what-to-say-dyslexiaAt the start of every term, students all over the world have to get  ready for the spiel they need to say to their teachers in order to get accommodations in place.

It seems especially tough to expect elementary school students to do the talking, but if a parent or friend help coaches, it can be  a positive experience and even empowering.

Here’s a short form:

First Weeks of School – New Teacher

When to Say It and to Whom:
If possible, tell your teacher the first week of classes. Wait until after class is over and plan to follow up with an email if necessary (parents may do this with their younger student at pick-up). We often try to touch base with the teacher first and office second. The school psychologist or disability office may have a pile of students requests to work through

What to Say:
“Hi, I’m (name) I’m looking forward to your class. I want you to know that I’m dyslexic (or I have dyslexia – whichever you prefer) and I learn and do things a bit differently. Here’s a list of things that help.”

At the beginning the of the school term, most teachers are so busy that scheduling appointments or giving them a lot of paperwork might be unnecessary. It’s still good to mention something to them because they will be better prepared when something happens in class that needs accommodating. At this point, you don’t have to say much – and you can follow up by email. If you want to bring your paperwork at the beginning that’s all right too. Want some help?  Check out our Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia Teacher Cards


Dyslexia Teacher Cards (Store)

Make it easy for the teacher – let them know you’re going through official channels (e.g. school psychologist and disability office)  but that you also know what helps you learn and show what you know.

Send Records by Email:
It’s worthwhile scanning in a copy of the dyslexia testing paperwork because it help in getting the routine of telling everyone who needs to know. Usually comprehensive testing is good for 4-5 years. If you have many teachers – you can even save the e-intro about dyslexia – and just remember to resend it to every new teacher at every semester or quarter change.

Meet with / Copies to School Psychologist or ‘Office’:
In many cases, you’ll need to send your paperwork to the school psychologist or disability / accessibility office at a college or university. They can be your advocate down the line if a teacher doesn’t want to accommodate you or provide other supports that you need.

Know Your Accommodations: 

We usually recommend keeping the requests short and sweet in the beginning. The comprehensive report can have more detail and the comprehensive list is of course important when the 504 or IEP is being approved.

Here’s a Common List of Accommodations for Dyslexia:

Sample Accommodations

  • Option to keyboard all written work
  • 1.5x extra time for exams (You can tell the teacher “I can finish exams over lunch or at the end of the day”)
  • Digital book / audiobook option for science, history, and textbooks (I have Bookshare (free for US citizens – need someone to certify) and can use this with an iPad app like Voice Dream Reader)
  • Because dyslexia affects my spelling, I will need use of a spell checker / other assistive device or program while writing. My work should not be downgraded because of spelling.
  • Teacher notes before lecture / Powerpoints whenever possible
  • Note-taking buddy / Livescribe pen
  • Calculator and Formula Card for Math and Science

Keep things simple the beginning of the school year and realize most teachers will not know which accommodations are appropriate for your student. It’s the responsible of the testing professional to indicate what accommodations and supports are necessary based on test results.

Premium subscribers: Want to know more? For Premium Subscribers (below), we’ll talk more about accommodations, including standardized tests, less common accommodations, and helps for memory!

Not a Premium subscriber?  Join HERE. It’s just $5 a month and you’ll be helping more dyslexic students!

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Anticipating Teacher Concerns

Some teachers can have an inappropriate worry that accommodations are excusing students for work. This is a common mistake. It’s like asking a student who broke their leg to run extra laps because they are slow. Reassure the teacher that you / your student is doing extra work to help with writing, spelling, or another task. In the meantime, they need a reduced workload..it so they can master some of the basics before being able to ‘run’.

Schools May Mistakenly Believe They Don’t Need to Accommodate for Dyslexia

You student is on a different pace than others, and while they are doing a lot of extra work, they need some protection to make sure that their school experience is appropriate to their needs. Dyslexia is recognized by the ADA and 504 Act, and surprisingly high numbers of districts, principals, and teachers are misinformed about dyslexia and public school laws in the U.S. To see the letter that the Bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus in Congress recently to the Department of Education, go to the bottom of this article.

If you’re working after school with your student (tutoring at home or privately), mention it to the teacher. Your son or daughter is not ‘getting out of’ anything. They are working harder and longer – and they need some respite from the quantity of work assigned non-dyslexic students so that they can have one-on-one work in the areas they need.

Other Common Accommodations:

Standardized Tests (Common Core, End of Grade, etc.)

Because some standardized tests can determine whether a student is held back, it is important that accommodations are in place for standardized exam.

If your student has to take Common Core exams, you may need to tell your teacher and administrators that accommodations are permitted for these exams (click Common-Core-Accommodations).

If your student has significant challenges with reading and writing, they may need a ‘reader’ who can read all but the comprehension passages and a scribe or option to keyboard work.

Be aware that a scribe is not always helpful for dyslexic students; sometimes a scribe will be provided, but they will tell the student that the writing will be done without any correct grammar (no capitalization, no punctuation, etc); the student has to review the work and add in all the punctuation!

Less Common – But Still Important Accommodations for Some

  • Formula Card (if challenges with rote / memory for facts)
  • Decreased Homework (very important for moderately – severely dysgraphic students)
  • Foreign Language Waiver
  • Alternative Testing – Some students have an option for oral testing if questions ever arise as to knowledge or understanding of material. Alternative testing could also involve speech to text using a program such as Voice Dream Writer or Dragon Dictate.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 8.45.20 AMMemory

Memory challenges (and strengths!) are common among dyslexic students, although they are rarely specifically addressed in IEP or 504 plans.

The most common profile for dyslexic students is strong experiential and personal memory, but weaker rote. This means that memorization of lists like state capitals, historical dates, and geographical places can be difficult if not impossible. Sometimes multiple choice tests or matching can be substitute for fill-in-the-blank, and note cards or open book options can be considered. Sometimes students can be excused from heavy rote quizzes and tests and instead produce a Powerpoint presentation or report to show mastery of a subject.

Many dyslexic students also may have a limited working memory…which means they have trouble keeping information ‘in mind’ when too much is happening at once. The solution for this is usually breaking down projects into smaller parts (called ‘chunking’) and providing information in different ways (multi sensory – seeing, hearing, doing, etc. ).

Perceptual issues are the most common reasons that dyslexic students have trouble with error checking. To learn more about ‘Unexpected Problems on Tests’, check out the short Powerpoint presentation below.