In a recent letter, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) responded to communications it had received from parents, advocacy groups and national disability organizations complaining that state and local education agencies were reluctant to refer to dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia regarding evaluations, determinations of eligibility, and in individual education plan (IEP) documents. According to OSERS, nothing in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or its implementing regulations prevents such terms from being used.
As a matter of fact, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia are conditions that can qualify a child as a child with a specific learning disability under the IDEA. Under the IDEA, “specific learning disability” is defined, in part, 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 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.” According to OSERS, the list of conditions under the definition of specific learning disability is not exhaustive.
For students who may need additional academic and behavioral supports, schools may implement a multi-tiered system of supports such as response to intervention (RTI) or positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). These school-wide approaches are used address the needs of all students, including those with disabilities and those who are struggling learners through a system of scientific research-based instructional and behavioral interventions aimed at reducing problem behaviors and maximizing student achievement. Student progress is monitored and adjusted depending on the student’s responsiveness to the interventions. The interventions may also be used to identify children with a specific learning disability, including those who may have dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia.
Children who do not respond or minimally respond to the interventions must be referred for an evaluation to determine if they are eligible for special education and related services. Whether the child has a condition, such as dyslexia, which is specifically listed, or a condition such as dyscalculia or dysgraphia which is not listed, or some other condition, an evaluation by the local education agency must conform to the requirements of the IDEA.
If a parent suspects their child may need special education supports, the parent may request an initial evaluation at any time. The school district may not use RTI or other multi-tiered supports to delay the child’s evaluation. In assessing the child, the local education agency must use a variety of assessment strategies to gather functional, developmental, and academic information about the student. This information is used to determine whether the child may be eligible for special education and, if so, the contents of the child’s IEP.
In determining a child’s eligibility, the IEP team considers whether the child is achieving adequately for his or her age or to meet State-approved grade-level standards in the areas of reading, written expression, and math. The team must also consider whether the student’s lack of achievement may be due to a lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math.
OSERS concludes that there may be situations in which personnel responsible for implementing the IEP would need to know about the underlying condition of dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia as part of the criteria in determining whether the student qualifies as a student with a specific learning disability and just what sort of supports the child may need to be successful.
Martha Millar is a special education attorney who serves clients throughout California.
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