Focus on Dyslexia

Focus on Dyslexia
a head with the shape coming from two cords, a female and male end.

Focus on Dyslexia: Addressing the Needs of All Children

October 2018 | Issue #02

October marks the beginning of colder weather and changing leaves, as well as Dyslexia Awareness Month. Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference. It affects the organization in the brain that controls the ability to process the way language is heard, spoken, read, or spelled. Dyslexia can also manifest in difficulties with working memory, attention, and organization. It impacts about 8% of the U.S. school-age population. Research has proven that dyslexia can be identified in children as young as four years old. Like many other conditions, early screenings that lead to intervention are critical to student success. We know from research and classroom practice that the brain can be rewired when intensive remedial instruction is provided to children demonstrating reading difficulties. Unfortunately, early screening and intervention practices are not always in place for all children. The impact of not having appropriate early interventions can be devastating. Children who don't learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they're likely to fall behind in other academic areas, too. Individuals who struggle with reading are more likely to dropout of high school, to end up in the criminal justice system, and to live in poverty. English Language Learners (ELLs) are not always recipients of appropriate early reading interventions, and as a result are disproportionately underrepresented in special education in the elementary grades, and overrepresented in the secondary level.

Generally, children who are English language learners begin receiving special education services 2-3 years later than English only students. This disproportionality in the time they receive services may be attributed to several factors including: misunderstanding in the educational needs of children who learn English as their second language, poorly designed language assessments, lack of effective reading instruction for emergent students with disabilities, and current systems that all too often result in a wait to fail approach due to lack of trained personnel and needed resources. How can we ensure success for ELL students? ELL students have linguistic differences that must be addressed in their testing, programming, instruction, and intervention. We can take proactive measures to ensure the equal participation of ELLs, despite their language levels, in intervention services provided by teachers who understand bilingualism, cultural diversity, and second language acquisition. It is also important to have individuals knowledgeable in learning disabilities and language differences collaborate on both the assessment and the instruction of children who are learning English as their second language. The profile of poor readers in both ELL and monolingual English speakers is similar – both demonstrate difficulties with phonological awareness and working memory, suggesting an underlying processing deficit, as opposed to a language minority status. Therefore, early reading interventions that are evidence-based, multisensory, direct, explicit, structured, and sequential are necessary. In addition, interventions must include a strong vocabulary development component.

We know that learning to read is directly linked to a child’s self-concept and mental well-being. For that reason, it is critically important for all of us to address the needs of all children, including those whose primary language is other than English. By working together and creating an inclusive plan on all of our school campuses, we will truly get to a place where all means all.


Guajardo, C. & The Bilingual Special Education Network of Texas. (2011). Best practices in the special education evaluation of students who are culturally and linguistically diverse.

Hehir, T., & Katzman, L. (2012). Effective Inclusive Schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Sullivan, A. L. (2011). Disproportionality in special education identification and placement of English language learners. Exceptional Children, Spring 2011: 77(3), 317-334.

Voulgarides, C. (2018). Does Compliance Matter in Education?: IDEA and the Hidden Inequities of Practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Wilkinson, C.Y., Ortiz, A., Robertson, P., Kushner, M. (2006). English-language learners with reading-related LD: Linking data from multiple sources to make eligibility determination. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(2), 129-141.