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4 Steps for Navigating Dyslexia Across Departments

Special Education

Dyslexia, a neuro-biological disorder that affects language processing, has no bearing on intelligence, but complicates a student’s ability to learn by making both reading and verbal communication difficult. Because dyslexia notoriously flies under the radar, a child can go years with the disorder unidentified and with no answer for why schoolwork is so difficult ― or worse, with teachers and parents assuming that laziness is to blame for poor performance in school.

Yet, even once dyslexia is identified, many factors are at play and educators face the difficulty of determining the best plan to support that student.

So how can districts continue to evolve to successfully navigate the complex issues presented by dyslexia? In this episode of Field Trip, we talk with Marcy Eisinger and Cathy Clifford of Garland Independent School District in Texas about their unique approach to influencing positive change for students and parents with the help of the administration.

Perhaps the key element of the Garland approach to addressing dyslexia is interdepartmental cooperation. With dyslexic students potentially falling under the care of special education or Section 504 programs ― and some also receiving English as a second language (ESL) supports ― the team at Garland has worked to consolidate departments and open lines of communication so that no student is isolated in one direction to their detriment. Marcy, Cathy and their interdepartmental team are making strides in ensuring they see the whole picture for each student and are able to find common ground on the best support plan.

Garland is producing results in student retention, reading scores and serving the whole child.

1. Proactive training and education

Successfully addressing dyslexia begins with identification, and as Marcy says, while it’s never too late, earlier is always better. In addition to having a staff of capable speech therapists, dyslexia therapists and special education professionals, Garland is working to train every classroom teacher in recognizing the early signs of dyslexia ― including avoidance of reading tasks and written answers that do not seem to match a student’s comprehension. 

In fact, Garland has gone even further, holding training sessions for members of the community as well. When it comes to dyslexia, Marcy says it’s important for parents to understand that “it’s not that there’s something wrong, it’s just something different that we can easily address if we know about it.”

2. Continuous, far-reaching collaboration

Developing a plan of intervention and support for a student with dyslexia at Garland is a team effort. Cathy, who works in special education, notes that she frequently collaborates with K-12 teachers, the Gifted and Talented department, dyslexia therapists, diagnosticians, the ESL department, 504 teams and speech pathologists. The goal is that they have “all of the input from everyone involved that has knowledge of the student to be able to help make those [student-support] determinations.”

3. Individualized planning

Cathy shares that one difficulty of supporting students with dyslexia is the impossibility of predicting exactly how long it will take to see improvement from any individual learner, because each child is unique. She says the important thing is to accompany each student on their journey, every step of the way. 

Marcy also recalls one student failing to make progress in an ESL program until his dyslexia was identified. Because Marcy was able to work with the ESL and language support departments in developing an individual plan for him, he was able to see great gains in reading and performance in school. Involving everyone who is familiar with the details of a student’s situation ensures that individual needs are met.

4. A shared commitment to open-mindedness

Inevitably, each member of an interdepartmental team will bring a special perspective to the table. While this is the strength of cooperation, it also requires that everyone keep an open mind, an open dialogue and a willingness to work together toward the best solution for each student.

In Marcy’s experience, making a commitment to an interdepartmental approach is about the people: building relationships between educators, bringing support to parents and enabling students to achieve all they can.

“I’m a firm believer in servant leadership. The bottom line is, we’re here to serve the students, and we also want to grow our personnel and our teachers…. So it’s a matter of really trying to be able to communicate well and building up others so that they can do the best work for our students.”

Whether using a 504 Plan or an IEP to support a student with dyslexia, Frontline makes it easier to plan data-driven accommodations and measure their efficacy. Learn how

Danielle Simbajon

Danielle is part of the global, award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She graduated from Emerson College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing, Literature and Publishing, and has developed content to empower the education community for over 10 years.