I regularly get referral questions from parents anxious to know whether their child has a learning disability or or is “dyslexic.”

Often the story goes that the child has shown signs of struggling since the early grades and even though the special education team has not felt it warranted to evaluate the child, the struggling has persisted.  Or, in some cases the child has been evaluated, but has found not to be “eligible” for receiving any services.

Recently, I have had a run of kids that are in the early to middle elementary grades.  Upon evaluating them, it becomes quickly evident that they don’t read, spell or write all that well, but their scores fall in that zone of the bell-shaped curve where little will be done for them – the dreaded lower portion of the “average range,” (or what I refer to as the “zone of no zone”).

When you land in this region of the curve, that places you roughly between the 15th  to the 25th percentile.  In other words if you are running a race thenn about 80% of the others running in the race are beating you – not very comforting.

Yet, when you are a child whose reading skills are around the 20th % ile quite often you will not be given services or special remediation.  Upon hearing that their 15th – 25th %ile child is “ineligible” for special services, most parents are dumbfounded.  “What do you mean he’s ineligible for extra help,” they exclaim, “He can’t read at all?”

Holding to a standard that maintains there must be a statistically significant discrepancy between the child’s overall IQ and his/her score in reading, this standard leaves many kids (excuse my French), “S out of luck.”

Let’s say you’re typical of so many of the struggling kids that I’ve seen.  Typically, they are shown to be reasonably high in one major domain of cognitive functioning (say, spatial reasoning), but much weaker in verbal thinking and active working memory.

Put all of that together and the IQ score (the FSIQ) may shake out between a standard score of 85 – 92 or so, which places you in about the 15th – 20th % ile of intelligence.  Yet, this child has demonstrated solidly average or above average functioning in a major domain of intelligence.  In other words he/she is not what would have been considered in the old days a “slow child.”

Here’s what the Learning Disabilities Association (www.lda.org) has to say on the topic:

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”: the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

The basic fact is that there are legions of children, approximately 30% of any given school population who are struggling, who lack fundamental literacy skills,, who maintain “hidden disabilities” yet they are not given any legitimate support or intervention.

Like the parents, I am dumbfounded.

It’s beyond my understanding how children who can’t read,  spell or write are left to fend for themselves.


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