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The many shades of dyslexia and why schools can't remediate it

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by Kimberly Downey

I could hear the desperation in this mother’s voice during our initial phone consultation as she shared her young daughter’s academic difficulties, along with her frustration with the public elementary school.

In 2018, C, a rising fifth grader, was struggling with every academic subject. Not only was the messaging from the school negative, they told the mom that staff had not only ‘run out of ideas’, but they went so far as to insinuate that ‘she was borderline intellectually disabled’. The pull-out reading instruction she received with two or three other students was completely ineffective. Not one educator suggested that her lack of information and training about dyslexia was the problem!

My student had an educational evaluation soon after and although her IQ was low, she met the criteria for Barton instruction which she began after completing Foundation in Sounds. The school psychologist said ‘nothing else is severe enough to give a definite diagnosis and she was concerned about attention’. This student has had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) since age two due to a speech delay.

Just as with Tim Odegard, Ph.D, who is featured in his recent Scientific American article about misdiagnosing dyslexia, school personnel thought C was too stupid to be dyslexic.

The tentacles of the discrepancy model are still far-reaching in American schools, even though comparing intelligence quotient (IQ) scores with reading performance to rule out dyslexia is now recognized as a flawed procedure. For children who are poor readers, IQ is not a strong predictor of intervention responses or longer-term outcomes. Moreover, the behavioral characteristics of poor readers are very similar across a wide IQ range.

Sadly though, this may still be the primary reason why thousands of students are not receiving the help they need. To make matters even worse, children from disadvantaged backgrounds have ‘fallen through the cracks’ because their parents lack the necessary resources to obtain private tutoring to remediate these challenges.

I have worked with dyslexic students with a wide range of cognitive abilities. Although higher IQ acts a protective factor against falling into the dyslexic range, it is less relevant to getting out. Effective multi-sensory instruction delivered one-on-one with fidelity works.

Parents who have concerns about their child’s reading ability need objective data as to whether it is below age-expected levels. If they can’t get that information from the school, seek it elsewhere and fast.

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Think your child might be dyslexic?

At least one in five of us in the United States is dyslexic — maybe more. And if you’re reading this, it’s most likely because you believe someone close to you could be among them. 

If they’re showing three or more of these warning signs and haven’t had a diagnosis yet, we highly recommend completing NeuroLearning’s Dyslexia Screening Test for a fast, accurate, assessment.