Thursday, August 7, 2008

Special Needs Child Controversy

You might remember I did a story last school year about a little boy with special needs who missed his school field trip because he was in a wheelchair. The mom was told the train the kids were taking was not wheelchair accessible. The superintendent from that school district was very open to doing whatever he could to improve how special needs students are treated. Because of that story, other parents have been contacting me about their issues with school districts in the area.

The story we ran tonight on HOI 19 is on "Dyslexia." Here's the original email I received:

"Our third grade daughter was diagnosed with Dyslexia in October of 2007. The school district refused to accept the diagnosis/report and to this date is still refusing to give her a 504 to ensure recommended accommodations throughout the rest of her education in the district. The district itself is taking a very strange attitude towards Dyslexia, officially stating that it may not truly exist and is not a real learning disorder.

Near the end of the school year it had gotten so bad that the teachers at the elementary school were not allowed to use the word Dyslexia and would refer to it as "the D word". I have sent as an attachment a copy of the complaint sent to the Illinois State Board of Education, as well as a copy of the timeline documenting our steps through this process. If you are interested in further info, I have all of the exhibits to the complaint as electronic copies on my computer and could e mail them to you."

Thank you,

Miriam Meyer

HOI 19's Ashley McNamee went to Miriam's house and met her daughter, then went to District 140 and talked to the superintendent. I talked to the State Board of Education. Here's the story we ran:

Like many kids her age, Rachel Meyer isn't necessarily looking forward to going back to school next week. "Usually because I have to do a lot of work, but I do like the lunch," said Rachel, who will be in fourth grade this fall. Her trouble with school became apparent last year when everything from her grades to her behavior changed. "We're talking about a very happy child so when she started coming home crying, saying I can't do this, we had to do something," said Miriam Meyer, Rachel's mother.

She began researching different learning disabilities online until the symptoms of one disability started sounding very familiar. "A tremendous amount of trouble sounding words out and learning how to read," said Miriam. "I immediately suspected dyslexia." Shortly thereafter, Rachel was tested by a nationally certified dyslexia expert and sure enough she was diagnosed severely dyslexic.

When people think of dyslexia they think reading backwards and mixing up letters. Experts say this learning disability is much more than that. The National Institute of Health estimates dyslexia affects nearly one in five children across the country, the majority of which are never diagnosed. "Sometimes the problems look like they're dancing around in my head," said Rachel. Coping with dyslexia has been challenging, but Miriam says surprisingly, the hardest part is getting Rachel's school district to accept it.

"They're just not accepting dyslexia, they're not recognizing dyslexia," she said. Miriam says she approached District 140 in Eureka asking for things like having tests read out-loud, not being counted off for spelling and audio book reports. "We met with the principal and he said there was nothing he could do," said Miriam. The Meyers showed us hundreds of pages outlining complaints they've filed against the school board, the school district, even the Illinois State Board of Education. We've talked to several other District 140 families who all say they're children with dyslexia are being neglected.

District 140 says they are meeting the needs of students. "We look at test scores, we look at how the student is doing in class, input from the parents and if we find the child needs help, we will put them in any special learning program that they need," said Dr. Randy Crump, District 140 Superintendent. The State Board of Education wouldn't talk about this specific case, but they indicated what some parents want for their kids may not be what's best. "Yes, we have, oh no question about it, we've been very happy with how things are," said Crump.

Miriam stands firm saying what the school district is doing for her child is not working and something needs to change. She says, if it doesn't her family will be packing their things and fixing the problem themselves. "We are looking to move, we are looking to move to Tremont because it has a strong dyslexia program in place," said Miriam.

One of the nation's experts on dyslexia says she agrees with the Meyer family. "This school district is so far out of compliance that it's outrageous," said Barton, who founded Bright Solutions for Dyslexia. According to Susan Barton, the district needs to be following a 504 plan. It's the federal civil rights law requiring children with a disability a free and equal public education. District 140 says they do accommodate 504 plans to students who need it. There are over 1650 students enrolled in District 140 Schools through out central Illinois.

Thanks for contacting us! If you know of any help for kids with dyslexia in the area or a school district that has an outstanding dyslexia program, let us know by posting a comment.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

Methodist Medical Center's new online healthcare program, MyMethodist eHealth, is a proud sponsor of this blog post. MyMethodist eHealth is the secure link to your doctor's office that lets you request appointments, order prescription refills, update your personal health record, and more. Sign up for MyMethodist eHealth here.


Anonymous said...

District 140 has paid to have teachers trained to effectively deal with dyslexia, but recently has refused to allow these teacher to put to use what they were trained to do. In the past, the district even had a college student with dyslexia speak to the high school teachers explaining his symptoms and how he deals with them as a college student. I also understand from college instuctors who teach teacher education class on special education that dyslexia is a recognized learning disablity. Why then can this district or any other deny a student a 504 or special ed services?

Anonymous said...

I have found advocates for access in Peoria to be a great help. their phone number is 309-682-3500. A good website is Our children have rights and it is our job as parents to advocate for those rights

Anonymous said...

My 10 year old son was diagnosed with moderate/severe dyslexia a little over a year ago. My husband and I noticed as early as preschool that he didn't learn as easily as his twin brother. My dyslexic son could not memorize letters easily or remember the sounds that most letter are associated with (especially vowels). He struggled with learning words such as "at", "it", "are" in kindergarten. I was told to "give him time". By first grade, he was falling behind in reading and spelling. The school district wanted to try a reading program before they would test him for dyslexia. I had been asking about dyslexia since preschool. At the end of the 18 week reading program (late winter), he was still behind and had not made the progress that we had hoped for. I was feeling rather frantic on his behalf. He did not want to read (because he couldn't) and he called himself "stupid". IT was torture doing homework everynight. What would take his twin brother 20 minutes to accomplish during homework would take my dyslexic son (with extensive help from myself and husband) 1-1.5 hours. We ALL dreaded homework. I finally paid the $500.00 and had him tested at Easter Seals in Peoria. You guessed it, he was dyslexic. I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis but also angry that I had been convinced to wait for so long (by his teachers). It was a matter of chance that I came across a flyer advertising a presentation in Morton on the Orton-Gillingham method for teaching dyslexic kids and adults to read and spell. I cried during the 3 hour presentation because when the speaker listed all of the methods that WILL NOT work with dyslexic children/adults, I recognized that we had tried almost all of them. When she described how frustrated children become when being taught a method of reading and spelling that is impossible for them to achieve, I saw MY CHILD in those words. I felt as if I had unnecessarily tortured him for the previous 3-4 years. However, good did come from my attendance at that presentation. I obtained the name of a qualified Orton-Gillingham tutor and have seen significant progress in my childs ability to read. We are not "home-free", but we are making good progress.

The unfortunate part of the story is that teachers in my school district are not trained in the Orton-Gillingham method. My son is taught the in the traditional (and completely unsuccessful!) method at his school. During the school year, it is very difficult for him because he has problems sorting the methods at school from the methods at the tutor. Although, the school has tried to accomodate his needs, I don't really feel they know WHAT his needs are as a dyslexic child. If the stats are correct and 1 out of 5 children have some form of dyslxia, why doesn't our school district have a qualified teacher that can not only identify these children but HELP these children.

I will continue to fight for my child and his needs in the classroom. I will personally pay for our dyslexia tutor to meet with his teacher this year in hopes that she will understand his needs and make the appropirate accomodations. However, I know there will still be the battle of ignorance regarding dyslexia and appropriate accomodations to be fought.

Anonymous said...

Dyslexia CAN be very disabiling, but I have personally witnessed huge improvements, not only in school work but also in behavior, in children who are getting the help they need. How can District 140 disregard a dyslexia diagnosis while other schools are making accomodations? said...

Anonymous 1, The District told us it has implemented the techniques for teaching kids with dyslexia. Can you give some insight into why you say otherwise? I am trying to figure out why everyone tells a different story!

Anonymous 3,
That is a frustrating road you have traveled. Studies show dyslexia is misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed. It sounds like some school districts aren't aware and others are. I know from experience how frustrating it is to have something wrong with you or your child and no one seems to know how to fix the problem, then one day, you ask the right person and it is such a relief. I am glad to hear you are getting your child the held he needs. It is unfortunate you have to pay an outside company. Hopefully that will change in the future. Although, I do think Easter Seals does great work!

Anonymous said...

My child does not have dyslexia but a form of autism and we too have encountered difficulty from our school district. It's unfortunate that we as parents have to be so aggressive on behalf of our children, when teachers and administrators should be doing their best for ALL students. For us it's depriving us of the normal relationship that develops between parents and teachers, and we can't help but feel this is reflected on our children too.

Anonymous said...

I do not know if the information is the same in all states, but I am a Speech Pathologist in Florida working with the school system. In Florida, Dyslexia is no longer used as a "label" for children who have difficulties with learning. We now reference them as having a "learning disability in reading/math/writing". Dyslexia is a generalization, where our school system looks for a more specific diagnosis, whether it is a learning disability due to auditory processing deficits, visual-processing deficits, visual-motor deficits.
If the school that this child goes to can do testing for IQ, academic achievement and also look at how the child processes, then you may be able to find a more specific reason for the learning difficulties. By learning if they have auditory processing, visual-motor, etc, the classroom teachers and parents can learn strategies to teach their child in a manner that is helpful for their difficulties.
Psychologists in schools (depending on what each school district/state guidelines allow) require specific testing. Sometimes if outside testing, by a non-school psychologist is done, it is difficult to make a diagnosis by their testing. Hopefully this helps.

ron roman said...


Anonymous said...

Eureka Public Library will be showing 2 Susan Barton Videos on Dyslexia August 12th and 14th at 7:00 p.m.

Anonymous said...

To answer NewsAnchor Mom about why the school says they are implementing techniques...research by the NIH has proven that the only way to remediate dyslexia is to teach with an Orton-Gillingham based system. Period. What the parents in this story, and in some of the blogs, are asking the school district to do is provide accommodations while a private tutor teaches an O-G system to the student. The school can do things like reduce homework load, not grade spelling tests, allow the student to use a calculator, provide a copy of the teacher's notes from the board/overhead, etc. These accommodations will NOT remediate dyslexia; they will simply make it more possible for the dyslexic child to succeed in the school system while the O-G system works to bring the child up to grade level in reading/writing/spelling. I am a local tutor and I have seen great strides in my students using this system! When teachers allow for accommodations, I see my students grow in confidence and I see their attitudes improve as they feel as if they have a chance to "show what they know" at school. said...

Is it possible for OG to be taught in schools? Is it expensive?

Gina Cooke said...

It's critical for parents and educators alike to understand that the fields of reading instruction and dyslexia remediation have more than 4 decades of scientifically designed research to inform them.

The field of dyslexia remediation is a highly-regulated field, and parents and educators should be encouraged to seek programs that are accredited by the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC), the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), or the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). Purveyors of other "national certifications" are generally not recognized as credentialed instructors within the scientific dyslexia remediation community.

The science of reading and dyslexia tells us that reading is a language-based skill set, and dyslexia is a language-based disorder. It is not a visual disorder, and there is only anecdotal evidence (not empirical) to support optometric therapies for reading disorders. Visual therapies promoted by optometrists (not ophthalmologists) may help with visual deficits, but they have not been proven to change language processing skills.

Parents have real power within schools, but as long as parents seek advice from outside sources with no regulation, no science, and no evidence behind them, they will continue to be readily dismissed by local public educators.

The field of dyslexia and dyslexia remediation is informed by psychology, neurology, linguistics, neuroscience, and education; these standards should be held above skilled marketing and slick brochures. There is no magic curriculum, no specific materials, that will be the answer for children, teachers and schools. Rather, scientific evidence points time and again to the critical component of teacher training and knowledge in addressing written language deficits.

Parents should be encouraged to familiarize thesmelves with the law as well as with the professional standards for diagnosing and treating dyslexia. The International Dyslexia Association website ( is a perfect place to start. Make sure that a professional's "national certification" has some teeth to it, that it is from an accredited program and that it is widely recognized by the larger professional dyslexia community.

Programs and websites that rely on the power of one individual's personality, or whose main objective is to generate income, should be suspect. For reliable, non-agendaed information, check out or

Anonymous said...

Dyslexia became part of my family during my son's first grade year. He struggled to read and spell but was strong in math. We use a local tutor in the o-G system, and now he can read and spell at his grade level. My family was able to identify and pay for the tutoring, but reinfocing in the school system would be ideal for his long term success. I know my son is not alone; I saw other children in his class struggling. Learning disabilities are not stumbling blocks, simply requiring a different way to learn. Schools need to catch up with all learning methods to make children willing to learn successful.

Anonymous said...

My son has dyslexia, and he thinks he is stupid. All my energy goes to making sure he maintains what self esteem and confidence he has. The last thing I want him to do is to give up on school and learning. There are many things that he and other dyslexic kids are good at aside language, it would be our failures not to help them see their strong points.O-G system has been proven by research to work, but we need to educate school administrators and teachers alike. Ideally it is one-one one teaching, so expensive yes. But there are alternative books, softwares, etc... Illinois dyslexia Meeting in October (16,17) in Chicago area. Great meeting for educators and parents.

Anonymous said...

This is just another example how we need to get the media involved in our schools and make people aware of the needs of these children. In my school district, it is common to hear that we do not test for dsylexia until 3rd grade... can you imagine how hard the first three years are for these children. The same with autism. Please look into this subject with local schools. Contact Jen Crider in Morton IL who is a dsylexia specialist and tutors children who are diagnosed early. She has wonderful tips and ideas for all students.

Anonymous said...

News Anchor Mom asked if it was possible to use an Orton-Gillingham based program in school.

YES, and many schools do. The problem with using the program in schools is that the teacher implementing the O-G program is often not trained in effectively using the program. The ineffective teacher waters down the program or skips essential steps.

Ideally the program requires one-on-one instruction or no more than 3 students. Schools often don't have the staff to give this type of small group instruction.

Another difficulty with providing this type of instruction in school is that students are released from services too quickly. Once the student starts to show progress the school beleives that student doesn't need that instruction any longer. If that student learns best from a multi-sensory method, they need to continue learning reading and spelling through that method. This could take 3 or more years of small group or individual instruction. Schools typically don't have those resources.

Teachers, administrators, school psychologist, reading teachers, and all other school staff typically have no training or knowledge at all on understanding dyslexia. With over 30 years of research by the National Institutes if Health on dyslexia it is beyond time for colleges and universities to start training our future educators.

In Dr. Sally Shaywitz book called "Overcoming Dyslexia" on page 281 she addresses the question, "Has anyone evaluated the effectiveness of public school programs generally used to teach reading to dyslexic students?" The first sentence reads, "Yes, and in general, public school programs for children with reading disability are failures."

In her book, Dr. Shaywitz also talks about the schools ability to PREVENT students from struggling to read. Schools could identify the "at-risk" students in kindergarten with phonological skills assessments. Research has shown that the top predictor of reading success is good phonemic awareness skills(the ability to manipulate sounds within words). Generally, if a student has good phonemic awareness skills the student will be a good reader if they have poor phonemic awareness skills they will struggle with word decoding, fluency, spelling, writing and ultimatly reading comprehension. With over 30 years of research we know how to teach a child to read with phonemic awareness instruction followed by a systematic approach to phonics. Teaching reading and spelling with a logical, multi-sensory, and systematic approach.

From first hand experience, there is no doubt in my mind that public schools in Central Illinois do not have the knowledge they need or the willingness to acquire the knowledge they need to effectively teach children with dyslexia.
Schools can dramatically reduce their special education numbers, raise their test scores, raise students self-esteem and be effective with their reading instruction but they have to have the knowledge and willingness to change.

It is sad that school personal in Central Illinois seem to still be unsure whether dyslexia even exist when whole states like Texas have dyslexia laws in their educational system.

Gina Cooke said...

I am proud of parents in District 140 and elsewhere who are pushing for change, for their own children and for others who are struggling. As someone who works closely with parents of children with dyslexia, I have seen first-hand the endless time, effort and strength they put into fighting for their children's futures.

Sorry, Speech Path in Florida, but dyslexia is not a generalization. Just because schools use different nomenclature does not mean that dyslexia is anything other than what it is: it is a specific, language-based learning disorder. It has specific cognitive characteristics that have been well defined by decades of research, including neuroscience. Don't take my word for it -- don't take your school's word for it. Check with the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development and the International Dyslexia Association.

Whatever you call it, when a normally intelligent child is struggling with reading, writing, and especially spelling, they need specially trained teachers to teach them the structure of language. Calling it something different won't change what they need.

Like it or not, the reason that District 140 teachers cannot use the O-G training they received is because the program they were trained in is not accredited, and the instructor of the program is not recognized as a credentialed instructor in the field. However, the district also has not offered any science-based alternative to provide a free and appropriate public education for its many children with dyslexia, as is required by law. Getting kids A's and B's won't help. Making a year of progress in a year's time means they'll never close the gap with their peers. When you have a child with an IQ of 127 who can't spell legibly, that child will be disabled for life unless someone teaches her HOW to spell in English rather than how to temporarily memorize 10 or 20 words per week.

NewsAnchorMom, it is posible to implement O-G in schools. It can be expensive, but doesn't have to be. Even more than the cost, it requires a large commitment form school personnel, and can be difficult to implement 1-on-1 or small-group tutoring. As Anonymous said (Stacy?), most parents are asking for accommodations in school, not for 1-on-1 tutoring.

However, the principles of O-G are the systematic and direct instruction of the structure of written language. These can be taught to every child, and well-designed research has shown that children who learn language structure perform better cross-categorically, not just dyslexic kids.

What is language structure? It's the rules and patterns that govern our written language. When do you use "c" "k" or "ck" to spell the /k/ sound? Why is the /shun/ in "instruction" speled "tion" but in "musician" it's spelled "cian"? How do I know when to spell the /f/ sound with an "f" or with a "ph"?

All of these spelling conundrums can be successfully handled with teacher knowledge. Teacher knowledge requires teacher training. Quality teacher training takes more than a week, and that's the problem within most school districts: lack of real knowledge about dyslexia and lack of commitment of time and resources and interest to train teachers.

Nationwide, more than 80% of special ed referrals are for a specific learning disability, and most of those involve dyslexia. This is a huge public health and civil rights issue. Along with poverty, addiction, and unemployment, academic difficulties are one of the leading predictors of delinquency, incarceration, and participation in the public aid system (see National Center on Education Disability and Juvenile Justice).

Ever seen an illiterate adult? It's not because they're stupid or didn't try hard enough; it's because no one ever taught them properly how to read and write as a child.

Why does the school say they're doing the right thing and parents say they're not? Because, in spite of the research, there's a wealth of misinformation out there. But look at schools that have raised reading test scores. You'll find time and again that this was accomplished by teachers learning language structure, and teaching it to their students.

Schools often don't like to implement 504 plans (Section 504 is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act) because, unlike an Individualized Education Plan (governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act), a 504 doesn't generate any money for the school.

There has been a free, accredited Orton-Gillingham tutor training program in Peoria for over two years, and not one local public school district has contacted that center. Not District 140, not 150, no one. District 140 is not unique in their response to parents of children with dyslexia. Plenty of their parents and teachers have called, plenty have ISBE-approved workshops, and some have done the free, year-long training.

Change happens one family, one teacher at a time. It usually doesn't happen in the education programs at colleges and universities. It usually doesn't happen at the administration level.

Change in written language instruction, like reading itself, happens bottom-up, not top-down, in spite of our philosophies and good intentions.

Cathy H said...

Thank-you Gina. I always enjoy your presentations on the structure of language at IDA conferences. IDIDA has great conferences too!

Template by lollybloggerdesigns. Design by Taylor Johnston.