13% of K-12 students in the United States receive special education services, and of those students, 38% were enrolled in special education with a specific learning disability in 2010. Learning disabilities present themselves in varying types and severities, and can affect the way students listen, speak, read, write, spell, reason, and perform in math. Of the numerous specific learning disabilities, language-based disabilities affect an estimated 15-20% of Americans, according to the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Many of those 15-20% suffer from dyslexia.
Students with dyslexia are affected in different ways: sometimes they have trouble reading or spelling, while others have trouble developing complex language skills. Dyscalculia, a related learning disability, affects students’ math comprehension. There are varying degrees of severity among dyslexic students, but with the proper support from families, teachers, and school administrators, dyslexic students can excel in their learning and achieve great things. Fortunately, legislation is in place to ensure students with dyslexia have access to special education resources, and schools and communities collaborate with families to provide students with services that are customized to their unique needs.
Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) is the law that regulates the education of children with special needs and learning disabilities. IDEA defines special education as “specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability,” and mandates that programs, services, and resources are made available to students who need them. At the core of IDEA is “free appropriate public education,” or “FAPE,” which aims to ensure that programs are designed to be conducive to the child’s unique needs so they can succeed in their education, career, and independence as an adult.
FAPE means that schools provide modifications, accommodations, and support to students with disabilities to help them meet the academic standards of the state’s department or board of education. These services are provided at public expense, without charge to the family, and under public supervision. IDEA delineates the procedural requirements districts must follow for their special education programs, and mandates that such programs are the same quality as educational programs and non-academic/extracurricular activities for students without disabilities.
Individualized Education Plans
A fundamental provision of IDEA is the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a legal document that details all the needs of a special education student, and outlines a plan for meeting those needs. The IEP sets goals, charts performance, evaluates improvement, and outlines a plan for transitioning students from a special education classroom to a general education classroom (more than half of students with disabilities spend 80% of their time in general education classes). Every year the IEP is reviewed by an IEP team composed of the parents, general education teachers, special education teachers, and school representatives with knowledge of special education services. Depending on the severity and nature of a child’s dyslexia, dyslexic students may qualify for an IEP, and are entitled under IDEA to services and resources that meet their specific needs.
Teaching Dyslexic Students
Whether or not a particular dyslexic student needs an IEP, IDEA requires educators to accommodate whatever needs they may have. Whether it is by hiring teachers who are specially certified to work with dyslexic students, or offering professional development opportunities to train teachers on dyslexia issues, many schools do take the initiative. Teachers can become licensed as dyslexia therapists, but even for those who are not, there are basic practices that can engage and accommodate your students. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) offers tips on accommodating dyslexic students through “interactive instruction.” These tips include repeating directions and having students repeat them in their own words, utilizing step-by-step instruction, incorporating visual aids and graphic components into your lessons, and reviewing key points daily.
While school districts are held to the standards of IDEA, it is up to them to decide how to uphold those standards and ensure accessibility of special education services to dyslexic students. Generally, state departments of education establishes resources and works with the schools to disseminate those resources to students. Texas, for instance, has state-wide initiatives that help all Texas schools serve dyslexic students. The Texas Department of State Health Services offers a Dyslexia Therapist and Practitioner Licensing Program to certify educators. The 20 Regional Education Service Centers (Region 10 Service Center, for example) have Dyslexia Education Programs to provide regional assistance to educators of dyslexic students across Texas.
There are even dyslexia schools across all fifty states that either cater exclusively to dyslexic students, or have comprehensive dyslexia education programs within their general school.
The author : Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for University of Southern California Rossier School of Education’s online master’s programs. USC Rossier Online provides current and aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Masters in Education and special education certification. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.