Schools Don't Diagnose

May 22, 2020

This is a follow up to a recent blog post – “Back in the Zone (of No Zone): Back in the Zone (of No Zone).

Parents frequently talk to me about their frustration (insistence) that schools diagnose their child’s  dyslexia (or other learning disorders for that matter).

One of my favorite books in the field, “Dyslexia Advocate:  How to Advocate for a Child Within the Public School System,” by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley, comments on this.

As she notes:

“School districts do not diagnose anything.  They don’t diagnose ADHD, autism, dyslexia, nothing.   It may seem as if they do because we tend to hear the terms autism and ADHD thrown around in meetings all the time, but they cannot diagnose those qualifying conditions either.  They can only determine eligibility under specific eligibility categories.  In the case of dyslexia, they will be looking at the specific learning disability (SLD category.”

Something that is a common occurrence will be a parent bringing testing to me that was conducted by the school special education team.   Numbers will jump out at me suggesting weaknesses, “red-flags” and even indicators of “dyslexia” or related learning disorders.

Yet, to the consternation of the parents quite often they are told that the child is not eligible for an IEP and will not be getting any services.

Each state and, to my knowledge, each school district interprets the federal code differently as to what leads to eligibility.

As Dr. Sandman-Hurley states:

“To qualify for special education services, the child must meet two requirements, which is the two-pronged approach to eligibility.  First, the child must have a disability and show the need for services.  In other words, just because a student has dyslexia (or any other disability) does not mean they automatically qualify for services.  Second, it must be shown that the child needs services in order to succeed in the general education classroom.”

In New Jersey, for example, there is an emphasis on the child’s Full Scale Intelligence Quotient or “FSIQ” in determining eligibility.  A statistically significant discrepancy must be shown between the FSIQ and the overall score in academic achievement (typically reading).

Infuriating and puzzling as this may be to parents, children showing signs of “dyslexia” or reading/learning disabilities often  do not have such a discrepancy in their assessment, and therefore they will not be receiving services.

Even if the child is found to be eligible for services, rarely is the child given what is called “direct instruction with multisensory methodologies,” which research and clinical experience show to be the most effective in remediating the deficiencies.

More commonly, the child is given, “In-Class Support,” which is much harder to define than direct instruction.  In-Class Support is the equivalent of having an adult in the deep end of the pool to keep an eye on the weak swimmers to make sure they don’t drown.

This is not teaching the child to swim.

My best advice to parents in this situation is to “bite the bullet” and seek services outside of the school.  While it may not be ideal, more and more providers of these methods are starting to report offering such instruction on-line with reasonable effectiveness.

This recommendation puts you more in the driver’s seat.  You can choose to take an effective action step, rather than remain in the  passive  position of hoping that the school will step-up.

Takeaway Point

Schools don’t diagnose.  They determine eligibility for an IEP.  Even if you obtain an IEP, it does not mean your child will receive direct instruction.

Take effective action on your own.

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All comments (4)
  • Heather Fleming
    May 23, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you so much for the important work you do to empower families. This is so very well said. I so frequently tell parents that […] Read MoreThank you so much for the important work you do to empower families. This is so very well said. I so frequently tell parents that even if their child does qualify for services related to reading, the services are not likely to be services that will improve their child's skills. I recommend that they expend their energy understanding what constitutes evidence-based, data-driven instruction and intervention and making the case for better professional development opportunities for teachers. Although it is frustrating that parents have to become reading instruction experts, I am excited about the increasing number of relatively inexpensive options for early at-home screening and support. Read Less

  • Melissa Terrigno
    June 01, 2020 at 11:10 pm

    I’m so glad that I didn’t listen to everyone when they told me that it’s the school’s job to test your child. I’m so glad […] Read MoreI’m so glad that I didn’t listen to everyone when they told me that it’s the school’s job to test your child. I’m so glad that I did what I thought was the best thing and that was having my daughter tested and diagnosed outside of school. All it took was a little research and reaching out to people who have had children with dyslexia. If I would’ve waited, she would be behind and not have an IEP at the moment. I feel that I am way ahead of the game and have gotten her the help that she needs. I will make sure the school continues giving her the help that she needs. I can not thank you enough for everything that you have done and are still doing for my daughter. Read Less


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