By: Angela Tomlin, PhD, HSPP, IMH-E
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
Steven Koch, PhD, HSPP
Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
Anna Merrill, PhD, HSPP
Psychologist at Childrens Resource Group
Joseph Risch, MS, BCBA
Reading Specialist at Indiana Department of Education
Starting July 1, 2018, Indiana law requires all public and charter schools to screen kindergarten, first, and second-grade students for dyslexia. The law is intended to catch affected students early to prevent reading problems, have fewer students repeating grades, and avoid school failure. It is important to know if a student has dyslexia versus another learning disorder so that the student can access appropriate interventions.
Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis that describes a language-based learning disorder. Characteristics of dyslexia include problems recognizing letters and words, learning the sounds of letters, spelling, and writing. Children with dyslexia may read slowly and have trouble understanding what is read. Early signs of dyslexia can be seen in preschool children who have language delays, struggle to learn the alphabet or have difficulty learning rhyming words. A family history of dyslexia is often present.
It is not clear how schools will implement this new law. Parents should know that local school districts must hire at least one reading expert trained in dyslexia by the 2019/2020 school year. If any problems are detected through screening of children in kindergarten or first and second grades, students will receive an evidence-based intervention. Screening and intervention for dyslexia is the responsibility of each school’s general education program. When a child needs special education services, the eligibility area under Indiana state special education law would most likely be Specific Learning Disability in Reading.
Primary care doctors may wish to refer patients with learning problems to clinical settings for evaluation and diagnosis of dyslexia. Clinical evaluation should include testing by a psychologist and a speech and language pathologist. A clinical evaluation can provide important information about a child’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses and point to needed intervention. However, many insurance plans do not cover psychological testing for learning disorders including dyslexia, so access to such testing may be challenging. In addition, a medical diagnosis of dyslexia will not automatically translate to eligibility for school services. The school will still conduct its own evaluation.
Angela Tomlin is the Director of the Riley Child Development Center LEND Program located at the Indiana University School of Medicine. At the RCDC, Dr. Tomlin provides clinical services to families with children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, supervises graduate trainees, and is a frequent presenter on topics including autism, behavior management, and infant mental health.