through the use of manipulatives, so ask if concepts can be retaught using a multisensory approach.
Your child may have processing issues, so an appropriate accommodation would be to have extended time on tests or abbreviated homework assignments. Spelling issues are significant for dyslexics, so common accommodations are to reduce the list of spelling words and to refrain from deducting points for spelling in other subject areas.
Finally, reading accommodations include providing books on tape, allowing students to listen to texts when taking AR tests, and providing extra time for reading tasks. Students should not be required to read aloud unless they have been permitted to pre-read the material. An alternative might be to allow the student to read aloud to the teacher, rather than before the class. To assist in comprehension, you might ask that the child be allowed to talk over reading assignments in order to provide a comprehension check.
Make sure that you understand your child’s learning needs so that you have a good understanding of which accommodations will be most useful. The list of potential accommodations is long! For these suggestions and many others, visit the following sites: Reading Rockets, University of Michigan Dyslexia Help, Dyslexia Reading Connection and Bright Solutions for Dyslexia.
Once you feel that you have a good grasp of accommodations your child may need, it is time to schedule your first meeting with the school. The Yale Center for Dyslexia has a wonderful outline for steps to follow in advance of this meeting. You can ensure your best results by investing time before the meeting to be sure that you have all the information you will need to advocate for your child.