Dyslexia: Definition, Identification, and Special Education Law

WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?

Dyslexia is 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.

Adopted by the IDA Board, November 2002 and has been used by the U.S. Federal Government’s Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). For more information, see The International Dyslexia Association at www.interdys.org.

The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) defines dyslexia as a learning disability in the area of reading.

For more information about specific learning disabilities, see LDonline at www.ldonline.org.

In many states, Decoding Dyslexia provides parent support, information, and advocacy (including advocacy to support dyslexia legislation at the state and national level) for students and adults with dyslexia and their families. Information about Decoding Dyslexia in your state can be found on the internet.

Is dyslexia covered under federal special education law? The answer is yes. Dyslexia is listed under the category of Specific Learning Disability under federal special education law. In fact, research finds that dyslexia is very prevalent and is the most common of all Specific Learning Disabilities.

Do all states follow federal special education law? The answer is yes, they must. For more information, please see Ms. Lowell’s “Ask The Expert” response to this question at the federal website, National Center on Improving Literacy, https://improvingliteracy.org/, under the parent information section.

Here is the wording of IDEIA, 2004, the most recent federal special education law with its definition of Specific Learning Disabilities which includes dyslexia:

IDEIA 2004 – (***Note:  USC refers to the United States Code, which is the federal statute)

20 USC Sec. 1401 (30) Specific learning disability

(A) In general

The term “specific learning disability” means a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

(B) Disorders included

Such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

(C) Disorders not included

Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

***A second section in the statute with some relevance is the following:

20 USC Sec. 1414 (b) (5) Special rule for eligibility determination

In making a determination of eligibility under paragraph (4)(A), a child shall not be determined to be a child with a disability if the determinant factor for such determination is–

(A) lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including in the essential components of reading instruction (as defined in section 6368(3) of this title);

(B) lack of instruction in math; or

(C) limited English proficiency.

How do schools determine when a student has dyslexia? How do schools identify or diagnose dyslexia? The federal special education law answers that question with guidelines for the school-based identification of Specific Learning Disabilities including dyslexia.

IDEIA 2004 – (***Note:  USC refers to the United States Code, which is the federal statute)

 (6) Specific learning disabilities

(A) In general

Notwithstanding section 1406(b) of this title, when determining whether a child has a specific learning disability as defined in section 1401 of this title, a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning.

(B) Additional authority

In determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as a part of the evaluation procedures described in paragraphs (2) and (3).

***The new regulations (not effective until October 13, 2006) contain the following sections:

300.8 ( c) Child with a disability. . . . Definition of disability terms. . . .

(10) Specific learning disability. (i) General. Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

(ii) Disorders not included. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

300.307 Specific learning disabilities.

(a) General. A State must adopt, consistent with §300.309, criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability as defined in §300.8(c)(10). In addition, the criteria adopted by the State–

(1) Must not require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in §300.8(c)(10);

(2) Must permit the use of a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention; and

(3) May permit the use of other alternative research-based procedures for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in §300.8(c)(10).

(b) Consistency with State criteria. A public agency must use the State criteria adopted pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section in determining whether a child has a specific learning disability.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1221e-3; 1401(30); 1414(b)(6))