Month: May 2024

“Dyslexia is Not a Score”

A number of years ago, I had the good fortune to take part on a panel during a symposium on dyslexia sponsored by the grassroots parenting group, Decoding Dyslexia: NJ.  Dr. Sally Shaywitz, the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia” was the keynote speaker.  While talking about assessing dyslexia, Dr. Shaywitz said something that really struck me, as it reminded of something I had been saying for years.

As she stated, “Dyslexia is not a score.”  That statement is right on the money.

In the assessment of dyslexia, scores are certainly involved.   Tests such as the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, the Tests of Word Reading Efficiency and the Comprehensive Tests of Phonological Processing, among other standardized measures yield reliable and valid standard scores, grade equivalents and percentiles.  Such scores can be helpful markers in the diagnosis.

However, the scores often don’t tell the whole story.  Here’s one example:

Jacob, a fifth grader, is in the 60th %ile of verbal intelligence and his nonverbal score is in the 75th % percentile, meaning Jacob’s a pretty bright kid.  Jacob’s word identification standard score on the Woodcock placed him in the lower portion of the average range, with similar word attack and passage comprehensions scores.

Jacob’s scores would not have gotten the school too excited since the sores clustered in the average range.  Yet, here’s what I told the mom.

“There’s a lot of evidence in Jacob’s assessment that suggests that he is dyslexic.  Even though his scores are fundamentally average, he was observed to be very inefficient in the way that he read.  For example, while Jacob read words like “institute,” and “mechanic” correctly, he did so with a great deal of effort.  It was hard for Jacob to figure out the words.  For those who are not dyslexic, word reading is smooth and effortless.  Those words would be a piece of cake for non-dyslexic fifth graders.  They were not for Jacob.”

“Even more to the point was the way that Jacob read passages out loud.  Listening to Jacob read was almost painful.  Every time he came upon a large word that was not all that common (such as, hysterical, pedestrian, departure) he hesitated a number of seconds and either stumbled on the right word or substituted a nonsense word.  An example was substituting the word “ostrich” for “orchestra.”  The substitutions completely changed the meaning.

“Finally, the two other areas of concern involved the way that Jacob wrote, as well as his spelling.  While Jacob could memorize for a spelling test and get  good grades, his spelling and his open ended-writing were very weak.  The amount of effort that Jacob put into writing a small informal paragraph was considerable.  There also wasn’t one sentence that was complete.”

“Even though Jacob is unlikely to be classified in special education because of his scores, I think he has a learning disability that matches the definition of dyslexia as it is known clinically (see  International Dyslexia Association website:  The scores simply do not tell the story.”

Takeaway Point:

You need to look under the hood to see what’s going on with the engine.

With dyslexia, you can’t just look at the scores and make a conclusion.

“Dyslexia is not a score.”

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Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023,


“Gradations from the Middle” (#Dyslexia #ADHD #Other Stuff)

Parents commonly come in with common questions such as,  “Does their child have ADHD?” or “Is my child dyslexic?”

Difficulty  with reading and attention occur on a continuum or a spectrum from below the mid-point of average (see bell-curve picture above), to more moderate and severe.

Just because a child is struggling to a degree with reading doesn’t necessarily mean the child is “dyslexic.”  There could be a myriad of reasons why the child is delayed in reading that are not necessarily dyslexia.

The lower portion of the average range (around the 25th – 30th %ile) is what I call, “the dreaded portion of the bell-shaped curve,” meaning it is neither here nor there or clear cut whether the difficulty represents a legitimate learning disability like dyslexia or an attention disorder with questions of ADHD.

Dyslexia or ADHD are not something like COVID where you can take a test that tells you “yes” or “no” (has it – doesn’t have it). There is no one test for either of them.  (Sometimes I wish that I had the one “Dyslexia Test”.  It would certainly make my life easier.)

Adequate diagnosing i somewhat like detective work requiring a weight of the evidence in order to more confidently state the presence of a disorder.

With dyslexia and ADHD the weight of the evidence includes things like a review of the child’s history  and family factors such as whether either or both  of the parents had similar struggles in their own development.

Evidence such as this helps to tip the balance one way or the other along with other quantitative (objective) and qualitative (subjective) assessment data.

Takeaway Point

Reflect on the bell-shaped curve.  Just because a child is somewhat left of the mid-point (i.e., 50th %ile) in a given area does not mean the child has a disability or a disorder.

(Next week we will discuss how dyslexia (reading disability) is more than a score.)

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Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023,

“Double Check Your Hypotheses & Theories” (#Child Behavior)

While meeting with parents to discuss the concerns they have regarding their  children’s struggling, numerous hypotheses and  theories are often offered as to why children do what they do.

Typically, the theories are linked to medical explanations, in other words there is a medical disorder that needs correcting.

Let’s listen to some recent statements:

After starting on Concerta, George seemed to be playing better with other kids, but now no one seems to want to play with him.  Maybe we should try Adderall.”

“My daughter is refusing to do her work –  we thought the Lexipro was working.”

We don’t understand.  We adjusted the Vyvanse, but he is still aggressive with his younger sister.”

The school said Michael was very disrespectful and rude this week – maybe his Intuniv needs to be changed.  Or maybe it’s his ‘sensory’ problems again.”

“Marla’s so unmotivated.  She just wants to do nothing but go on TikTok.  It must be the medication wearing off.”

And the beat goes on.  And the beat goes on.

Things often not stated:

I know my kid is manipulating us when he avoids his homework to go play video games.”

“Maybe the school is not the problem as to why she’s acting the way she is.”

“It’s not ok to say whatever you want in the class, even if you don’t like the work.”

“No one wants to invite Zach to their house or a birthday party; he never shares with the other kids and he has alienated them.

What to do?

One step is to help kids recognize that choices made have built-in (natural) consequences.  (“If you don’t share, others will not want to play with you.  It’s that simple.”)

If we buffer kids from natural consequences, there will be no reason for them to learn from their mistakes and try a different approach.

 Takeaway Point

Double check your hypotheses and theories.

Feel free to make comment below. 

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To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email:

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023,


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