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Should You Ask the IEP Team to Use the Term Dyslexia? Experts Weigh In

By The Understood Team

Schools aren’t required to name kids’ learning or thinking differences in their evaluation or IEP. At the same time, they definitely can use specific terms like , , or .

So when should you ask evaluators or the IEP team to name your child’s disability? And how can you go about it? See what experts have to say.

Is the team supposed to name my child’s disability in the evaluation and IEP?

Bob Cunningham, in-house advisor to Understood: The team’s obligation is to evaluate for a disability and see if your child needs special education. There’s no legal reason it can’t use a term like dyslexia in the evaluation or the IEP that lays out your child’s supports and services.

In fact, both the federal special education law (IDEA) and the new federal general education law (ESSA) use specific terms like dyslexia. And in 2015, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) wrote a formal opinion letting schools know that nothing in the law prevents a school from using the term in an evaluation report or IEP.

The IEP team should use the terms that will help it make the best decisions. And you’re a part of the IEP team. If the results of the evaluation support the use of the term dyslexia, and it’s important to you, there’s really no good reason for the team not to use it.

Amanda Morin, parent advocate and former teacher: Schools should use the term if doing so helps your child get the best help. That may mean including the exact diagnosis in the evaluation and IEP. But the diagnosis may not describe all of your child’s learning differences. What’s most important is that the evaluation and IEP describe your child’s needs, current level of performance, goals, and the services needed to meet those goals.

Lindsay Jones, chief executive officer of the National Center for Learning Disabilities: The team has the choice of whether to name your child’s disability. There’s no legal requirement for it to do so. However, as ED has clarified, there’s no reason in the law for it not to. Your child’s evaluation may or may not name a specific diagnosis. But it must describe what the testing uncovered. And the IEP should describe what services would help address specific areas of need.

What’s the advantage to having the IEP team use the term?

Brendan Hodnett, special education teacher: As a teacher, it connects me to immediate background information. It gives me an idea as to what a child struggles with and which strategies might help. The goal of the IEP team is to come up with an education plan that gives kids the best opportunity to thrive. If the term itself helps to do that, then making sure it’s in the IEP is worth it.

Lindsay Jones: It can help to ensure that the members of the team are all on the same page about what the child’s disability is. That includes parents. It can also help the team find the best course of action and provide the best services.

Andrea Spencer, former dean, School of Education at Pace University: The term is most useful if all of its aspects are addressed. But there can be a downside to using it. Dyslexia may be interpreted as being only a reading disability. But a child might need language support, too. Trouble with focus or memory may also be a part of the picture.

Bob Cunningham: It makes sense to use the term dyslexia for a few reasons. It can help make clear why the team thinks your child has a disability and needs special education.

This helps general education teachers and others at the school better understand why a child is struggling. Using the term can also help kids understand why they need support. Take the time during IEP team meetings to explain these advantages to the team if need be.

How can I get the team to use the term?

Brendan Hodnett: Start by contacting your child’s case manager. Ask the team to determine if using the term will help teachers and staff come up with more appropriate teaching strategies to meet your child’s needs. If the case manager is reluctant, say that ED encourages the use of the term if it helps make a child’s learning needs clear.

Bob Cunningham: First, ask your child’s evaluators if it’s accurate to say your child has dyslexia. If so, ask them to include that in their report. Next, when the team meets to determine if your child is eligible for special education, ask if using the term makes sense. The final step is when the IEP is presented to the team. Ask the teachers who write the “Present Level of Performance” section and the goals to use the term in their descriptions.

Andrea Spencer: In the best of circumstances, getting the team to use the term may not be a problem. But if that’s not the case in your school, this may not be a battle worth fighting. It may be more important to establish and build on points of agreement among team members.

Conflict over the use of the term can become counterproductive and time-consuming. It can draw attention away from developing a shared understanding of your child’s needs. And it can delay putting appropriate services and supports in place. Dyslexia doesn’t go away. Compromise on this issue may be worth it in the long run.

Amanda Morin: Ask, ask, ask. Consider the pros and cons before making the request. And be able to make your case clearly. You can also explain that using the term will help your child better self-advocate.

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