By Beth Gross

Gross is the mother of two gifted, dyslexic children. She holds elementary education and M.Ed. degrees and leads Decoding Dyslexia in Roanoke.

Everyone, especially parents of school-aged children, should know about dyslexia, a surprisingly common “Specific Learning Disability.” With symptoms ranging from mild to severe, dyslexia impacts between 5-17%, of individuals.

True to stereotype, dyslexics can reverse letters, like “b” and “d.” However, dyslexia is more complex than simply reading “backwards.” Dyslexia, a phonological processing disorder, is not a vision problem. Dyslexia is neurobiological in origin, based physically in the brain. Dyslexia is not caused by poverty or a lack of intelligence.

Reading accurately with appropriate fluency, learning non-phonetically spelled words, like “was,” and even memorizing facts and retrieving specific words remain challenging for dyslexic students, despite having adequate intelligence and effective classroom instruction. Dyslexics often seem smart and capable, which often makes the disability “unexpected.”

Dyslexics may otherwise exhibit remarkable strengths, including oral expression and comprehension (Whoopi Goldberg), leadership (Steve Jobs), art (Pablo Picasso), entertainment (Tom Cruise), science and math (Albert Einstein). Even academically “gifted” students may have dyslexia, although identifying these “Twice Exceptional” students can be challenging for school districts and parents.

Failing to identify dyslexic students has disastrous, long-term consequences, as suggested by a study (Moody et al.), which found that 80% of prison inmates at a Texas state prison were functionally illiterate and 48% were dyslexic.

In Virginia, 22% of all students did not pass last year’s Reading SOL and 24% did not pass the Writing SOL. Could it be that these sobering statistics are due to a lack of appropriate identification and intervention for dyslexic students?

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “1 in 5 children in the U.S. have learning and attention issues, but only a small subset are formally identified with a disability in school.” These national observations are mirrored locally, as only 4% of Roanoke County’s students (Weldon-Cooper population estimate), were identified in the 2017 Child Count as having a Specific Learning Disability.

Evidence-based interventions in our area are known to improve the educational outcomes of dyslexic students.

In Roanoke, the Cross Walk program at North Cross School delivers reading interventions using the gold standard, Orton-Gillingham approach.

In Roanoke County Schools, students may learn in programs based on Orton-Gillingham methodologies, like the Barton and Sonday systems.

In Botetourt County, all K-8 reading teachers already have Level One training in Orton-Gillingham.

Parents may think a dyslexic child is just a “slow reader,” “bad speller,” or even a “late bloomer,” but they aren’t alone in their confusion. Dyslexia may also be mislabeled as anxiety, emotional immaturity, low confidence, or poor behavior. Additional confusion and a false sense of security may arise from mainstream reading assessments, including PALS, which are not intended to identify dyslexia or designate that a student is “on grade level.”

For parents concerned about a child’s reading, writing or spelling, especially if the child is already receiving extra help, it may be time to evaluate for dyslexia. Under Child Find of the IDEA, parents may request an evaluation for dyslexia at any time, which can include the CTOPP-2, the GORT, and the TOWRE, per guidance from the VDOE. These evaluations, as well as an Independent Educational Evaluation, or a “second opinion” following the school’s evaluation, are provided at no cost to parents by public schools.

Parents are often the first to spot a reading problem. Dyslexia isn’t something that a child will outgrow, and no amount of “just reading more at home” will correct the problem. Rather, dyslexic students benefit from early identification in 1st and 2nd grades in order to receive evidence-based, explicitly taught, systematic phonics instruction delivered using specialized Orton-Gillingham methodologies.

Dyslexic students may be eligible to receive special education services, such as Orton-Gillingham, and accommodations, like audio books. Even hard working, compensating students who earn A’s may still be “substantially limited” by dyslexia for the purposes of 504 plan eligibility. Likewise, dyslexic student may qualify for an IEP plan because of an “educational impact,” even though a student may be “advancing from grade to grade.”

Decoding Dyslexia welcomes all families, educators and community members to a networking, question/answer forum on October 22nd at 6:30 (4608 Brambleton Avenue). Visit DDVA-Roanoke on Facebook or email ddvaroanoke@gmail.com for more information.

Resources cited include: International Dyslexia Association, Virginia Department of Education, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, National Council for Learning Disabilities, Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Medicine, and the University of Michigan (Dyslexia Help).

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