Dyslexia in New Jersey: Special Education Advocates Perspective
Parents of dyslexic children often struggle to find support for their child’s educational, emotional, and social needs. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help parents with guidance and direction. They can be accessed online or through your local school.
As a parent, there are several things you can do immediately to help your child.
- Every day, read a short story or paragraph aloud with your child (even simple rhymes like “Jack and Jill ran up the hill . . .” Do this until mastered. Then move to other such stories. This will help develop fluency and confidence, which have been shown to be necessary for developing a successful reader.
- Try to read aloud to your child daily, even for fifteen minutes.
- Get audiobooks and children’s magazines. They are readily available and free at your local library.
- Constantly provide positive reinforcement during reading and other activities. This stimulates motivation to succeed and do more.
- Set yourself up as a role model by reading books and magazines yourself. This exemplifies how much enjoyment reading provides.
While doing these simple things, you should familiarize yourself with dyslexia. It is one of the most common learning disabilities. It has been extensively researched. Several good sources are available for further information:
- In 2017, the New Jersey Department of Education introduced “The Dyslexia Handbook.” This will provide parents important information and guidelines regarding the assisting of children with dyslexia.
- Books: “Overcoming Dyslexia” by Sally Shaywitz. This is a best-seller among people interested in dyslexia. It explains the science and translates the information into policy and everyday practice.
- As with books, there are numerous websites available. The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity has much information and resources to assist you in a better understanding of the disability.
- Film: “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia.” This is an HBO film, and can be purchased on Amazon, viewed on Netflix, or downloaded on iTunes and The Big Picture Website.
The first question to answer is whether your child has dyslexia. New Jersey has passed a law in 2013 requiring every school district to screen for dyslexia. This law (S2442/A3608) has the potential to assist families in getting intervention early. Unfortunately, some New Jersey school districts simply are not screening.
Early intervention is critical. The screening law provides that if a child shows indicators of dyslexia or other reading disabilities early, then the school district is required to screen by the end of the first semester of second grade. If the screening indicates the child may indeed have dyslexia or other reading disability, then he or she is required to receive a comprehensive assessment of the learning disorder.
If the assessment confirms a diagnosis of dyslexia or other reading disability, then the child should receive appropriate evidence-based intervention strategies.
What this law accomplishes for New Jersey students struggling with dyslexia is that it mandates that schools screen for the disability. What the law leaves out is what should be done with children who are older than second grade.
While the law is a major step in the right direction, there are still some significant issues that you should be aware of. Despite the laws in New Jersey, there is no change in your child’s classification. There is simply no classification of dyslexia. This is because the classification comes from federal law.
This means that for New Jersey students, the school district can no longer ignore dyslexia or tell you that the law does not recognize dyslexia. Although the federal law may not recognize dyslexia under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that does not mean that the Child Study Team can ignore dyslexia and it does not mean it cannot be included in some of the descriptions in the IEP.
As we advocate for our children with dyslexia, we work to connect the dots to show the district that our children do have dyslexia. We do so by mandating the correct assessments and appropriate classifications to ensure our students get a free and appropriate public education as mandated under IDEA. If you don’t know or are uncomfortable in confronting the school so early in your child’s educational experience, bring an advocate or an attorney with you to your first IEP meeting.
One of the authors of this article was fortunate. She had a first-grade teacher assist and advocate for her. Consequently, her child received the necessary services that resulted in her education advancement. It was through that advocate and the proper programs which were used that the student’s true intellect was uncovered. Ironically, her language arts skills, with early intervention, were actually five grade levels above her grade level. This is not unusual.
Individuals with dyslexia often have average to superior intelligence. They often do well in creative pursuits, such as math, science, and fine arts. People such as Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo DaVinci overcame dyslexia and changed the course of human events. Steven Spielberg has said, “being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60 was “the last puzzle part in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.”
As a parent who has been through the process, a former superintendent and an attorney who exclusively practices in this area, you are doing the right thing. Fight for your child. If you need help, call us for direction.
About the Authors
Dr. Mark Franceshini and Susan Schroeder Clark, Esq. work in New Jersey exclusively advocating for children with disabilities in schools. Dr. Franceshini is a retired Superintendent of School in Monmouth County, and education has been his calling for 40 years as a teacher and an administrator. He has been involved in the changes in special education law since its inception in 1974. Susan Clark has advocated for students and has found her calling in starting a law firm with a purpose of advocating for children with special needs in a manner respectful of the parents students and their emotional and economic situation.