Based on what we know about the incidence of dyslexia and the number of students that are formally identified, for every 1 person who is told of their dyslexia, there are 3 who are missed.

Recent legislation is focused on the early years of education…K-2 especially. These screening and identifications programs are important, but what about older students?

There’s a nice review for teachers that came out last year from Smart Brief.

Here are the key points:

“Silent Readers”

“A strong warning sign of an older student with dyslexia is avoiding reading out loud. Students may also refer to themselves as “silent readers.” When they do read aloud, they stumble over multisyllabic words. The student may fatigue quickly or claim to be “bored” when reading or writing, and reading fluency may change based on the subject matter.”

Because of the high incidence of dyslexia, every classroom is likely to have dyslexic students – and many be unrecognized. Teachers should be encouraged to read aloud to their classes and perhaps take volunteers to read passages, but they should not be conducting round robin reading or popcorn reading because these practices don’t improve struggling readers’ fluency and there are many negative results like triggering anxiety, shame, bullying, and school disengagement.

Instead of round robin or popcorn reading, choral reading, echo reading, listening to audiobooks in class can ensure that everyone is accessing the reading for any discussion or assignments that follow.

If you’ve identified struggling readers in your class already, providing them with accessible texts beforehand can also be empowering and inclusive for your students.

Task Avoiders

“Task avoidance is one of the most common behaviors that students with undiagnosed dyslexia may exhibit in the classroom. Task avoidance is anything from consistently not turning in work while still attending class, to skipping class when a book reading or written assignment is due. Students will also go to great lengths to avoid being embarrassed in front of peers. If this means skipping class or being thought of as lazy or belligerent, so be it. Some students with language-based reading difficulties find oral presentations in front of large groups to be anxiety-provoking, while others may find this is the only time they can shine. It’s important to understand the nature of the language-based learning difficulty to meet the individual needs of the student.”

Writing Problems and Misspellings

“When it comes to reviewing your student’s written work, you might notice that their placement of periods and apostrophes is incorrect. They may have poor handwriting to mask their poor spelling skills, or dysgraphia may also be an issue.

Some students write in all capital letters, because upper- and lower-case letters are confusing. The student may exhibit a great deal of knowledge when speaking but struggle to complete a short-written answer on the same subject.

“If the student has an unusual name or a name with numerous options for spelling the vowel sounds, such as “Michael,” spelling his/her own name correctly may be challenging for many years. Additionally, days of the week and months of the year may also be misspelled, even though the student has seen them numerous times. Remember, it’s not typical for an older student to misspell these words, and it’s not typical for an older student to need time to think about how to spell these common words.”

Unfinished and “Careless” Mistakes on Tests

Writing difficulties are a common way for dyslexia to present in the middle and high school classroom, but to this list from Smart Brief, we would also add “misreading” questions on exams and assignments, and unfinished exams due to the students not being provided with more time.

Almost all dyslexic students need time for exams because of a myriad of factors, including slow reading, skipped words, retrieval issues, and perceptual problems. Many bright students identified as “underachievers” may actually be dyslexics who have missed identification in earlier grades.

If you believe that tests may be underestimating a student’s fund of knowledge, then schedule time after an exam to test the student orally and see if her or his test results underestimate knowledge.

Students who haven’t been formally identified may know very little about dyslexia, may not know how their school struggles can fit in with the picture of dyslexia, and how they can be helped.

Depending on where your state and school are with dyslexia legislation, there may be some uncertainty regarding formal testing (see APM reports). In the best situations, look into having your school’s psychologist test your student for dyslexia. If your student is on an IEP or 504, you can also ask IEP team members such as a speech language pathologist. Some schools keep lists of private testers. An online screening tool is available through our partner Neurolearning, but check with your school to see if the results will be accepted. Some resources like Bookshare require the test be administered by a specialist in order to qualify for free materials.

* N.B. A school may see a behavior problem, but the reality may be unrecognized and unremediated dyslexia.

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