The United States Department of Education has taken a positive step toward recognition of dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. Many parents of students with dyslexia or with specific learning disabilities in math and writing know the difficulty of obtaining individualized services for their children– particularly if the children have average or above-average cognitive abilities. Some districts have even refused to acknowledge dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia as requiring very specific interventions.
The United States Department of Education has now stated that school districts may recognize dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia in writing and IEP and develop specific interventions. Specifically, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) on October 23, 2015, issued a statement to clarify that the IDEA “does not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.” OSERS wrote this letter in response to a statement and question by the Council for Parent Attorneys and Advocates, asking for guidance requiring districts to recognize these complex disabilities.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in its definition of specific learning disability, notes that the term may include dyslexia. But still, most districts focus more broadly on a child’s reading disability and not on the specific disability of dyslexia. The same applies for dysgraphia and dyscalculia. A school district’s failure to recognize a child’s diagnosis and very specific learning needs can cause academic regression and can also lead to school anxiety and avoidance. Many parents have voiced frustration at school districts that refused to acknowledge these terms.
Viewing this as a positive development, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates issued the following statement:
Today is a victory for children with specific learning disabilities and their families! COPAA knows firsthand how families have been subjected to intimidating and discriminatory treatment as they have sought to include the proper terms of a child’s condition as part of a special education evaluation, eligibility determination, or within a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). We now have a valuable tool to assure these unlawful practices stop… The guidance from Assistant Secretary Yudin is unequivocal. It tells states they must never prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia and specifically says that such terms are meant to be used to help implement a truly individualized IEP and the specific accommodations, modifications or supports that a child may need to succeed in school.
We applaud the significant step. Yet the US Department of Education Statement is insufficient. Merely recognizing that nothing in the IDEA precludes the use of dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia does not go far enough to ensure that students receive appropriate instruction. The IDEA requires scientifically based instruction and the law should require districts to train staff and develop individually tailored interventions for these specific disabilities.
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