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I wanted to respond to a disturbing phenomenon I’m noticing as more parents and schools are becoming aware of dyslexia, but not yet meeting kids’ needs. Parents are lost in the system, trying to figure out, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?” and “How do I get an evaluation for dyslexia?”
In several instances, I’ve seen “online dyslexia tests” that claim to be able to identify dyslexia through a brief questionnaire and (surprise!) they know exactly what your child needs!
Dyslexia, and other related conditions, cannot be diagnosed through an online quiz. There is no such thing as an “online dyslexia test” that gives a diagnosis. I feel silly writing those words but based on a product I encountered recently, it apparently needs to be said.
What is dyslexia, anyway?
The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as “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 growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
See? That’s a lot. It’s not quick to diagnose “poor spelling and decoding abilities” or “a deficit in the phonological component of language,” even for a professional who is using appropriate tools.
How NOT to diagnose dyslexia
So that’s why, when I was browsing Pinterest and I found an online dyslexia quiz, I was too curious not to take it. It was a series of maybe 20 multiple-choice questions that asked me to check one or more boxes for each item.
Without a real child in mind, I checked the boxes almost at random. If there was an option that seemed to correlate with a low probability of dyslexia, I chose that one. For some questions I chose none of these. I didn’t choose more than one symptom for any of the questions. I tried to describe a student who was as successful in reading and typically-developing as I could.
Within seconds of putting in my email address, I had a PDF report in my inbox describing my fictional child as having “severe dyslexia.”
The report was full of typos as well as downright misleading and wrong information about dyslexia. I couldn’t even finish reading it because I was so angry but the end of the report offered something that so many parents are looking for when they turn to the internet for information about their child’s learning struggles.
It offered hope. This hope, of course, comes at a price. Parents are invited to buy the program and spend just 15 minutes a day remediating their child’s dyslexia, at a cost of about $50 a month.
If you are a parent who has spent afternoons and evenings struggling over your child’s homework, miserable meetings with teachers about your child’s lack of progress, poor attitude, or declining behavior in the classroom, 15 minutes a day and a few hundred dollars seems a small price to pay if it will fix the problem, right?
I hate to be the one to be dashing those hopes but a program like that, while it might be good for a child in some general way, will not fix dyslexia.
But, like desperate people with all sorts of problems, parents turn to the internet for a quick fix and there it is. This was the first such program I had seen, although I know many providers have built successful practices for themselves based on interventions for dyslexia that have little or no research basis.
What it really takes to help a dyslexic reader
Getting help for a child with dyslexia is, unfortunately, more complicated. And takes more than 15 minutes a day. To address the symptoms of dyslexia in a systematic and effective way, first parents and teachers and providers need to come to an understanding of what dyslexia really is. Kids with reading difficulties need to be thoroughly evaluated by educational professionals like educational psychologists, speech pathologists and special educators before a diagnosis of a learning disability, including dyslexia, can be given.
After diagnosis, the recommended intervention for reading impairments including dyslexia is systematic, explicit, structured, multi-sensory teaching of reading and language.
Unlike the quick fix promised in the free pdf report, this can be a long road. If they are older when the problem is identified, children may need weekly tutoring for several years to close the gap that has grown due to years of inadequate instruction. They may need supports like audiobooks, copies of teacher notes, or spellcheck throughout their educational careers.
Remediating dyslexia is a long process and that isn’t as appealing a package to sell to parents. They have been dealing with the symptoms of this reading disability for years and once they finally have a name for it, it is frustrating to think that the journey has just begun.
I’ve listened to many parents describe their child’s process after dyslexia diagnosis and I’ve read the accounts of many more. Parents who are trying to help their children, especially at the beginning of a journey with dyslexia, are sometimes in an enormous amount of pain. They’re watching their children struggle. Many are being told by the school that the child does not qualify for an IEP or that the school does not offer the help the child needs. Some find that the school won’t “say dyslexia” at all and it feels like parents and their children are being dismissed or ignored.
Many parents are telling each other to not trust the school with any decision-making and to immediately begin the stressful, often expensive, and sometimes contentious process of getting an outside evaluator to diagnose the child and getting an educational advocate or a lawyer to fight the school to give the child what he or she needs.
That process is daunting for even a parent who is an expert in the school system, but it can be completely overwhelming for parents who feel they are out of their element. A quick fix that you can buy on the internet in the middle of the night must be extremely tempting.
And that’s why the existence of these products make me so angry.
Reputable sources of dyslexia information
Recent research has shown that even most teachers don’t have sufficient expertise to effectively support their students with dyslexia. This lack of awareness makes it hard for people to recognize a fake solution when they see one. And that can lead parents and children down a path that wastes precious time and money and doesn’t help them read and write better. A child with dyslexia needs systematic, multisensory, explicit instruction in reading, writing and spelling, such as Orton-Gillingham or related programs.A child with dyslexia needs systematic, multisensory, explicit instruction in reading, writing and spelling, such as Orton-Gillingham or related programs. Click To Tweet
So please, if you are concerned that your child has dyslexia, get some good information from an expert. Some good places to start are:
- The International Dyslexia Association (which has its own 10-question dyslexia screener, which recommends you seek professional evaluation if you select many of the items)
- Your state’s department of special education
- Professionals at your child’s school
- Organizations like Decoding Dyslexia, which has many state chapters across the U.S.
- Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities has many helpful articles and links.
- Check out my reading list of favorite books about reading development and dyslexia to learn more.
If you’re not sure if your child has dyslexia, or if you’ve been given a more general diagnosis like a “specific learning disability in reading,” structured, explicit literacy instruction at school or with a tutor can still make an enormous difference in your child’s reading and spelling. I work with many students who don’t have a diagnosis, but because Orton-Gillingham is a prescriptive, diagnostic approach, I use informal assessments and observations from my lessons to plan the next steps, based on what the student needs most.
If this sounds like the approach your child needs, contact us today for a free consultation and see if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is the right step for you.