Updated: Nov 18, 2019
What is Dyslexia? That is a good question. And, it would not surprise me if you find many different answers. Many educators seem afraid to even use the term "dyslexia."
"Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge." Adopted by the International Dyslexia Association Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002.
Now, let me start with I am not an expert on dyslexia disorder. And, I do not want to get bogged down into trying to define what is dyslexia as I have found there are many varying definitions depending upon who you speak. All you need to do is to search Google and you will find a host of information on dyslexia. Some of the information even contradicts other information. In fact, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) led the Definition Consensus Project whereby a group of experts in the field met to come to consensus as to what the term means. If you are interested in how their work was performed you can visit this link.
For the purpose of this article, it really does not matter how you have come to know or believe your child has dyslexia. You may simply suspect it. Perhaps someone on Facebook told you. Or, you may have even received an official diagnosis from a psychologist who performed an evaluation on your child. I want to now set some parameters for this article. The subject matter of this article is premised upon obtaining exceptional student education (ESE) in Florida public schools. If your child is already deemed eligible for ESE then you do not need to qualify for another eligibility program (specific learning disability) in order to have your child's individual education plan (IEP) address your child's reading deficits. Every IEP must be written so as to be reasonably calculated to provide a child with a basic floor opportunity for educational benefit. It is highly unlikely that an IEP that does not address a child's reading deficits is so reasonably calculated. For the sake of staying on topic, I will not address in this article what makes an appropriate IEP. This article is limited for the purpose of determining how to get an IEP for a student with dyslexia.
Is your child meeting the grade level standards for reading, writing and math based upon the Florida Standards? That is the starting place. Believe it or not, I once had a parent call me and ask why the school district would not help her child who was scoring the highest level on Florida's assessments in reading.. Her child had been diagnosed as having dyslexia by a licensed psychologist; yet, the child was meeting grade level standards for reading, writing and math.
How could that be that a psychologist would diagnose a child as having dyslexia and the child at the same time would not qualify for eligibility for ESE under the program of specific learning disability? The answer is simple. The criteria for the medical diagnosis of specific learning disability is different than the eligibility criteria for the ESE program of specific learning disability. The evaluation process is different, as well. Therefore, it is important to start with understanding that in order to qualify under the ESE program of SLD the child needs to meet the eligibility criteria for that ESE program. I would further advise you not to go spend a lot of time or money obtaining private evaluations for the purposes of evaluating a student for eligibility for the ESE program of SLD. I will share my specific reasons in Part 2 of this series which will discuss what evaluations need to be performed. Side bar: There are fifteen (15) ESE programs in Florida of which SLD is one. A child who does not qualify under the program of SLD may very well qualify under a different program; however, this article is limited to discussing how to qualify the child for the ESE program of SLD. That said, often times a strategy that I use is to see if the child may qualify under another program because once the child is eligible for ESE services under any program the school district must write an appropriate IEP. That said, let's proceed with the premise that a student is provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student's chronological age or grade level standards; yet, the student does not achieve adequately for the student's chronological age or does not meet the grade level Florida standards in any of the following: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, or, mathematics problem solving. That student very well have a specific learning disability that would qualify the student for the ESE program of SLD. (In Part 2 of this series I will discuss circumstances that may rule out eligibility.)
The first step to getting your child determined to be eligible for the ESE program of SLD is to request the school district perform an evaluation. Many people advocate that you write a long-winded and comprehensive letter to the school. I do not. You should put your request in writing like an email to the principal. But, your written request does not need to be elaborate. It can be (and I strongly recommend that it be) a very simple one sentence request. One of the reasons I do not advise you to write a comprehensive letter is that I do not want school officials to be able to place blame on you if they neglect to perform a comprehensive evaluation. As I stated previously, there are 15 different ESE programs. Do not limit yourself to only to the program of SLD. Do not try to tell the school district exactly what evaluations it needs and does not need to perform. I have seen this backfire on parents.
At the writing of this article, I have had 10 years experience as an IEP advocate, have attended 1200 school-based meetings and have filed more than 350 due process hearing complaints. I know what evaluations the school district needs to perform; however, I rarely allow the school district to make me to final word on limiting the evaluation. Often times, I will suggest evaluations and then add, "And, of course, perform any evaluations you think are necessary to determine the student's eligibility and to determine the student's educational needs." I do not want school officials pointing fingers at me blaming me for their negligence. Neither do you want them doing that to you. So, simply ask them to evaluate your child to determine if your child is eligible for special education and related services. Here is an example of an email I would send to your child's school principal:
Dear Principal, Please evaluate my child, (insert name), to determine if my child is eligible for special education and related services. Signed, (Your name) (Your contact number)
Sending this written request starts a series of timelines upon which the school district must act. Deadline #1: 30 Day Time. Once you give this written notice, the school board must within 30 calendar days either obtain written consent from you to perform the evaluation or provide you with written notice explaining its refusal to evaluate.
Rule 6A-6.0331(3)(c), Florida Administrative Code states, in pertinent part, "...if a parent requests that the school conduct an evaluation to determine whether their child is a child with a disability in need of special education and related services, the school district must within thirty (30) days, unless the parent and the school agree otherwise in writing: 1. Obtain consent for the evaluation; or 2. Provide the parent with written notice in accordance with [the rule], explaining its refusal to conduct the evaluation."
It is important that you notice several features of the rule I provided above. First, I would put your request to evaluate in writing in an email so that there is no misunderstanding what it is you requested and when you made the request. The second important thing to note is that the 30 day timeline to obtain consent or provide you with written notice explaining its refusal to conduct the evaluation can be extended by you. I do not recommend that you extend this timeline. Often times, school officials will attempt to get your consent to extend the timeline. Do not do it. They have plenty of time to evaluate your child accurately to determine your child's eligibility. Usually what happens is school officials will convene a meeting with you to discuss your request to evaluate. (It is important to note that the rule does not actually require school officials to convene a meeting. They could simply ask for your consent to evaluate by producing a form for you to sign. Or, they can also issue you a written refusal without meeting,) I am not going to spend time in this article discussing what to do if school officials issue you with written notice explaining its refusal to conduct an evaluation. I may discuss this in a future article. When I do I will create a link to that article. That said, in this article I have given you your first step to getting your child an IEP for dyslexia. Your first step is to make a written request to the school district to evaluate your child for eligibility for special education and related services.
In Part 2, I will discuss the evaluation process and its timeline. I will also discuss the eligibility criteria for the ESE program of SLD. For now, go write your email to the principal to get the ball rolling. Disclaimer: This article is written based upon Florida's current rules promulgated to implement the federal law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). You should be aware that other states have rules that may slightly differ from Florida's rules. Further, from time to time, Florida's rules are amended. Florida's rules regarding evaluation timelines were last written with an effective date of December 23, 2014. Florida's rules regarding the ESE program of SLD were last written with an effective date of January 7, 2016. This article was written on November 16, 2019. The purpose of this article is to give general advice related to eligibility and the evaluation process for eligibility for the ESE program of SLD. It should not be used to as legal advice about an individual's unique circumstances.