Raising Awareness on Specific Learning Disabilities

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Last year I learned about Jade, a dynamic 8th grader who struggled to learn to read when she was in elementary school.

In recalling her challenges, Jade described trouble recognizing letters and difficulty linking them together to form sounds. She just couldn’t read. The worst feeling in the world, Jade said, was starting to believe the names her classmates called her.

For a long time Jade kept her struggle to herself, feeling alone, and like she had to find her own way to deal and cope with this challenge. Fortunately, Jade’s family and teachers stepped in to help her get special education services. These services provided her with individualized strategies to help her read — strategies that she still uses today as she advances through middle school and sets her sights on high school and beyond.

We know that Jade is not alone. Approximately 2.5 million students receiving special education services in schools have learning disabilities, making it the largest disability population in our country. And, while research demonstrates that learners with disabilities who struggle in reading or math can most certainly succeed at rigorous, grade-level coursework with high-quality instruction and appropriate services and accommodations, too many young people don’t get the support they need to succeed. Sadly, and unnecessarily, students with learning disabilities lag far behind their peers in a host of academic indicators.

Too often, children with learning and attention issues are defined by their limitations rather than their strengths. Jade’s story shows us what is possible when educators and families work together to build on the strengths of a child while identifying and addressing their challenges.


By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.


That’s why I am proud to highlight October as the month of awareness for Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.

Today, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released guidance to state and local educational agencies. This guidance clarifies that students with specific learning disabilities — such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia — have unique educational needs. It further clarifies that there is nothing in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in a student’s evaluation, determination of eligibility for special education and related services, or in developing the student’s individualized education program (IEP).

It is our hope that this guidance will help families and educators work together on behalf of children. We acknowledge that there could be situations in which the child’s parents and the team of qualified professionals responsible for determining whether the child has a specific learning disability would find it helpful to include information about the specific condition (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia) in documenting how that condition relates to the child’s eligibility determination. Additionally, there could be situations where an IEP team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia).

Specifically, this guidance:

  • Clarifies that the list of conditions in the definition of “specific learning disability,” which includes dyslexia, is not an exhaustive list of conditions which may qualify a child as a student with a learning disability;
  • Reminds States of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA;
  • Encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.

This guidance can be found by visiting the Department of Education’s webpage.

The Department is committed to ensuring students with specific learning disabilities — such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia — receive a high-quality education. The month of October is as an opportunity to raise awareness about these critical issues. But we all must remember that helping students, like Jade, to thrive happens not just today, but every day.

Michael Yudin is Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

5 Comments

  1. Since the age of 3 our child had an IEP . When we entered the public school system we were told he was fine, he would outgrow his issues. He didn’t need an IEP nor any testing. They waited until he was retained in K, and we made written request, to test.
    In 2010 they said SLD for reading. There was discrepancy between cognitive ability and academic skills. He qualified for an IEP. The goals were easy, so he meets them each year. The classroom teachers modify and over modify. There are no modifications written in the IEP for testing..They modify his tests anyway…he gets A’s and B’s without true access to the printed text, he tries to listen in class to learn. These modifications provide successful grades not successful learning.they won’t provide the A/T in the classroom so he can read/write a different way (through computer software). In 2013 the school says SLD in written expression. The whole time we say he can hardly read and he can’t read what he writes and we can’t read it either. The school says he doesn’t need technology. They would not provide what grade level he read at. We ask for an OG reading program. They said they don’t have a teacher certified in OG and it cost too much to hire one. they agree for a reading system based on OG to be taught by a teacher with no OG training. OT will not give tests of handwriting only motor skills. we go around and around. We work with our child and read to him. Help him find ideas to write about and write them for him. So schools don’t teach kids to write, and don’t seem to teach kids to read if they learn a different way. An outside 2015 evaluation shows dyslexia and dysgraphia. Still no goals so that he learns. They want to modify…its easier. they don’t have to teach, they give the answers or don’t mark off for wrong answers. Kids hardly read/write…they don’t understand… what will the future bring.

    Assessment scores given in different types of scores RIT, Stanine, percentages. Only psychologist tests every 3 years are given as Standard scores. Some tests only give a summary overall score and mask the areas of difficulty. one test gives a lexile range but no grade level reading information. One test shows an RIT score but the mean score on the test is different for every grade level. Unless you go to the test makers website, you’d never know. The school doesn’t tell you, you can’t compare scores that are based on different means, scores types.
    Smoke and mirrors.

  2. I’m a parent of a dyslexic child who is now in high school. We struggled well into the 3rd grade before finally having her tested by a professional doctor who specialized in learning disabilities and discovering she had dyslexia. Many ppl think it’s just seeing letters backwards, but it’s not. It’s a lot more complicated than that. She attended two different schools, one being an elite private school even. NOT ONE teacher ever recognized she had a learning disability. At times, we were accused of “not helping” her enough with her homework which was the complete opposite. We would study spellings words all night and in the car on the way to school and she knew them. She’d take the test and get them all wrong. I finally had to research on my own over the internet to figure how to help her. Everyone just wanted to stick her in a special ed class and treat her as though she had a low I.Q. But I knew she wasn’t slow. She knew words to hundreds of songs and had complicated recipes memorized that she had helped me with that I still had to look up. The intelligence level has there. I just couldn’t figure out how to make her pass a spelling test.

    1. Your first step is to go to the guidance counselor and request that your grandson be tested for a learning disability. They should have the information of a doctor in your area who spealizes specifically in learning disabilities. Do not take no for an answer. Insist on it because I’ve heard so many stories from other parents that they were told their child would “just grow out of it”. Not true! Don’t put off testing. If they can’t provide a name of a tester, try google.

    2. Testing is through a professional, licensed doctor who, as I said, specializes in learning disabilities. You may have to pay to for it. We had to pay for ours and I believe it was $150. But it will be good through high school and you won’t have to do it again.

    3. Testing is done over a course of two or three days, a few hours at a time. The child meets one on with the doctor who has them work through specialized problems, some on computer and some on paper.

    4. Once they have the results, they’ll schedule a meeting and go over them with you. If your grandson does have a learning disability, he’ll have several recommendations for accommodations that will need to be implemented by your grandson’s school such as giving him extra time on tests, programs on computer, individual time with a special ed teacher, speech therapy, etc.

    5. All these recommendations are called an IEP, individualized education program. Take the report to the guidance counselor and have them make a copy. Retain the original for your records. Discuss each recommendation and determine how they will comply to accomodate. If speech therapy is needed, they can arrange for a free speech therapist to come to the school and work with a child, if it’s a public school. This is a part of their job and should be helpful.

    6. The school and teachers must comply to the best of their ability with each recommendation. Sometimes it’s just not feasible because they don’t have the right tools or programs in place, but they need to discuss it with you. If they flat out refuse, then you need to contact the school board. You have no choice. The fact is not child learns the same way. Some learn by hearing or seeing. Some learn by doing it themselves. Some learn through music with rhymes. The IEP will tell you how your grandson learns best. My daughter learned all the multiplication sets through songs she was taught. They made no sense to me but she got it and that all counts.

    Just be forewarned, I’ve had to fight at times for the school comply like many parents with a child who has a learning disability. When my daughter transitioned to high school, they tried to immediately take away extra time for testing. I called a meeting with the principal and that was the end of the discussion. She no longer requires extra time, but it wasn’t their decision to make without further review and discussing it with me first. As long as you have an IEP, they need to comply. In addition, when she takes the ACT for college, her IEP applies. She’ll have extra time and can take a computerize version if she feels she needs it. I think for college she’ll have to be reevaluated by a doctor again if she wants accomadations. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

    I hope this helps. Best of luck to you.

  3. My grandson goes to Iron House School in Oakley Ca. He is in the 3rd grade and cannot read 1st grade level. The teachers have been told and do not seem to care. What can I do about this.

    • I’m a parent of a dyslexic child who is now in high school. We struggled well into the 3rd grade before finally having her tested by a professional doctor who specialized in learning disabilities and discovering she had dyslexia. Many ppl think it’s just seeing letters backwards, but it’s not. It’s a lot more complicated than that. She attended two different schools, one being an elite private school even. NOT ONE teacher ever recognized she had a learning disability. At times, we were accused of “not helping” her enough with her homework which was the complete opposite. We would study spellings words all night and in the car on the way to school and she knew them. She’d take the test and get them all wrong. I finally had to research on my own over the internet to figure how to help her. Everyone just wanted to stick her in a special ed class and treat her as though she had a low I.Q. But I knew she wasn’t slow. She knew words to hundreds of songs and had complicated recipes memorized that she had helped me with that I still had to look up. The intelligence level has there. I just couldn’t figure out how to make her pass a spelling test.

      1. Your first step is to go to the guidance counselor and request that your grandson be tested for a learning disability. They should have the information of a doctor in your area who spealizes specifically in learning disabilities. Do not take no for an answer. Insist on it because I’ve heard so many stories from other parents that they were told their child would “just grow out of it”. Not true! Don’t put off testing. If they can’t provide a name of a tester, try google.

      2. Testing is through a professional, licensed doctor who, as I said, specializes in learning disabilities. You may have to pay to for it. We had to pay for ours and I believe it was $150. But it will be good through high school and you won’t have to do it again.

      3. Testing is done over a course of two or three days, a few hours at a time. The child meets one on with the doctor who has them work through specialized problems, some on computer and some on paper.

      4. Once they have the results, they’ll schedule a meeting and go over them with you. If your grandson does have a learning disability, he’ll have several recommendations for accommodations that will need to be implemented by your grandson’s school such as giving him extra time on tests, programs on computer, individual time with a special ed teacher, speech therapy, etc.

      5. All these recommendations are called an IEP, individualized education program. Take the report to the guidance counselor and have them make a copy. Retain the original for your records. Discuss each recommendation and determine how they will comply to accomodate. If speech therapy is needed, they can arrange for a free speech therapist to come to the school and work with a child, if it’s a public school. This is a part of their job and should be helpful.

      6. The school and teachers must comply to the best of their ability with each recommendation. Sometimes it’s just not feasible because they don’t have the right tools or programs in place, but they need to discuss it with you. If they flat out refuse, then you need to contact the school board. You have no choice. The fact is not child learns the same way. Some learn by hearing or seeing. Some learn by doing it themselves. Some learn through music with rhymes. The IEP will tell you how your grandson learns best. My daughter learned all the multiplication sets through songs she was taught. They made no sense to me but she got it and that all counts.

      Just be forewarned, I’ve had to fight at times for the school comply like many parents with a child who has a learning disability. When my daughter transitioned to high school, they tried to immediately take away extra time for testing. I called a meeting with the principal and that was the end of the discussion. She no longer requires extra time, but it wasn’t their decision to make without further review and discussing it with me first. As long as you have an IEP, they need to comply. In addition, when she takes the ACT for college, her IEP applies. She’ll have extra time and can take a computerize version if she feels she needs it. I think for college she’ll have to be reevaluated by a doctor again if she wants accomadations. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

      I hope this helps. Best of luck to you and your grandson.

  4. I want yo see if there’s more for me to help my grandchild he is struggling alot and is frustrating that school don’t do much.

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