Dyslexia Information


Overview of Senate Enrolled Act 217 for Parents and Families

Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, Indiana’s public and charter schools must meet added requirements to identify struggling readers who show risk factors for dyslexia and then provide systematic, sequential, and multisensory instruction to meet their needs.  

All students in grades kindergarten through second grade will undergo universal screener to check their skills in six different areas. These areas are: 

  • phonological and phonemic awareness (ability to separate and change sounds in words),

  • alphabet knowledge (name different letters), 

  • sound symbol relationship (phonics), 

  • decoding (reading), 

  • rapid naming (quickly name common objects), and

  •  encoding (spelling). 

Students who fall below a set score, or benchmark, on the universal screener will be found “at risk” and “at some risk” for the characteristics of dyslexia and be provided additional instruction to support the student’s reading ability.  Parents of students who scored below cut scores will be asked to provide parent permission to give the Level I Screener which will further help acquire information on your child’s skills and where to start the intervention.

Definition of dyslexia

The definition for dyslexia in Indiana law [I.C. 20-18-2-3.5] is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin characterized by difficulties with accurate fluent word recognition; and poor spelling and decoding abilities; typically results 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; may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge; and may require the provision of special education services after an eligibility determination is made in accordance with 511 IAC 7-40.” 

Breakdown of the Definition of Dyslexia

Part One: Dyslexia is distinguished from other learning disabilities due to weaknesses occurring at the phonological level. A student who has a weakness at the phonological level has difficulty manipulating units of oral language such as words, syllables, or individual sounds. One of the more complex skills at the phonological level is being able to blend and segment individual sounds. This is called phonemic awareness. An example of a phonemic awareness task is giving a student three sounds to blend together such as c-a-t, the student produces the word cat. A student with dyslexia may struggle with this task and produce the word cap instead of cat. Students with dyslexia who have a significant weakness at the phonological level will have difficulty acquiring basic foundational reading skills. 

Part Two: Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Disability. This means the student struggles with basic early reading and language problems. Dyslexia is neurobiological in nature and not due to educational or environmental factors. Family history is one of the strongest risk factors for struggling readers and developing the characteristics of dyslexia. Today, we have scientific evidence supporting our understanding that dyslexia is caused by a difference in how the brain processes phonological information. 

Part Three: Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. In the classroom, students with dyslexia may struggle with decoding or sounding out words, reading words accurately and fluently, and developing basic spelling skills. These basic literacy skills typically develop in kindergarten through second grade, but may remain a challenge for a student with dyslexia as they progress through school.

Part Four: These struggles 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. Typically, the reading difficulties a student with the characteristics of dyslexia experiences are not expected in relation to the strengths the student demonstrates in other academic areas. For example, a student with dyslexia struggles with basic reading skills, but may demonstrate average or above average academic ability in other subjects. Additionally, the difficulties a student with dyslexia experiences are not expected given the student has been provided the same effective classroom instruction as peers who are making adequate grade level progress. 

Part Five: Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. For the student with the characteristics of dyslexia, the inability to decode fluently and accurately may impair the ability to comprehend text. Because of this challenge, the student with characteristics of dyslexia who has not received appropriate intervention may read less, and therefore have less opportunity to develop vocabulary, background knowledge, and less practice at reading to comprehend.

Indicators of Struggling Readers or “At Risk” or “At Some Risk” for the Characteristics of Dyslexia

It is important to note that students with characteristics of dyslexia are not the same. While students often share common characteristics, the severity of the characteristics of the disability will vary greatly among individuals. According to most experts, the characteristics of dyslexia manifest differently from childhood to adulthood. Someone does NOT need to exhibit all the characteristics listed below to be considered a struggling reader or “at risk” or “at some risk” for the characteristics for dyslexia.

Indicators and Characteristics of Dyslexia in Preschool

In preschool, children with dyslexia may exhibit some common characteristics, which include, but are not limited to: delayed speech, slow vocabulary growth, inconsistent memory for words, lists or directions, mispronunciation of words and names, poor letter-sound recall, and difficulty learning the alphabet letter names, forms, and sounds.

Indicators and Characteristics of Dyslexia in Kindergarten and First Grade 

Children with dyslexia in kindergarten and first grade may demonstrate difficulty with developing basic foundational reading skills which may include, but are not limited to: producing rhyming words, identifying and manipulating the individual speech sounds in spoken words (phonemic awareness), remembering the names of letters and recalling them quickly, recalling the sounds the letters represent, recognizing common words by sight, and using the sounds of letters to spell so words can be recognized by the teacher. As “typically developing readers” in the classroom context, students with dyslexia may progress more slowly and continue to struggle. It is not uncommon for students who struggle at this age to recognize their weaknesses with reading and begin to develop anxiety or try to avoid reading altogether.

Indicators and Characteristics of Dyslexia in Second and Third Grade 

During second and third grade, students with characteristics of dyslexia may have learned some skills, but they typically continue to demonstrate difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling. These students may still struggle with the skills listed above. Additionally, identifying sight words automatically continues to be problematic as well as sounding out or decoding words. Spelling may be affected with sounds omitted, letters used incorrectly for sounds, and misspellings of sight words such as said that, and why. 

Indicators and Characteristics of Dyslexia in Upper Elementary Grades 

In upper elementary grades, students with dyslexia may continue to demonstrate some of the core characteristics of dyslexia listed in the previous grade bands. These students may also experience difficulty with timed oral reading fluency tests that require a student to read aloud for one minute and dysfluent reading may persist, even after or while receiving appropriate instruction and intervention. 

Indicators and Characteristics of Dyslexia in Middle and High School 

Middle and high school students with dyslexia may experience a slower reading rate, which may result in an increased time needed to complete literacy tasks when compared to their peers without dyslexia. For many students, note-taking, time management, and organization are often an issue at this stage. 

Recommended Instructional Approaches 

In addition to scientifically-based core instruction in the general education classroom, students identified “at risk” or “at some risk,” need evidence-based instruction to address the students’ area(s) of deficit. Senate Enrolled Act 217 gives recommended instructional approaches and accommodations on how to address these deficits. Accommodations should foster and facilitate independence for students, not create dependence. An accommodation is a change in timing and scheduling, setting, response, and presentation regarding instruction and assessment. An accommodation does not change learning expectations. An accommodation should not alter, in any significant way what the test or assignment measures. The school will select interventions that includes the recommended approaches:

  • Explicit, direct instruction that is systematic, sequential, cumulative, and follows a logical plan of presenting the alphabetic principle that targets the specific needs of the student without presuming prior skills of knowledge;  

  • Individualized instruction to meet the specific needs of the student in a setting that uses intensive, highly concentrated instruction methods and materials that maximize engagement;  

  • Meaning based instruction directed at purposeful reading and writing;  

  • Instruction that incorporates the use of two or more sensory pathways; and  

  • Other instructional approaches as determined appropriate by the school corporation. 

Explicit and direct means instruction and practice of all concepts is thoughtful and clear. This instruction also provides a constant teacher-student interaction. For example, teachers provide explicit and direct instruction when they explain to students that when a one syllable word with a short vowel ends in f, l, s, or sometimes z, we double the consonant. This is why we spell the word “pass” with two s’s. 

Systematic and sequential means instructions during the lesson and its content are presented in a logical order. Teachers use a predictable lesson plan structure that students become familiar with and the concepts taught progress from simple to complex. For example, students are taught to read and spell simple three letter words that contain a short vowel sound, like in the word bug, before they are taught to read and spell longer words that contain more difficult vowel sounds and patterns like in the word oyster. 

Cumulative interventions provide a review of previously taught skills to provide additional practice and reinforcement necessary to ensure mastery. An example of this principle is a teacher who provides time each day to review all or many of the letter sounds that students have been previously taught. 

Diagnostic means instruction includes continuous assessment. For example, if a student misreads the word dig for dug, the miscue should be recorded and additional practice with short u and short i. 

Multisensory approach of teaching and learning is a major emphasis of the approach. Simultaneous visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile modalities are used in the learning process to increase the likelihood of the content being learned. For example, when students are learning their letters, they say the name of the letter, the sound the letter makes, see the letter, and trace the letter at the same time. 

What Can I DO At Home?

  There are many things you can do to help your child. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Set a simple reading goal, such as reading 20 minutes daily at home. Find high-interest books at your child’s reading level.

  • Read aloud together, understand that it is okay to read slowly.  You may wish to consider audio books and have him/her follow along with the text.

  • Review the alphabet and letter sounds. Break apart short CVS (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, such as cat, pig, or blend the sounds together, such as /j/ /o/ /g/, jog)

  • Use multiple strategies to sound out difficult words:  cover up parts of the word, highlight rhyming portions, or backward decode.

  • Encourage writing, even if using assistive technology, such as online dictionary, spell check. 

  • Partner with the school. Use curriculum ideas from the classroom teachers or other school staff who work with your child

Causes and Risk Factors

Research has not pinpointed the exact cause, but they do know that genes and brain differences play a role.  Dyslexia tends to run in families.  It appears to be linked to certain genes that affect how the brain processes reading and language, as well as risk factors in the environment.  The school screening does not diagnose dyslexia, instead the screening can indicate characteristics that are similar to dyslexia so that interventions may support the student’s learning.  Researchers know that the brain can change; this is called neuroplasticity (Mayo Clinic).  Risk factors:

  • A family history of dyslexia or other learning disabilities

  • Premature birth or low birth weight

  • Exposure during pregnancy to nicotine, drugs, alcohol, or infection that may alter brain development in the fetus

  • Individual differences in the parts of the brain that enable reading

Dyslexia can be considered a gift, many people with dyslexia may have enhanced skills in the areas of seeing the big picture and seeing visual-spatial relationships.  Dyslexia does not mean that a child isn’t smart. People with dyslexia can and do thrive at school and in life.

Video clips about dyslexia

Dyslexia and the Brain, Guinevere Eden, PhD, Director of the Center for the Study of Learning, Georgetown University   https://youtu.be/QrF6m1mRsCQ

The True Gifts of a Dyslexia Mind, Dean Bragonier, entrepreneur speaking at Martha’s Vineyard TEDx event


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