Dyslexia

First Published January 11, 2019 

As of March 2018, 42 states had dyslexia-specific laws in place (Youman & Mather, 2018). Many states without dyslexia laws on the books have dyslexia-related legislative bills under consideration (National Center on Improving Literacy, 2018Youman & Mather, 2018). In order to be eligible for special education services, students must meet the requirements of one or more of the 13 categories of disability specified within the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 2006). For students with dyslexia, the IDEA category is specific learning disability (SLD). However, the relation between the IDEA and the term dyslexia is not always clear to parents, teachers, and school administrators. Although the word dyslexia appears within the definition of SLD in the IDEA, confusion related to schools’ responsibility for serving students with dyslexia resulted in a 2015 statement issued by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services: “The purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP [individualized education program] documents.”

Given the IDEA protections and supports afforded to qualifying students with dyslexia, the rise in dyslexia-related legislation may seem unnecessary. However, state dyslexia laws often address aspects of education not addressed by the IDEA or go beyond the IDEA in terms of specifying particular supports. For example, state laws typically address one or more of the following: (a) universal screening for dyslexia; (b) requirements for the content of teacher preparation (e.g., Connecticut’s requirement that literacy training must “include [information related to] the detection and recognition of and evidence-based interventions for dyslexia”; Public Act No. 14-39, 2014); (c) professional development requirements for practicing teachers (e.g., Florida’s requirement that in order to renew their professional certificates, kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers who teach reading-related content must earn college credit or in-service points in the use of explicit, systematic, and sequential approaches to reading instruction; developing phonemic awareness; and implementing multisensory intervention strategies; School Community Professional Development Act, 2018); (d) requirements for staffing (e.g., Indiana’s requirement that each district and the Department of Education hire dyslexia specialists; Senate Bill 217, 2018); and (e) guidance related to intervention requirements, such as specifying content (e.g., phonology, sound and symbol association, syllables, morphology, syntax) and principles of instruction (e.g., systematic, explicit, multisensory, diagnostic; National Center on Improving Literacy, 2018Nessy, 2018). In short, dyslexia-specific legislation can require states to provide other services, supports, or efforts that differ from the requirements of the IDEA.

The rise in dyslexia-related legislation has created greater public awareness of the condition, which has resulted in more questions for educators from parents and community members about how schools are addressing the needs of students with dyslexia. The purpose of this special issue is to provide an in-depth examination of dyslexia that can be helpful for educators facing such questions. Articles within the issue address current research on dyslexia, unique considerations related to eligibility for special education services, strategies and approaches to instruction, and assistive technology. The issue begins with a brief quiz by Slaughter and Sayeski designed to test readers’ knowledge of key concepts. This brief preassessment can be used to identify misconceptions and illuminate unfamiliar topics.

The first article in the issue, “Neurobiology of Dyslexia,” delivers a comprehensive, yet concise, overview of neurobiological research on dyslexia. Kearns, Hancock, Hoeft, Pugh, and Frost walk readers through what neuroimaging has revealed about dyslexia and learning to read as well as present limitations and current unknowns related to neurobiological explanations of dyslexia and reading development. Readers with background knowledge related to the neurobiology of dyslexia will find the authors’ nuanced discussion enlightening. Readers who are new to brain imaging will find the accessible explanations and images helpful for understanding dyslexia-related differences in brain functioning.

In the next article, Lindstrom dispels confusion related to processes associated with the identification of dyslexia and those associated with eligibility determination for special education services. Lindstrom provides readers with information related to the specific types of assessments that can be used for identification and offers guidance for eligibility teams charged with making determination decisions. Not only will readers gain a greater understanding of the law they will also gain a greater understanding of dyslexia by learning about the different types of assessments commonly used for identification.

Moving from eligibility to instructional programming, in the third article, Spear-Swerling highlights for readers the differences between typical reading practices and reading practices specifically designed to meet the unique needs of students with dyslexia—referred to by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) as structured literacy (2015). Spear-Swerling’s compare-and-contrast approach makes it easy for readers to see the differences between instruction that addresses appropriate areas of reading support (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension) and those practices that explicitly follow a scope and sequence of instruction designed to systematically build students’ understanding of the alphabetic principle in order to decode words. Spear-Swerling also provides guidance for how teachers can integrate features of structured literacy within general education and tiered interventions.

In the fourth article, Kearns and Whaley provide strategies teachers can use to help students read polysyllabic words. Strategies include teaching students to identify syllables and morphological units. Given the range of strategies presented, readers will be able to identify new techniques that can be used to support students who have mastered one-syllable word reading but struggle when encountering more complex polysyllabic words in reading.

Next, Dawson, Antonenko, Lane, and Zhu provide an overview of assistive technologies that can be used to mediate challenges students with dyslexia may experience in the areas of reading, writing, and spelling. Readers will learn how to adjust system preferences to increase accessibility, use extensions in order to improve the functionality of web browsers, and identify task-specific apps to support reading, writing, and spelling. Finally, Dawson and colleagues provide guidance on how to help students learn and use assistive technology with success.

The final article in the issue provides readers with an overview of the Orton Gillingham (OG) approach to reading instruction. Even though the term Orton Gillingham is commonly associated with dyslexia, many special educators are unfamiliar with who Orton and Gillingham were and what is meant by an OG approach to reading instruction. In this article, Sayeski, Earle, Davis, and Calamari provide readers with an overview of what an OG approach to instruction entails, the relation between OG and reading research, and signature techniques associated with OG. The goal of the article is to demystify OG in order for teachers to respond to questions from families, administrators, and community members about this unique approach to reading instruction for students with dyslexia.

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq . (2006 & Supp. V. 2011).
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Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. (2015October 23). [Dear Colleague letter re: guidance on dyslexia]. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/guidance-on-dyslexia-10-2015.pdf
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Pub. Act No. 14-39 , An Act Establishing the Office of Early Childhood, Expanding Opportunities for Early Childhood Education and Concerning Dyslexia and Special Education, Connecticut General Assembly(2014).
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S. 217, An Act to Amend the Indiana Code Concerning Education, 120th Indiana General Assembly (2018).
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School Community Professional Development Act, 48 Fla. Stat. § 1012.98 (2018).
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Youman, M., Mather, N. (2018). Dyslexia laws in the USA: A 2018 update. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 44(2), 3741.
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