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If you suspect that your child has dyslexia (a language-based disorder that affects a kid's ability to read and write), talk to his teacher and ask that he be evaluated. If the teacher has not noticed a problem (or is uncooperative), write a letter to the school principal specifically asking that your child be evaluated. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that public schools provide free testing upon a parent's written request. Remember, individual teachers have classrooms full of kids to monitor and the subtle, early warning signs of dyslexia can be easily missed, so it's up to you to be your child's advocate. It's important to note, however, that the goal of a school evaluation is only to determine whether your child qualifies for state special education services, not to provide a specific diagnosis or treatment plan. For this you'll have to pursue a private psychoeducational assessment, which is administered by an independent evaluator, hospital, or university-affiliated child-study center or learning-disability clinic (your pediatrician can suggest one in your area).
If your child is diagnosed as dyslexic, he'll receive an IEP (individualized educational plan) from the evaluator that you should share with his teachers. As you read this document, make sure your child's goals are specific and measurable -- "by March 15, Zane will read second-grade material at 40 to 60 words per minute with zero to five errors," for example. This way you'll know if your child is falling behind right away and won't have to wait until June to make changes in the program. There are also things you can do at home to reinforce the help your child gets at school. Try taking turns reading a brief story or passage out loud with your child. You can also use commercial programs to help your child practice his reading like Read Naturally and Reading Assistant.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the September 2004 issue of Child magazine. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.