Should I Subject My Student/Child To Dyslexia Screening?

There’s a lot of mythology out there surrounding dyslexia. It’s hard to know what to believe. Some parents and teachers wonder whether they should subject their children and students to the discomfort of testing for a learning disability, when there’s so much conflicting information. And the peer pressure! UGH! There’s TONS of peer pressure among parents and teachers in relation to testing for learning disability. 

Here’s a smattering of what parents and mentors hear regarding testing for learning disability: 

“Parents who don’t have their children tested for learning disabilities are ignorant jerks. And ought to be thrown in jail for neglect!” 

“Teachers who encourage parents to have their children tested for LD are lazy and incompetent, and aren’t doing their job right. They just want to take our tax money, and blame their problems on the kids!”

“Doctors and scientists over diagnose learning disability to shut the parents and teachers up, and money grub from the drug manufacturers!”

“Kids fake a reading problem, because they’re just entitled and spoiled, and don’t want to do the work. They know their parents will take their side against the teacher and give them a crutch.”

“This entire argument is stupid, for, as everyone knows, homeschooling is the best option, and if you make your child learn to read before age 7, you’re just setting him up for failure.”

“China doesn’t seem to have this problem. We ought to require more hours of schooling, and increase discipline. We don’t have a reading problem! It’s a respect proble. In my day, you never heard about dyslexia, because we respected our teachers.”

Confused yet? Like all myths, each of these has a grain of truth. To navigate the minefield of public opinion, you may need a Marauder in order to get through in one piece. 

I see it this way: there are two reasons to get formal clinical testing and a diagnosis for dyslexia.

No. 1 You know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your child is brilliant yet struggles to learn to read AND you need or want something from the government or a government-like agency.

No. 2 You know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your child is brilliant yet struggles to learn to read AND you need emotional closure.

Reason no. 1 accommodation: 

If you do want something special from the government or another strict organization, testing and diagnosis for your struggling reader with dyslexia are essential. Without formal diagnosis, the government and any agency or organization subject to government rules and regulations, is under no legal obligation to accommodate you or your student.

Where this may become an issue, even if you’re homeschooling, is if you want your child with a reading disability to take the SAT untimed. Another example would be if your child with a reading disability enters college, and wants permission to record a Professor’s lecture. Some of what they say is protected by copyright, and recording a lecture could be seen as unauthorized distribution, unless the student has permission from the university, on the basis of his learning disability, to record the lecture. Yet another example would be if you want your child to be able to have the driver education test read to him, so he can get his driver’s license. 

Reason no. 2 emotional closure:

Because dyslexia only affects 10% of us, it’s not exactly national headline news, (unless Charles Schwab or Sir Richard Branson are involved). So, the first time you or your student may hear of it is when your student presents with the symptoms of dyslexia. These symptoms, which you can read all about in this post, or excellent websites like ldonline.org, can be mistaken by the unobservant for stupidity, laziness, or disrespect. Can you imagine how your student must feel if these three words are allowed to pervade his self talk day in and day out? 

The diagnosis, for this student, while not a silver bullet or panacea, can be a liberating and empowering experience. From the diagnosis he can know, definitively, that he’s not stupid, lazy, or disrespectful, he just has a learning difference. He can point to it in his brain. More important than that, though, is that the diagnosis can be shown to others who will have to quickly change their tune if they’ve been applying the labels of stupid, lazy, or disrespectful. He’ll have proof that he’s smart, but learns in a different way. 

The diagnosis also lends accountability. If knowledge is power, then, in the hands of the student with dyslexia, the knowledge of his diagnosis makes him accountable for it. He’ll never be able to hide behind the labels of lazy, stupid, or disrespectful. He’ll know that he’s smart, and feel empowered to reach his goals, no matter what. 

So, what’s the bottom line:

Millions of dyslexics go undiagnosed, and they do fine. BUT! Things could be so much better. In a literate society, a person with dyslexia isn’t getting a fair shake. Unless you feel confident your student or child is remediated well enough to get through at least some of the barriers this literate society may present to her goals and aspirations, testing and diagnosis are a must-have. I’ve seen brilliant people barred from doing what they love, and are extremely talented at, because they couldn’t pass what was, to the rest of us, a trivial state-required exam. The simple accommodation of having the test read aloud to her could have solved that problem. 

In short, I’m proud to be, an American, because we believe in the following:

-An effort to be inclusive

-Encouraging equal treatment under the law

-A deep love and affection for children

-An effort to break up artificial and hurtful stratifications in our society

But we’re not perfect. Our special education philosophies and ideas have problems, and change is often slow in coming. As we continue working for change, the ultimate power rests with parents. Go with your gut when you’re thinking about whether to pursue testing. We teachers of struggling readers really admire you parents of struggling readers. There’s a lot of pressure to get kids reading, and we honor & respect your choice. Either way you go, were in this together and glad about it!

For more on dyslexia and how to make it work for your brilliant kid, read my other posts and follow my blog.

For resources on testing, check out these websites. 

ldonline.org

eida.org

understood.org

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Why Crosswords May Be the Most Useless Comprehension/Vocabulary Building Activity You’re Giving Your Students (And What To Give Them Instead)

So, you all know I tutor kids with dyslexia and other print disabilities. 

Now, I want to share an experience I had the other day using the app One Minute Reader by Read Naturally, Inc. (an app that I absolutely LOVE, by the way. More on that later). 

My student and I got through the Read For One Minute and the Read Along sections beautifully, and then moved to the comprehension-checking activities at the end. One of the activities is a crossword puzzle using words from the story. The idea is the student reads the clue, or definition, then chooses the answer, or matching vocab word, from the word bank and fills in the corresponding blanks in the crossword. 

Sound familiar? That’s because almost every teacher uses crosswords for this very purpose (or just to keep kids busy while you do other stuff, like prep a lesson, or run to make some copies). I’ve subbed in hundreds of classrooms, and seen the vocabulary crossword many times.

This is all well and good for your typical reader. For the 10-20% of kids with a print disability, though, a crossword is pretty pointless. Here’s why.

As soon as we got to that section, my student, who is in fifth grade and has seen a few a lot of crosswords in his school career, immediately used the most effective strategy he knows: he counted the boxes in a an ‘across’ or ‘down’ space, and then counted the letters in the words from the word bank until he found one that had the same number of letters. He can easily get 100% of the words right using this strategy without actually decoding, or reading, a single word or knowing what it means. 

In other words, our well-meaning effort to provide exposure to vocabulary words and check comprehension has failed pathetically, at least for our kids with print disabilities. Some students with dyslexia may not even be able to decode effectively enough to read the clue, let alone the unknown vocabulary word.

The use of this counting strategy is further incentivized if your classroom culture is one of competition and hierarchy. Because your dyslexic students can finish in about the same amount of time and with the same accuracy as their typical-reading peers, and this seems to be your desired outcome, there’s no reason for them to seek any other strategy.

Until…

There are several words of the same length. 

At this point, the breakdown in decoding strategy becomes apparent, and our kids with dyslexia begin to hate crosswords. They might even feel resentful without knowing why. They may not even have enough letter recognition to use the strategy of “This one ends in s and there’s already an s on the crossword, so I’ll put it there.”

It’s our fault. Because we’ve failed to teach them effective decoding strategies, they’re a little pissed that we keep handing them ‘fun’ worksheets that highlight their weakness. I don’t blame them. I’d be annoyed, too.

So, if you think, because you’ve added a word bank and definition clues, that you’re teaching or reinforcing vocabulary and checking comprehension, you are losing 2 out of 10 of your kids. You’re wasting their time, and time is something dyslexic kids can never get enough of.

But don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all been there with too much to do and a classroom full of wiggly bodies that need something to direct their attention. In those situations, it can be comforting to have a drawer full of emergency worksheets. 

So, what can you do instead?

Great question! There’s a simple solution that serves both your typical and non-typical reading kids.

Stick to free response activities that ask the student to read a passage silently and then respond in their own words to questions about the passage and its vocabulary. Most dyslexic kids have big understood vocabularies, even if they don’t have big spoken or written vocabularies, as outlined in this post. Most of them are also excellent at gleaning meaning from context, even if they can’t decode some of the words.

And, if you have keyboarding capability in your classroom and spell-check or autocorrect, more power to you. Extra points if you can somehow use speech-to-text.

Using free response assessments of comprehension and vocabulary, combined with the power of keyboarding or speech-to-text WILL more accurately achieve your goal of giving exposure to new vocabulary and checking comprehension. 

All the dyslexic kids I know have GREAT ideas and love to write, so long as they’re not being criticized for their spelling and handwriting.

And let’s be real. If what you want to assess is how well they’re comprehending and gaining new vocabulary, you don’t need handwriting and spelling (save those for when you actually want to target them). Move your kids with dyslexia to keyboarding and speech-to-text asap so that the island of weakness that is their spelling and handwriting ability doesn’t impede the sea of strength that is their creativity and problem solving. 

For more on dyslexia, and how to support your students who have it, read my other posts and consider following this blog: homeschoolingwithdyslexia.com (the mother lode of all dyslexia teaching strategies).

Follow my blog, or find me on Facebook to stay up-to-the-minute on all the cool stuff happening @thetransienttutor

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