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By Sharon Summers, Ed.D.

Watching a child struggle to learn how to read can be frustrating for parents. How is it possible, then, for a school to test a child - acknowledge that the child is not reading at grade level - and then say that no learning disability is present?

Before dyslexia, or any learning disability, can be diagnosed, a number of criteria must be ruled out. Under the Individuals with Disablities Act (IDEA), the exclusion list includes:

  1. Has the child received appropriate instruction in reading?
    Appropriate instruction means that a curriculum has been consistently used to teach a student on a regular basis. A child who has been chronically truant or missed an excessive number of days from a traditional school cannot, generally speaking, have received appropriate instruction. Homeschoolers who choose a more natural approach to learning that does not include textbooks or an established curriculum would most likely not be considered to not have received appropriate instruction. Children who have not been adequately taught will certainly have achievement delays, but they do not necessarily have a learning disability.
  2. Does the child have a vision, hearing, or motor disability?
    Visual, auditory, and motor impairments can certainly affect a child's ability to learn and achieve their full potential. However, a reading delay in a visually impaired student is usually caused by a problem with the chld's vision system, not their cognitive functioning. Reading delays associated with vision, hearing, and/or motor disabilities can still qualify for accommodations through an Individualized Education Plan, but they will not necessarily by classified as a learning disability.
  3. Does the child come from a home with environmental or economic disadvantages?
    Growing up poor does not mean that a child will fail in school. However, some children living in low socio-economic households face certain hardships that make learning more difficult. Lack of consistent health and dental care; poor nutrition; absence of routine, structure, and/or bedtimes; and a non-enriched home environment place roadblocks in child's learning journey. While children from such disadvantaged backgrounds can qualify for certain services, their underachievement is not necessarily because of a learning disability.
  4. Is English the student's 2nd language or are there other cultural factors affecting the student's ability to fully achieve?
    Students learning a second language may have a learning disability, but it is not possible to make that determination based only on their reading achievement in their new language. Testing a second language learner should be done in the child's native language.
  5. Does the student qualify as Mentally Retarded?
    Students with IQ scores that fall below 70 will be designated as mild, moderately, or profoundly retarded rather than possessing a learning disability.

Dr. Summers brings 30 years of teaching (e.g. public school, Higher Education), leadership, and consulting to Hand In Hand. She is the recipient of the 2005 National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment Fellowship. Dr. Summers specializes in conducting independent evaluations for students suspected of having a visual impairment, cortical visual impairments, and for developing visual fluency in students with multiple disabilities. Dr. Summers oversees Special Education consultations for Hand in Hand.

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March 29, 2020


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