These common conditions can make it difficult for kids to succeed at school, but help is available.
Experts estimate that about 8 percent of children ages 3-17 have some type of learning disability. While there are many types of learning challenges – from dyslexia and dysgraphia to language processing disorder – dyslexia is one of the most common disorders.
Many people assume that dyslexia means reading words in reverse order, but the term actually refers to any disorder that involves difficulty with reading. Although it’s often associated with a child’s vision, dyslexia is a brain-based learning disability that studies show can sometimes be inherited.
Signs of dyslexia can appear as early as the preschool years and include trouble learning nursery rhymes or recognizing letters. As children get older, they’ll often complain about trouble reading and find it difficult to sound out simple words.
Parents should know that learning disabilities aren’t related to a child’s intelligence. Dyslexia, for example, is often defined as an “unexpected” difficulty reading for a child who would otherwise be expected to read at a higher level.
Treatment for dyslexia and other learning disabilities is typically focused on creating a learning environment that meets the child’s unique needs, which may include extra support from school staff, modifying assignments and using different teaching styles.
WHAT ABOUT VISION THERAPY?
Parents of children with learning disabilities may find conflicting information about the best way to help their student thrive. One commonly discussed intervention is known as “vision therapy,” a service often offered with the promise of improving a child’s academic functioning. It’s critical for parents to know that “vision therapy” is not supported by science or research and could actually be harmful.
In fact, the experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and the American Association of Certified Orthoptists released a joint statement emphasizing that any treatments for learning disabilities must be scientifically established to be valid – and that vision therapy doesn’t meet that standard.
Instead, they write, vision therapy can waste parents’ resources, may delay proper treatment and could give parents a false sense of security that their child’s learning disability is being treated.
“There is currently no evidence that children who participate in vision therapy are more responsive to educational instruction than are children who do not participate,” the statement explains. “Thus, current evidence is of poor scientific quality and does not provide adequate scientific evidence that vision training is a necessary primary or adjunctive therapy.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, American Association of Certified Orthoptists and the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Hoskins Center for Quality Eye Care have put a a joint statement about Controversial Practices of Vision Therapy and Learning Disabilities.
EVALUATION AND TESTING
In addition to evaluations requested through local school districts, these centers provide private testing and evaluation services for students suspected of having a learning disability. Testing could include comprehensive neuropsychological testing or other assessments. While some accept insurance, parents should inquire in advance about pricing.
- Ann Arbor Center for the Family, 2395 Oak Valley Drive, Suite 100, Ann Arbor, 734-995-5181, annarborcenter.com
- Center for Neuropsychology Learning and Development, 5864 Interface Drive, Suite D, Ann Arbor, 734-994-9466, cnld.org
- Integrative Empowerment Group, PLLC, locations in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Tel: 734-945-6210, integrativeempowerment.com
- Michigan Dyslexia Institute, 3384 Twelve Mile Road, Berkley; additional locations in Flint, St. Clair, Harbor Springs and Lansing; 248-658-0777, dyslexia.net
- McCaskill Family Services, locations in Brighton and Plymouth, 810-224-1676, 734-416-9098, mccaskillfamilyservices.com
LEARNING DISABILITIES SUPPORT
Kids with visual impairments and their parents can benefit from spending time with other parents and children affected by similar conditions. Consider these local and national support groups.
- Children’s Dyslexia Center of Southeastern Michigan: This charity offers free tutoring for children with dyslexia. Valley of Detroit, 907 Monroe St., Dearborn, 313-277-4970, cdcmich.org
- Dyslexia Help at the University of Michigan: Provides information and support including games, provider listings and apps that can help people with dyslexia. dyslexiahelp.umich.edu
- International Dyslexia Association: Offers a provider directory, conferences and workshops for families, education and other resources for parents of children with dyslexia. dyslexiaida.org
- Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan: A supportive resource for people with learning disabilities, their parents, teachers and other professionals. Includes directories of support groups. P.O. Box 150015, Grand Rapids, ldaofmichigan.org
- Michigan Dyslexia Institute: The only nonprofit educational organization in Michigan focused on needs related to dyslexia. 3384 Twelve Mile Road, Berkley, 248-658-0777, dyslexia.net
- Decoding Dyslexia of Michigan: Works to raise awareness for dyslexia, empower families and inform policy on the best support for kids with dyslexia in Michigan schools. decodingdyslexiami.com
Parents should be aware of these educational interventions and teaching strategies that can assist students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
- A Parent’s Guide to Dyslexia by Robert Redding. This book explains everything a parent will want to know about dyslexia, including details on how we read, dyslexia and vision, diagnosis and treatment, the role of parents, understanding and navigating the educational system, informational resources and more. $6.98. Barnes and Noble.
- Orton-Gillingham is an instructional approach intended primarily for use with individuals who have difficulty with reading, spelling and writing, such as students with dyslexia. orton-gillingham.com
- DIBELS: Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills can help parents and educators assess a child’s early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade. dibels.org
- Reading Rockets is a national, multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why some struggle and how to help. readingrockets.org
- Response to Intervention is used in schools to determine if a student is responding to classroom instruction and making expected progress. rtinetwork.org
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that all eligible children with a disability are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Parents with children of any age should get in touch with their local school district to initiate an evaluation for special education and specifically request testing for learning disabilities.
If the child is found eligible for special education, parents then work with the school district to develop an individualized educational program (IEP) for the child that sets goals and provides any necessary supports, aids and services.
If you have trouble accessing services for your child with visual impairment or need additional information, contact your intermediate school district. You can also seek out advice and support from an advocacy organization.
- Early on Michigan: Young children from birth to age 3 are served by Early On Michigan for early intervention services for developmental delays or disabilities. Services address the child’s social, health and educational needs. Parents can contact the agency anytime to start the process for an evaluation. 240 S. Bridge St, Suite 250, DeWitt, 1-800-327-5966, 1800earlyon.org
- Genesee Intermediate School District: Educational programs and support services are provided for students with disabilities, their families and local districts throughout the county. 2413 West Maple Ave., Flint, 810-591-4400, geneseeisd.org
- Lapeer Intermediate School District: Provides services, support and specialized placements to ensure students’ needs are met. 1996 West Oregon St., Lapeer, 810-664-5917, lcisd.k12.mi.us
- Livingston Educational Service Agency: Delivers various services to students with disabilities in Livingston County through programs in local districts and in programs operated through the intermediate school district. 1425 W. Grand River Ave., Howell, 517-546-5550, livingstonesa.org
- Macomb Intermediate School District: Find resources and special education information, including a Parent Advisory Committee comprised of local parents of children with special needs. 44001 Garfield Road, Clinton Township, 586-228-3300, misd.net
- Michigan Alliance for Families: A statewide resource that connects families of children with disabilities to resources to help improve their children’s education. 1325 S. Washington Ave., Lansing, 800-552-4821, michiganallianceforfamilies.org
- Monroe Intermediate School District: Supports local schools and operates specially-designed classrooms for students with disabilities. 1101 S. Raisinville Road, Monroe, 734-242-5799, monroeisd.us
- Oakland Schools: The Oakland Schools Department of Special Education provides services to help schools, families and communities support students with an IEP. 2111 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford, 248-209-2000, oakland.k12.mi.us
- Saint Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency: Works with its seven local school districts to develop, implement and coordinate special education services and programs for eligible students. 499 Range Road, P.O. Box 1500, Marysville, 810-364-8990, sccresa.org
- Washtenaw Intermediate School District: Its special education department supports the efforts of countywide schools and implements direct services for approximately 300 students with disabilities. 1819 South Wagner Road, P.O. Box 1406, Ann Arbor, 734-994-8100, washtenawisd.org
- Wayne RESA: Provides support and assistance in the development, implementation and evaluation of special education programs and services offered in the county. 33500 Van Born Road, Wayne, 734-334-1300, resa.net