DYSLEXIA Legislative Updates Supporting Innovative Pathways Toward Student Achievement In Reading


Since its inception in 1975, the original legislation, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Pubic Law 94-142), has evolved and matured to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) within an ever widening, least restrictive environment (LRE), grounded upon scientific advances that ensure high-quality, meaningful, and beneficial education for all students. The reauthorization process accounts for advancement and understanding to maintain a fluid support system toward educating students with disabling conditions that create learning hurdles. Students who are adversely affected by one of 13 qualifying conditions, are covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), most recently reauthorized in 2004. For kids with learning issues that create reading, writing, or mathematics difficulties, the most relevant qualifying condition is typically Specific Learning Disability (SLD). This is an umbrella term that covers a specific group of learning issues such as visual processing, auditory processing, sensory motor, and/or cognitive (including association, conceptualization, and expression), but does NOT include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

The recent update to the language of the category of SLD, via the instrument of Assembly Bill No. 1369, (CDE, 2016) serves to provide particular focus upon the unique educational needs of children with dyslexia, in order to clarify IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents. The bill requires the State Board of Education to include phonological processing in the description of basic psychological process. Basic psychological process is the term that currently exists in regulations and within the definition for a SLD. Further, the bill is crafted to include development of program guidelines for dyslexia to be used to assist regular and special educators, as well as parents to identify and assess students with dyslexia through a viable plan by the academic year of 2017-2018. In addition to evaluation, the planning and improvement of educational services to students with dyslexia through evidence-based, multisensory, direct, explicit, structured, and sequential approach to instruction will be provided. Such prescribed educational services align precisely with International Dyslexia Association (IDA) guidelines relative to  recommended specialized instruction utilizing Orton-Gillingham principles to support the learning of students with the neurological profile of dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a perplexing condition. It creates an unexpected invisible barrier to accessing the written word for bright and creative students in classrooms across our nation. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) reports that as many as 15-20% of the total population have some symptoms of dyslexia, to include slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. Further, IDA conveys that current studies indicate that the nationwide school population demonstrate about one-half of the 13-14% of students who qualify for special  education and are classified as having a specific learning disability (SLD), of which 85% of those students  demonstrate a primary learning disability in reading and language processing. The International Dyslexia  Association (IDA) Board of Directors adopted the following definition, which is also used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), as well as many state education codes:

Dyslexia is a specific leaning 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. Dyslexia is not a recently discovered condition, though there are many newly discovered facts about the condition that has led to innovative instructional practices to ensure that the student with dyslexia is afforded appropriate strategies in order to become a reader. Dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that adversely affects an individual’s ability to learn to read, spell, or write to the level expected, has been recognized and studied for more than a century. In the groundbreaking book Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level (2003) author Sally Shaywitz, M.D., professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention, presents historical evidence relative to the beginnings of dyslexia research. Shaywitz introduces the reader to the historical roots of this condition, noting puzzled concerns described in medical journals of late nineteenth century physicians relative to children in Victorian society who were bright and motivated, from concerned and educated families, with interested teachers, who were unable to learn to read. The term word-blindness, coined by Adolf Kussmaul in 1877, describes the condition that we, today, refer to as dyslexia. Kussmaul defined word-blindness (wortblindheit) as an isolated condition that affected the ability to recognize and read text, though intelligence and expressive language were both intact (Shaywitz, 2003). The current term Dyslexia, is derived from the Greek word, dys, meaning poor or inadequate, and the word lexis, meaning words or language (Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine). The term dyslexia was used as early as 1887 relative to a special form of word-blindness but, at that time, was noted to be acquired in adulthood by those who lost the ability to read, due to a specific brain lesion (Shaywitz, 2003).

More than a century has passed, since the first endeavors of study began with this complex condition. Contemporary neuro-scientists have uncovered structural differences within the brain that clarify the condition. Through the development of functional imaging studies, the circuitry for reading has been identified (Shaywitz, 2003). Scientific methodologies have been discovered to support students with dyslexia to learn the skill of reading with more ease. Through Response to Intervention (RtI) initiatives, earlier identification and supports utilizing scientific interventions is realized. Surely, I would theorize, teacher-training programs will broaden in scope relative to approaches in reading intervention with this adjustment to the current definition of an SLD, coupled with newly discovered scientific evidence indicating (Shaywitz, 2003):

■ Students with dyslexia are neurologically wired differently, which causes them not to respond in the same way as those not wired differently. We now know that the right side of the brain of an individual with dyslexia is about 10% larger than that of the general population.
■ Phonological issues are evident, but also impacted is directionally to include directional or prepositional words such as up, down, before, after, etc. to include verbal utterances and written language.
■ Functional or abstract words such as to, by, at, etc., are difficult for students with dyslexia to put to memory, due to their heavy reliance upon contextual evidence.

Generalizing these scientific discoveries into appropriate interventions within the school setting becomes ever more a reality through clarification brought to the category of the SLD definition. Delivery of the principles required to encourage recircuitry of the learning channels within the brain structure is not wholly dependent upon curriculum, but also specialized instruction delivered by a highly qualified teacher. Shaywitz (2003) emphasizes that effective research-based programs work, but more critical to ensuring that learning occurs within children with dyslexia is “provision of systematic, explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, and then teaching children how to apply this knowledge to reading and writing.” Such specialized instruction begins at the student’s current level of reading skill development, rather than grade level (IDA, 2014). Further, IDA recommends that programs or intervention strategies be consistent with types of content and methodology that research has demonstrated to be effective for students with dyslexia (IDA, 2014). Instruction that is structured in a manner that is explicit, systematic, and cumulative is a standard upheld by researchers (IDA, 2014 & Shaywitz, 2003). Effective instruction of reading in relation to students with dyslexia includes a multisensory approach, which integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Research provides that instruction align with Structured Literacy, which emphasizes the structure of language including (IDA, 2014):

■ Speech sound system (phonology)
■ Writing system (orthography)
■ Structure of sentences (syntax)
■ Meaningful parts of words (morphology)
■ Relationships among words (semantics)
■ Organization of spoken and written discourse.

The nuts and bolts of a comprehensive, scientifically sound Structured Literacy program are built upon elements discovered to be essential to teaching students with dyslexia. As many teacher preparation programs are typically more general in the approach, with an expectation that educators will synthesize other elements of their specific area of education, research, and experience and, thus provide focus upon their particular student population, it is critical that teachers and parents familiarize themselves with recommended intervention programs and/or curriculum with a scientific base. Such familiarization and delivery provides for the amalgamation relative to the art and science of teaching that encourages and supports effective and engaged student learning. A comprehensive overview of recommended interventions is not afforded within this article, but the reader is directed to peruse information and resources provided through International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and Sally Shaywitz, M.D. These sources provide research that comprises a great beginning for navigation upon this path of discovery. The components of Structured Literacy are provided at the intensity most appropriate to the student’s need and include (IDA, 2014):

■ Phonology: The study of sound structure of spoken words:
• Rhyming
• Counting words in spoken sentences
• Clapping syllables in spoken words
• Counting sounds (phonemes) in a word (ie: cap /k/a/p/=3 sounds; chap/ch/a/p/=3 sounds; clap /k/l/a/p/=4 sounds).
■ Sound-Symbol Association: Often referred to as phonics, this is the mapping of sounds/phonemes to symbols/printed letters. Taught visual to auditory (reading) and auditory to visual (spelling).
■ Syllable Instruction: Teaching the six basic syllable types in the English language assists the reader in determining the sound of the vowel in the syllable; thus assists the reader in becoming more aware and successful with unfamiliar words. The six basic syllable types in the English language are:
• Closed: ends with a consonant like fan (fan-tas-tic) or an (an-i-mal)
• Vowel-consonant-e: cake, bike, hope
• Open: nothing comes after the vowel such as open (o-pen) or tiger (ti-ger)
• Consonant-le: table (ta-ble) and ample (am-ple)
• R-controlled: her and first
• Vowel pair: sea and coat
■ Morphology: These are comprised of the smallest unit of meaning in language to include base words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes. For example: the word instructor root: struct-to build, prefix: in-into, and suffix: or-one who. Using morphology one can define the word instructor as, one who builds knowledge in his or her students.
■ Syntax: This is a set of principles that determines sequence and function of words in a sentence, in order to express meaning. Grammar, sentence variation, and mechanics of language are elements of syntax.
■ Semantics: The meaning of language, which is supported through inclusion of instruction in comprehension of written language at all levels.

It is an exciting time for educators and families, as we look toward scientific advancements and the entwinement with educational and legislative forward thinking toward increased opportunities to move a child into the world of reading. A deep understanding of the learning differences, the strengths, and the most effective and appropriate interventions is a central piece toward creating a progressive and positive future for students with dyslexia. As you leave the pages of this article and begin on your journey toward learning to reach and teach an individual with the learning difference of dyslexia, I would like to impart to you a gentle but essential perception that Albert Einstein is accredited with sharing:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” •

Angela Shaw is a specialized academic instructor who strives to support people toward understanding complex special education issues, in order to ensure learning occurs for students with special needs. An active participant within the PLC and PBIS components of her learning community in So. California, Shaw synthesizes her diverse education and experience, in order to provide students learning that will grow for a lifetime. Her articles have appeared in EP for more than 10 years. She has M.A.s in Special Education and School Counseling from Azusa Pacific University, a B.S. in Social Science from Washington State University, and an A.S. in Radio & Television Broadcasting from Mt. San Antonio College.

California Department of Education. State administration, 2016.
Retrieved June 6 2016 from http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/stateadmin1st16.asp

Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. S.v. “dyslexia.” Retrieved June 14 2016 from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/dyslexia

International Dyslexia Association (2014). IDA dyslexia handbook: What every family should know. Baltimore: Info@interdys.org. Retrieved June 15 2016 from http://dyslexiaida.org

International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Definition of dyslexia. Retrieved June 14 2016 from http://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/

International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Multisensory structured language teaching: Just the facts. Retrieved June 15, 2016 from https://dyslexiaida.org/multisensory-structured- language-teaching/

Shaywitz, S., (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

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