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By Kristin Stanberry
Public schools are guided and governed by education law. How does the law define dyslexia? Both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Code of Federal Regulations for public education name dyslexia as one example of a specific learning disability. Let's take a closer look at the law:
Both IDEA and Federal Code (300.7) currently define specific learning disability as: "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 imperfect ability to listen, think, write, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. This term does not include children who have learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; mental retardation; or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage."
The conditions named in this federal law are very general, each one encompassing several specific disorders. Many educators — and most major advocacy groups — consider these legal terms and definitions outdated and impractical. So, while the law stands, the language and definitions it contains aren't always used by the very professionals to whom they apply.
As you can see, dyslexia is portrayed and defined in a variety of ways — in the media, education law, medicine, science, and schools. These definitions are often inconsistent and incomplete. Many parents seeking help for their children with learning problems are understandably confused about dyslexia. Consider a comment one mother made:
"My daughter is in special education and has an IEP. I'm convinced she has dyslexia. But the resource specialist at her school says they don't even test for dyslexia!"
Parents grow frustrated with their children's school districts, when, in many cases, they're simply using different terminology than the educators they're trying to work with.
By now you have some context for the variety of ways the term "dyslexia" is used. How can you cut through the confusion and get help for your child? Here are some suggestions:
It's likely that the media portrayal and public perception of dyslexia will remain confusing for years to come. Our advice: Don't waste time and energy reacting to what you see as misinformation in the press! Instead, invest your energy in getting the straight story from the people and resources that can directly help your child.
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