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Top 5 Steps for Teachers if They Suspect Dyslexia

Even with the wave of SOR at the Tier I level, we still have students who won’t be making effective progress, leading teachers and parents to ask questions about how to help all students meet their potential. As the school year winds down, you may be seeing more questions arise from parents and teachers regarding possible dyslexia and what this means for a pathway to diagnosis or proper instruction.

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as: 

“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 the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

We will use this definition to anchor our discussion of dyslexia as we look at what you can do as a teacher if you suspect a student might have dyslexia. 

Here are the Top 5 Steps You Can Take if You Suspect Dyslexia:

1. Start with screening

Screening is a brief measure of reading administered to all students to make a relatively lower stakes decision—to decide who receives a temporary supplemental reading intervention. Screening serves, sort of, as a safety net. It is designed to help us identify and decide on which students need additional support outside of the typical classroom instruction. 

If you have a student receiving tier II interventions or interventions with a specialist, look at the progress they've been making to inform the next steps for that student.  

2. Ask questions that will inform and look at the whole child 

Take a look at things like family history, observations, early childhood milestones, and student literacy profiles. 

Dyslexia often runs in the family, so family history is important to know. Certain early childhood oral language development milestones are also important to take a look at. As a teacher, you also want to look at a student’s literacy profile and make observations about their vocabulary, listening comprehension, reading fluency, and more. Keep in mind to always look at the whole child. 

3. Don’t wait to provide interventions in the interim and closely monitor progress

You do not ever want to wait to provide interventions! Look at the screeners and start providing interventions in the classroom right away. 

Speak to support staff, the child study team, and interventionists. Then, determine, based on assessments and screening, the child’s needs, progress monitoring, and intensity. Take careful notes and collect as much data as possible. 

4. Recognize the red flags and warning signs

All teachers should head to the IDA handbook and print out the characteristics of dyslexia! If you read through and notice many characteristics that fit your student, then the classroom-based assessments will be useful. 

However, the pathway to a full evaluation will reveal many more features or characteristics to determine dyslexia. This determination is a multifaceted process that under the IDEA requires a comprehensive assessment and evaluation.

5. Know the pathway to testing

Start by gathering evidence for the child study team and sharing your concerns with parents. Note that the reading/dyslexia screening process is different from the SLD or dyslexia identification process. 

  • SLD identification (dyslexia or DLD identification): This process legally requires a full psychoeducational evaluation in which a student is evaluated, with multiple measures,  in every area of suspected disability, conducted by a multidisciplinary team at the school  (IDEIA,  2004). 
  • A diagnosis of dyslexia begins with the gathering of information gained from interviews, observations, and testing. This information is collected by various members of a team that includes the classroom teacher(s), speech/language pathologist, educational assessment specialist(s), and medical personnel (if co-occurring difficulties related to development, health, or attention are suspected).

The task of relating and interpreting the information collected should be the responsibility of a professional who is thoroughly familiar with the important characteristics of dyslexia at different stages in the development of literacy skills. This professional should also know the influence of language development and behavior on literacy learning. Often, school psychologists and/or speech-language pathologists are responsible for this task.

For our full conversation about what to do if you suspect dyslexia, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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