Does Special Education law include dyslexia?
Parents and educators often ask if dyslexia is included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004), the federal special education law, and if the word dyslexia can be used in an IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or individualized education program (IEP) documents.
The answer is yes.
Dyslexia is a condition that could qualify a child as having a specific learning disability under the IDEA. There is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the term dyslexia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents. Further, State and Local Education Agencies cannot prohibit the use of the term dyslexia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.
The definition of specific learning disability from U.S. federal special education law is:
“(A) In general
The term ‘specific learning disability’ means a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
(B) Disorders included
Such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
(C) Disorders not included
Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”
Data show that specific learning disabilities, called SLD, are the most common special education category; specifically, about 40% of all special education students in the U.S. are identified as having a SLD (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). Of those identified with a SLD, approximately 80% have dyslexia or a specific learning disability in reading (Shaywitz, 1998). It’s clear that dyslexia is very common.
If a child’s dyslexia is the condition that forms the basis for the determination of a specific learning disability, the child’s IEP could include specific instructional supports, accommodations, and modifications proven effective for addressing the unique educational needs resulting from dyslexia.
Federal guidance reminds us that parents can request an initial evaluation at any time to determine if a child has a disability including dyslexia.
For more information on the rights of students with dyslexia under the IDEA, please see recent U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) guidance, October 2015.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, 39th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2017, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Guidance, October, 2015. Washington, D.C.
Shaywitz, S.E. (1998). Current Concepts: Dyslexia. New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 338, Number 5.
Susan Lowell is an Adjunct Professor in the graduate school at Bay Path University, a private practice clinician in Connecticut, and a former Fulbright Senior Specialist.