Dyslexia is co-op priority
Kansas Senate Bill 44 was killed in committee back in February. The bill’s purpose was to have school districts pay an outside health provider to diagnose dyslexia.
Marion County Special Education Cooperative Director David Sheppard was glad to see the bill deceased; it would have made life harder on special education and Marion County school districts. He was sure the bill was unnecessary any way.
Screening for dyslexia is one of the co-op’s top priorities, Sheppard said. If students show symptoms of the disorder — letter reversals such as flipping b and d or m and w, trouble rhyming, and struggles with idioms and puns — they are subjected through a litany of tests. These can be administered by school psychologists, district special ed teachers, title 1 teachers, or a speech pathologist.
“A school psychologist has to see if they meet certain guidelines, before a student is even considered for a test if placement for special education is appropriate,” USD 410 special education teacher Gloria Winter said.
One of the people who administer tests in every district in Marion County is speech pathologist Angie Duerksen.
“Best practice indicates administering the Test of Written Language, the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, and standardized spelling tests,” she wrote in an email.
The Comprehension Test of Phonological Processing involves students identifying letters, rhyming, blending and segmenting syllables, and rapid object, letter, number, and color naming.
Duerksen, Winter, and Sheppard all said that dyslexia first appears in speech and word recognition, although the disorder is most often associated with reading.
“They hear sounds and their brain mixes them up,” Sheppard said.
Dyslexia is often coupled with other psychological disorders such as attention deficit disorder, Sheppard and Winter said.
The Test of Written Language requires students to write a story about a picture they are shown. The story is graded on punctuation, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and originality.
“A laborious task for many, although the ideas are there if you ask them to tell you a story verbally,” Duerksen wrote.
The test also includes reading, defining and spelling words, and combing two related sentences into one proper sentence.
“Students with dyslexia often write dull, perfunctory stories with basic vocabulary, using words they know how to spell,” Duerksen wrote. “Basically, these kids struggle to ‘play with language.’ Idiom must be explicitly taught because they are taken literally. Puns and some jokes are difficult to understand.”
Duerksen said children should be identified when letter reversals should no longer be common, typically after first grade, and if the child does not seem to understand simple puns, rhyming, and the alphabet.
“Be sure your child can say the ABCs not just sing them,” Duerksen added.
Winter said the goal is to pinpoint signs of dyslexia as soon as possible in a child’s development, but that it may not be possible to determine dyslexia until age 10.
“Generally, when they’re younger, we identify them as developmentally delayed,” Winter said.
Once dyslexia is diagnosed, the student goes through a lifelong therapy to remediate the disorder. Duerksen said the key to this teaching is sound to symbol correspondence by using visual, tactile, and auditory methods to reintroduce letters and their sounds until they become automatic to the child when spelling, writing, and reading.
“A child with dyslexia may need to see a letter and hear it sound 10 to 20 times before they consistently pair them together,” Duerksen wrote. “Students without dyslexia may only need two to 10 times.”
There is no cure for dyslexia. There is not a pill to take to reverse symptoms.
“I personally have worked with children who have gone on to graduate from college and lead very successful lives using the accommodations and strategies needed to deal with dyslexia,” Duerksen said.