How is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

Dyslexia Testing and Evaluation to Qualify for Special Education Services

School children practice reading troubled with Dyslexia
How is Dyslexia diagnosed and what should you know before you consider testing for special education services?. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

How is dyslexia diagnosed? What tests are needed and what should you know in order to have your child qualify for special education services?

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is one of several types of reading problems. The broad term, learning disability in reading, includes Dyslexia and other specific reading problems. It is possible for a student to have symptoms of Dyslexia that are problematic but not disabling—or to have symptoms that make reading and writing virtually impossible.

Signs of Dyslexia

Signs of Dyslexia are varied and may include:

  • Seeing letters backwards
  • Seeing words and letters jumping around on the page
  • Being unable to distinguish similar letters from one another (d from b, for example)
  • Being unable to connect written letters or letter combinations with their associated sounds
  • Being able to read words but unable to make sense of the words as they are read

Dysgraphia

A related disorder, dysgraphia, involves the inability to write words, the inability to understand the relationship between spoken words and written letters, or the tendency to write letters incorrectly. People with dysgraphia may or may not also be Dyslexic. There are three types of dysgraphia: Dyslexic dysgrpaphia, motor dysgraphia, and spatial dysgraphia. With Dyslexic dysgraphia, spontaneous written text is illegible but copying text is relatively normal.

How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

Dyslexia is diagnosed using a complete evaluation that is multifaceted.

This includes:

Intelligence testing - Intelligence testing is an important test which provides an overall background of learning which can help distinguish Dyslexia from other conditions.

Educational assessment - Standardized achievement tests are another important avenue to further characterize your child's learning.

Speech and language assessments - There are several aspects of speech and language that are evaluated in the diagnosis of Dyslexia. These may include:

Important adjunct information in making the diagnosis includes:

  • Observations of the child working with language
  • Input from teachers
  • Input from parents
  • Analysis of student work
  • Developmental history, especially an evaluation of any developmental delays
  • Social history including living situation, parents, siblings, and other factors.

During the assessment process, examiners look for evidence of the disorder and also rule out other factors that could be causing the student's reading and language problems. Factors to rule out include:

  • Lack of instruction
  • Lack of attendance for any reason such as for illness or due to school phobia
  • Social and economic factors
  • Physical problems such as hearing difficulty or vision difficulty.

    How Do Children with Dyslexia Qualify for Special Needs Services? - Eligibility

    To meet federal guidelines to qualify for special education services, a student with Dyslexia must meet eligibility requirements based on guidelines set by his state's department of education. Eligibility may be determined based on one of the following methods:

    The Aptitude / Achievement Discrepancy Method

    This aptitude/achievement discrepancy method requires a student to meet all of the following criteria to determine eligibility:

    • An intelligence test score in the average range or higher (Learn about the significance of average scores in special education testing)
    • Scores on reading and/or written language tests that are significantly below their intelligence test scores
    • No other possible causes of the school failure are a factor

    The Response to Intervention Method

    Response to Intervention is a method of determining level of disability that was introduced in the 2004 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To determine if this method is being used by your state, contact your state's department of education office for special education programs. Specific steps required by method may vary from state to state, but essentially, it involves three levels of intervention and identification:

    Level I: The student is exposed to appropriate instruction in reading and writing. If she continues to experience difficulty, she goes to the next level of intervention.

    Level II: The student receives more individualized intervention. If she continues to have difficulty, she progresses to the next level of intervention.

    Level III: This level would typically begin placement in a special education program.

    The response to intervention method was designed essentially to help kids who are falling through the cracks—those who have undiagnosed learning difficulties but not severe enough to qualify for special education.

    Referring Your Child for Testing

    If you believe your child may be living with Dyslexia, the next step is getting a referral for testing. The article, "How to Refer Your Child for Testing" discusses who can do this, when, and what to include as well as avoid in a referral letter.

    Sources:

    Lyytinen, H., Erskine, J., Hamalainen, J., Torppa, M., and M. Ronimus. Dyslexia-Early Identification and Prevention: Highlights from the Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Dyslexia. Current Developmental Disorders Reports. 2015. 2(4):330-338.

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