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Five Tips to Successfully Advocate for Your Dyslexic Child

By Michael Hart, Ph.D.

When parents learn their child has dyslexia, it can be a very confusing, frustrating and overwhelming time. In many cases, they will reach out to their child’s school for help and support. Many will discover, to their dismay, that teachers and administrators don’t necessarily have the knowledge or resources to adequately support their child’s learning needs. While the vast majority of educators are seriously committed to their profession and want to do their best, a variety of factors frequently hamper their ability to effectively serve students with dyslexia including a lack of proper training, inadequate professional development and limited resources.

To make matters worse, our education system is often a messy, slow-moving bureaucracy. When the school team seems reluctant to help, or in some cases, denies supports or services, parents may find themselves in an uncomfortable, adversarial position. This can be incredibly upsetting for parents and can make them feel powerless. Nonetheless, it is critically important that they regroup and persevere. Here are five steps parents can take to obtain information, support and services for their child.

1. Embrace your role as advocate

The “wait and see” approach can be damaging for a child with dyslexia and put them at risk for a cascading series of failures. Some parents will delay taking action because they think, “Aren’t the teachers the experts?” Far too often, that is not the case, and it can lead to months or even years of delays before a proper remediation plan is put in place. While many parents may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of advocating for their child, they can accomplish far more than they realize. Those who embrace their role as their child’s advocates tend to adopt a problem-solving mindset and are more inclined to look at all of their options both inside and outside of school and get help sooner.

2. Educate yourself

Parents need to educate themselves relentlessly so that they can make informed decisions. There is ample high-quality content about dyslexia available online. Parents can start with sites such as International Dyslexia Association to grow their database of knowledge quickly. At Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, they can learn about the underlying neurobiology of dyslexia and much more. Wrightslaw.com is a great place for parents to learn the basics about the laws and procedures that pertain to special education, how to request evaluations and obtain services from the school district. Additional information about dyslexia and the challenges children and families face is available on sites such as Understood.org and Reading Rockets.

3. Evaluate options

In most cases, parents will find that they will need community and home-based resources above and beyond what the school is offering for remediation and skill-building. This may take the form of a private school placement, tutoring, outside classes, counseling, and more. Fortunately, educational technology has become one of the most powerful tools for remediation and can be made available at school, at learning centers and even at home. There are now numerous tools to help dyslexic students with the reading, writing and editing demands of school such as Scribeasy, Grammarly, Google Read & Write and Quill. Evaluating these options can help clarify a path forward.

4. Build a community

A well-known dyslexic Henry Winkler, “The Fonz” from Happy Days, said, “You don’t grow out of dyslexia. You just learn to negotiate with it.” Just as a dyslexic child will have to keep working at it, so will parents, as their child’s advocates. But they don’t have to do it alone. Parent communities have sprung up both in-person and online. Many states now have a Decoding Dyslexia chapter. These parent advocacy groups not only hold regular meetings and provide support from fellow parents, but are often instrumental in getting their states to pass laws that require school districts to meet the needs of dyslexic students.

5. Take care of yourself

Seven hours a day for nine months out of the year, dyslexic children are often in a setting where they fail over and over again. They desperately need opportunities to do what they love and enjoy, whether that’s outside activities, hobbies or family outings. The same goes for parents. So many parents or caretakers become so focused on the difficulties and challenges of helping their child that they neglect themselves. It’s important they also find ways to rest and replenish their spirit in order to be the best parents they can.

Moving forward

Parents are a critical member of their child’s team, and their active participation is essential to giving their child a voice, especially in the early years. Indeed, strong and persistent parent advocacy can often be a deciding factor in whether or not a child with dyslexia receives services and supports. Parents can tackle this long and often arduous journey by arming themselves with information, seeking support from outside experts and fellow parents, and banding together to effect change.

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