Podcast Season 2, Episode 39: Diagnosing Dyslexia

“Specific Learning Disability” versus “Dyslexia”

I’ve heard so many parents question the school’s report of a “Specific Learning Disability” and ask how they can get their child diagnosed with dyslexia.  In some states, a school can actually give a diagnosis, but this is outside of the scope of schools in many states.  


A diagnosis is a medical function, while determining eligibility for an IEP or 504 is a school function.


Assessing for an IEP or 504

A school assessment is done to determine if your child qualifies for an IEP or a 504.  A 504 evaluation is often more simplified and has less regulations than an IEP. 


When you are writing a request for assessment from a school district, you are writing a request that the school determine if your child is eligible for either a 504 or an IEP.  The schools are required to provide all children with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  FAPE is not the same for all children.  It is not appropriate to have a wheel-chair bound child run laps around the field.  It is not appropriate for a child with a significant reading impairment to be required to read a text far above their ability level simply because it is a grade-level text.  Determining what specific accommodations, modifications, and services a child needs is an important step in ensuring FAPE is being offered.


Schools in most states are not able to officially diagnose, but will perform a lot of the same assessments as a private evaluator who is able to diagnose.  Asking the evaluator if your child has dyslexia will often give you the unofficial diagnosis.  Alternatively, you can seek out an education specialist or a similar professional to help you make sense of the school’s testing.


Do I need a diagnosis?

You do not need a diagnosis to receive special education services on an IEP or to develop a 504 plan for your child.  However, some people feel more comfortable having that official label.


Keep in mind that dyslexia can be defined in different ways and in the broadest sense, any child with a reading impairment caused by a processing disorder/Specific Learning Disability can be considered to have dyslexia.  So if your child understands the stories read to them, has had reasonable reading instruction, and is not learning how to read, your child can be considered dyslexic.


Some people define dyslexia far more specifically, but because it is sometimes defined broadly, it is not always helpful to have the label.  It doesn’t tell us WHY your child is struggling, other than telling us that there is some kind of brain structure impacting their learning.


“Specific Learning Disability sounds vague”

Yes!  Specific Learning Disability is a qualifying disability for an IEP under IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  There are a wide range of processing disorders that can be identified with SLD including: Cognitive, Auditory, Phonological, Visual, Visual-Motor, Sensory Motor, Language, Attention. (Although Language Processing disorder is often considered part of a Speech and Language Impairment rather than SLD.)  Each of those processing disorders gives the teachers and professionals working with your child a clue as to how your child’s brain operates a bit differently and how your child is likely to learn best.


So, while “Specific Learning Disability in Reading” is vague, it has as much meaning as “dyslexia” and with an identified processing disorder, is actually more specific.


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Decoding Learning Differences