Why to Pursue Testing
During the 20 years I've been working with students, I've spoken many times with parents who are unsure if they should pursue testing for their child. Most often, they fear the diagnosis that will label their kids with a learning disability, and the perceived trouble that will follow. I like to challenge that notion. First, I encourage those who are neurotypical to not view neurodivergence as something terrible that needs to be cured or overcome...this leads us into ableist territory. Rather, it is better to view learning disabilities as neutral, something the student will need to manage and work with, and, given the right supports and opportunities, they can manage well. This article in Educational Leadership explores this in greater detail. Having said that, I also want to point out that if a student is diagnosed with a learning disability, they do not need to be defined by it. Second, viewing a diagnosis as something awful or sad is not helpful to the student. Yes, it may happen that they experience bullying or feel different because they have ADHD, dyslexia, or a processing disorder. I understand the inclination to want to protect your child; that's a natural reaction. At the same time, it is impossible to protect students from these things, and one of the best things we can do is to find out what is happening for them and do what we can to help. With greater knowledge comes greater success. When students are tested and then receive a diagnosis, it helps them understand why they have struggled. Rather than asking them to do work that doesn't match their abilities, causing unnecessary frustration and stress, we can start from what we know and then provide them tools and supports to help them succeed. If they do not know what is causing their struggle, they will have little ability to find the right help. It makes me think about the book Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. In it, Ally, a 4th grader, constantly feels stupid because reading and writing are so hard. She sees her classmates read and write with ease and she can't understand why it is so difficult for her. She engages in all kinds of avoidance tactics so that she doesn't have to write. Finally, her teacher assesses her and suspects she has dyslexia. He provides after-school tutoring that helps her begin to feel more confident and explains to her what dyslexia is and how it affects students. Sure enough, by the end of the book, she feels much better about herself. I know that getting the school to provide testing is often an uphill battle. And private testing is not easy or inexpensive. And yet, it can mean a world of difference to a student. If you suspect your student may need testing, I encourage you to pursue it.
If you'd like to learn more about dyslexia, or tap into resources for parents of students with dyslexia, here are some excellent organizations and websites. International Dyslexia Association: Based in Maryland, this organization provides fact sheets, infographics, and other information; links to providers in your area who assess or tutor students; and webinars and conferences. Orton Gillingham Academy: links to schools and providers who offer reading instruction, links to resources, and scholarly articles about dyslexia. This is the organization through which I received my training. Understood.org: a site not only dedicated to dyslexia, but other learning differences as well. Extensive information on how to navigate school services, IEPs, assistive technology, and what rights your child has under IDEA. Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity: Excellent information, access to research, toolkits on advocacy, and robust resources.
What is Dyslexia?
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. About 13 to 14% of students have dyslexia, and it occurs on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe symptoms. Dyslexia is disability that affects language processing. Those with dyslexia can struggle to read, write, and spell and it can adversely affect students throughout schooling and into adulthood. It is not something one outgrows, but rather something one learns to manage. Parents ask me often if there are tell-tale signs that a child may have dyslexia. Here are some red flags to watch for. Not all the items on this list must be present for a diagnosis of dyslexia. 1. Difficulty at an early age processing or producing language. 2. Student has an early speech and language impairment. 3. Struggles with learning letters and the sounds they make. 4. Problems learning and memorizing number facts. 5. Trouble rhyming and manipulating sounds. 6. Visually similar words are confused. 7. Student guesses the word from the initial letter. 8. A slow reading rate, and oral reading and sounding out of words is labored. 9. The student is a poor speller. 10. Student confuses vowel sounds. 11. There is a family history of dyslexia. 12. Issues with expressing oneself in writing, and with using proper conventions. 13. Poor handwriting. Although the common understanding of dyslexia is that students with dyslexia read backward, this is not actually true. Those with dyslexia have different brains, and their deficit is with phonological processing, or manipulating our language, not with seeing the words. Dr. John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, puts it this way: dyslexia is the "consequence of a brain organization that is not optimal for reading." However, many students with dyslexia do write letters like b, d, j, g, h, p, and q backward. If your child is reversing letters, that isn't a reason to immediately worry. Check to see if other items from the list above are present as well. Often, if teachers notice a student struggling, they'll ask the school to do a screening. If students fall below benchmarks, interventions are put in place to see if the student will progress. This is known as Response to Intervention. If students do not progress after intensive instruction, the school will perform a more comprehensive assessment. If you notice your child falling behind his or her peers and struggling with items on the list, it is likely time to ask your school to have your child tested, or to pursue testing outside of the school. It is your right under the IDEA law to request such an assessment if your child is in public school. You can learn more about this . While this is the typical protocol for public schools, there is no such protocol at private schools because they are not subject to IDEA law. I have found during my 20 years of tutoring, that private schools often miss the warning signs and students do not receive the interventions they need. If you are concerned about your child's performance at school, connect with school leadership to see what they might offer. Often, parents have to connect with an independent evaluator to obtain an assessment. I have helped parents navigate this decision and I can give you advice on how to proceed and connect you with resources. You will definitely want your child to be diagnosed by a trained professional who does educational testing, and you will want to have them assessed as soon as you can. While someone may suspect a student has dyslexia based on the list above, a test by a professional is important. If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia by such a professional, they may qualify for accommodations at your school, as well as on standardized testing, which can make a big difference for your child. If you have questions about dyslexia not answered here, please feel free to reach out. This short TED Ed video is also an excellent resource, as is this page at the International Dyslexia Association. Photo John Jennings by on Unsplash
How to Research
When students with ADHD or executive function gaps are asked to "do research," it can seem like a vague and overwhelming task. Where do they start? Where do they look? How do they record what they find? How do they synthesize everything so they can use it for their project or paper? Here is a guide that can help them understand where to start and where to go. HOW TO RESEARCH 1. Start from the ending. What is the finished product you'll need? A presentation? An essay? Look at your assignment sheet to learn the parameters of the assignment. What is your teacher expecting you to produce once your assignment is finished? What questions will be answered? 2. Then you can plan backwards: think about how much time it will take to write the paper/create the presentation, how much time it will take to synthesize the information you get from your research, and how much time it will take to do the research. You can estimate. 3. Start researching. a) Keep in mind what your teacher expects you to produce and what questions they want answered. Write these questions on a Doc, piece of paper, or white board so you keep them in mind as you research. b) Look for primary sources, credible web sites, news articles from reputable news organizations, books, and magazines. Skim them to see if they will be useful in your research. c) Once you have a collection of sources, read each one, taking notes either in a Doc, on a piece of paper, or directly on the article if you've printed it out. You can highlight sections you want to quote or use in your essay or presentation. d) Take a day to step away from your research. e) Come back to your notes and annotations. Have your teacher's expectations, the assignment outline, and the questions to be answered with you. Begin to organize your notes in ways that will help you answer the questions and meet the expectations of the assignment. You may want to create a new document that synthesizes your notes and annotations into categories, either one you write by hand, or one you type into a document. 4. Now you are ready to create the first draft of your final product, whether it is an essay or a presentation. I have put this information into a graphic that you can share with your student. I can also email this image to you; just ask!
This is Why Dyslexic Students Struggle
During a recent professional development training, I came across a fantastic graphic that visually demonstrates exactly why reading is so challenging to learn, especially for students with learning differences like dyslexia. It's called the reading rope, and it was created by Hollis Scarborough, a leading researcher of early language development. You can see it here (scroll down to the end; I don't have permission to use it in this newsletter). When you look at the image, you notice that several skills are braided together into two different sections which are also woven together. The first piece is language comprehension, and the strands here are our background knowledge, vocabulary, understanding of the structure of language, verbal reasoning skills, and our understanding of literacy concepts like genres or subtopics. The second piece is word recognition. You've heard me talk about these pieces often: phonological awareness (knowing what sounds letters make, the names of letters, the concept of syllables, etc.), decoding (being able to break down words to read and pronounce them), and sight recognition of familiar words. These two pieces are then connected over time to create a skilled, fluent reader. Look at all the things happening simultaneously when we read! It's a great deal of work and it can make us quite tired if it is something challenging for us. This is why so many dyslexic students tell me they don't like to read; it's just so darn hard! And if they aren't getting explicit instruction in all of these pieces, reading will feel like an immense chore. The next time you feel defeated, frustrated, confused, or down about how your child is performing with reading, remember the reading rope. If they have the right supports in place, they will reach fluency eventually, and it will feel really good for you both. Photo by Start Digital on Unsplash