A Dyslexia Diagnosis: Now What?
Is your child having a hard time sequencing directions or parts of a story? Have you noticed he is having trouble learning letter names or their sounds? Is she confusing letters that look or sound similar? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider that your child might be dyslexic.
So, what do you do now? The good news is that there is a clear roadmap for families – the first thing to do is get tested. Once you have a diagnosis, which also provides in-depth knowledge about how your child learns, what differences he may have, and an understanding of his overall level of intelligence, it will be easier for you to find the right school environment and become an advocate for your child.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to turn to virtual education, Jen Schreckengost’s family formed a learning pod. Her daughter, Gia, was in second grade, and Schreckengost was able to witness how she was learning. “I had the opportunity to see her in that setting and compare her to her peers,” she says. “I suspected dyslexia, and it prompted me to get her tested.”
They went to a psychologist who tested Gia. “We met with the psychologist to get the results, and from explaining it, I knew the path of the diagnosis we were heading down was going to be dyslexia,” she says. “It was a silver lining of the pandemic that we could get her help.”
In order to receive a diagnosis, your child must be tested. Tests for dyslexia look at different skills related to reading, such as phonological awareness, decoding, reading fluency, comprehension and naming. If the testing shows dyslexia, your child may be eligible for services or accommodations.
Dr. Leslie Stuart runs a private practice in Atlanta, where she performs psychological evaluations, which includes testing for dyslexia. “It’s a comprehensive test battery. It’s as important to rule out problems as it is to diagnose,” she says. Dyslexia often has a comorbidity with other conditions, so Stuart tests for additional learning differences, attentional issues and IQ as well.
Some insurance policies can cover testing, or you may be able to obtain out-of-network benefits. These evaluations may be tax deductible as a medical expense, or HSA and FSA accounts may be able to help pay for expenses. Research and ask questions to find the right psychologist for your family.
An effective evaluation develops a focused remedial program and provides documentation to help the child’s eligibility for special services. At a feedback session with parents, Stuart goes over the test results. “I describe laying out the road map. What do we do now – specialized tutoring, strategies for the classroom, a specialized school?” she says. “It’s a detailed written report with test results and recommendations. Testing is a way to take a deep dive into a child’s whole learning profile to lay out road map.”
Advocate for Your Child
Unfortunately, it may be difficult to find supports and services, as some parents have found. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. What has your child’s teacher noticed? Does your pediatrician have a recommendation for a psychologist?
As a teacher, Robin Daugherty was at a professional development workshop with Brenda Fitzgerald, a curriculum specialist who is currently the Executive Director for Georgia Educational Training Agency. “They don’t teach you about dyslexia in teacher training,” she says. “Brenda said, ‘I’m going to describe a child, and I want you to think of your classroom.’ As she spoke, I started crying, and she said, ‘You just thought of a student in your class.’ But I said, ‘No, you just described my son.’”
At the time, Daugherty’s son, Eli, was in the second grade. Although there was a family history of dyslexia, she didn’t realize the connection until that meeting.
Despite getting a diagnosis from a psychologist quickly, Daugherty struggled to get the public school her son was attending to accept the diagnosis. To receive services, the school psychologist had to do testing, but because he wasn’t failing, he couldn’t get services. She created an agreement with his school to check him out early two days a week to attend tutoring, so he could learn to read and write.
In kindergarten, Eli had an IEP for speech, but the plan didn’t follow him. Daugherty didn’t learn about 504 plans until one of his fourth-grade teachers mentioned them. From then on, his schooling included a 504 plan.
In order to receive support for her daughter, Brittany Wheelus had to consult a special education attorney who helped them navigate the sometimes complicated public school support services system. Wheelus’ daughter now has an IEP that includes 45 minutes every day of the Wilson Reading Program.
For other parents, Wheelus recommends knowing as much as you can about dyslexia. “Once you have a diagnosis, research all you can on what dyslexia is and how to accommodate your child’s academic needs. You will be able to be your child’s best advocate when you are well informed. Nobody will fight for them like you will. Many teachers have good intentions, but if they don’t have all the information on the best way to teach dyslexic students, they won’t be able to teach them well. Be the person that provides teachers and administrators with all the information they need and point them in the right direction, so they can find more resources to help them support all students.”
Make sure your child also knows they are not alone or weird for learning differently. “There’s a lot of tremendous resources out there,” Schreckengost says. “It’s helpful to get them the help they need sooner rather than later. Their confidence can take a hit, and sometimes, that can be harder to rebound from than education. They’re going to be okay, and they’re going to thrive.”
Myths versus Facts
Myth: Dyslexics are not intelligent.
Fact: Dyslexics are usually of average to gifted intelligence.
Myth: Dyslexia is a visual problem – dyslexics see letters backwards.
Fact: Dyslexia is a neurobiological language-based learning disability. Dyslexics have problems identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning the letters that represent those sounds.
Myth: Dyslexia can be cured.
Fact: Dyslexia is a life-long challenge, but with the proper remediation, dyslexics can have academic success.
Myth: More boys than girls have dyslexia.
Fact: According to Understood.org, dyslexia affects both genders in equal numbers.
Myth: Dyslexics just need to try harder.
Fact: Practicing more the wrong way can frustrate dyslexics. They usually need intensive, highly structured instruction.
Before the Diagnosis: Reading Red Flags
Observe your child for these red flags:
- Difficulty rhyming
- Difficulty learning and remembering letters of the alphabet
- Mispronounces familiar words
- Complains about reading being hard
- A family history of reading problems (dyslexia is hereditary)
- Avoids reading out loud
- Doesn’t associate letters with sounds