Deciding to Seek Help
The first step in the process is to recognize that your child has a learning problem and that she will need extra help or intervention to overcome her difficulties.
Coming to this point may be surprisingly difficult. Your child's own performance may be different from day to day, leading you to question whether there is any significant problem. Unfortunately, this inconsistency is part of the profile of dyslexia, as children with dyslexia are particularly susceptible to the effects of fatigue, stress, or frustration.
Fear of Labeling
Many parents are afraid that if their child is “labeled” with a learning disability, the label will do more harm than good. You may fear that your child will be placed in a special education classroom with children who have cognitive or emotional problems far worse than dyslexia, or that the diagnosis will prevent your child from having access to more challenging course and enrichment opportunities. You may also be afraid that your child will be singled out and rejected by his peers.
Your child may also harbor similar fears. More than anything, she wants to be liked and accepted by her peers, and to be able to learn as quickly as they do and share in the same activities. Like you, she also fears being singled out or left behind.
Fortunately, many of these fears are unfounded. Public awareness has increased dramatically, and most people now understand that children with dyslexia are bright and capable. Teachers and school administrators will usually understand that your child may be struggling in one area but capable of doing advanced work in another.
A diagnosis of dyslexia is often the first step toward structuring an educational program that will lead your child toward success. In fact, for a very bright child, testing of IQ and aptitude for dyslexia may also lead to qualification and placement in your school's program for gifted and talented youngsters. Once the learning disability is recognized, your child's innate strengths and potential might also become more apparent.
In contrast, the failure to diagnose can leave your child struggling against an ever-increasing set of academic demands, with no real prospect of receiving help or understanding. Very few children can overcome dyslexia without specialized help and academic support.
Overcoming Resistance to Testing
You may find that when you discuss your child's problems with others, they may try to dissuade you from seeking a diagnosis. When you raise the issue with your child's teacher, she may try to reassure you that your child simply needs more time. She may seem to try to avoid any discussion of the subject, or actively discourage you from asking for testing, arguing that you do not want your child labeled with a disability.
You may also encounter surprising resistance from your family members. It is common for one parent to feel that the learning problems can be resolved with hard work and determination. Other family members may suggest that your child's problems stem from laziness, lack of motivation, or immaturity — and even try to blame your parenting style — arguing that your child simply needs more attention or discipline.
You may be told that your child is too young to be tested for dyslexia, or that there is no test for dyslexia that can be given. If your child old enough to attend school, this is not true. Even though a firm diagnosis may not be possible, your child can be screened to determine if he has a learning pattern indicating possible dyslexia.
Again, you need to trust your instincts. Keep in mind that if you are mistaken in suspecting dyslexia, the best way to find out is through testing and diagnosis. Even if your child does not have dyslexia, an evaluation by a qualified professional may help you uncover other issues that are at the root of your child's school problems.
When an Older Child Asks for Help
In some cases, your older child or teenager may be the one who asks for testing. Your child may find the academic demands in middle school and high school overwhelming, at least in some subject areas. He may have learned about dyslexia on his own, through websites or by talking to other kids. In any case, he knows that he is struggling with material that seems easy for his peers.
Your teenager may be afraid to bring up the subject of dyslexia at home. He may be embarrassed to let you know just how poorly he is doing at school, or he may be afraid that you will be angry or upset. It is important that you listen to your child and try to understand the reasons he feels he needs extra help.
You might want to take a list of common dyslexia symptoms from here or from another website, and ask your child to show you which problems on the list he feels apply to him. You may be surprised to learn that your child has been struggling for years, but has managed in the past to hide his problems through sheer determination and hard work.
Your support and understanding is crucial; for a child who has previously done well academically, an appropriate diagnosis can be the boost he needs to excel in high school and gain admittance into the college of his choice.
Is Diagnosis Always Necessary?
Some families are able to help their children without formal testing and diagnosis. Keep in mind that dyslexia is not a disease or mental defect, but a learning difference that usually requires that the child receive extra educational support. You don't need a prescription to enroll your child at a learning center or hire a tutor, and the same multisensory teaching methods that are best for children with dyslexia will also tend to help other children, as they are geared to reach multiple learning styles.
Research shows that approximately 15 percent of all school children have dyslexia. However, only 5 percent of school children are identified as having a learning disability. The other 10 percent are missed because teachers fail to recognize that they are struggling, or that their academic or behavior problems are connected to specific difficulties with learning.
If you homeschool, or if your child is attending a school with a flexible and understanding staff, you may find that his needs can be well addressed without going through the process of a formal diagnosis of a learning disability. However, diagnostic testing will help you better understand your child and may guide you to make better choices. Ideally, testing should give you a map of your child's strong and weak points, and a set of recommendations as to how best to meet his educational needs.
A diagnosis of dyslexia or a related learning disability will also give you and your child important legal rights. If your child is in public school, the diagnosis will require the school authorities to work with you to design an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to meet your child's needs. You will be entitled to have a voice in the process and to attend regular meetings to discuss and monitor your child's progress and to make modifications to the IEP as needed.
It's possible that a diagnosis could also prompt your child's school to offer him appropriate modifications and accommodations to enable him to experience success in school. For example, he might be allowed extra time on tests or allowed to use a calculator. These modifications help level the playing field so your child is able to keep pace with his classmates.