Literacy, Disability and Schools: Navigating Your Way Through the Process as a Parent

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Stack of children's books underneath a cup full of colored pencils. On the cup, there is a space for blackboard writing where it says 'READ'

When a teacher brings up literacy as a concern for your child, they may also bring up any number of learning disabilities.

There might be a million thoughts racing through your head when you get the news. You might wonder how this will impact your child. What their educational experience will look like. You might even start worrying about covering the costs.

Here are some of the things you can expect along the way. Hopefully being aware of them can help you ease any panic you may be feeling.

Reacting to diagnosis as a parent.

As you navigate the path of figuring out what’s going on, remember that the diagnosis of a disability is not a loss or a reason to mourn. It’s simply an opportunity to get your child the resources they need.

Acting in accordance can prevent you from inadvertently damaging your child’s self-esteem.

Learning disabilities that can affect reading.

If your child is having trouble with reading, there are a lot of potential reasons why. Here are some common diagnoses you may explore with your child’s school. This list is not all-inclusive.


When a child has dyslexia, they have trouble with decoding written language. Figuring out how different combinations of letters make different sounds and carry different meanings is more difficult when you have dyslexia.

Students with dyslexia often benefit from having their teachers and/or therapists build lesson plans around the students’ individual needs.

Oral/Written Learning Disorders

If you child has an oral/written learning disorder, you and your child’s teachers have likely noticed that along with reading skills, spoken language skills are also behind.

Those with oral/written learning disorders can have trouble processing word meaning much like dyslexia. In addition, they may struggle with understanding and/or forming their own sentences.

If your child is diagnosed with an oral/written learning disorder, you may also want to get them tested for dyspraxia or apraxia. Both can make it difficult to use the oral motor skills necessary for speech, and may exist independent of or concurrently with oral/written learning disorders.


If your child is having trouble focusing in school, that can definitely affect their ability to learn in that setting. Often when this happens, ADHD is brought up as a potential diagnosis.

Children who have ADHD may be hyperactive, inattentive, or oscillate between the two. ADHD is not considered a learning disorder, technically, but is a disability covered by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Convergence Insufficiency

According to the Mayo Clinic, convergence insufficiency is often mistaken for a learning disability rather than the eye disorder that it is. Convergence is the ability to focus both eyes on one item — particularly when that item is close to your face like a book would be.

One eye focuses on the words, but it requires more work for your child to focus the other eye. This can make it difficult to read. Because your child is putting so much energy into focusing their eyes, they may sometimes be able to ‘pass’ as far as reading aloud goes, but then have trouble retaining the information they just read.

They may also get headaches or simply tire out from putting in so much extra effort.

To eliminate this as a possibility would require testing from an optometrist.

Do schools have to cover the cost of testing?

In most situations, yes. Under the IDEA, public schools must provide an evaluation of the potential disability via a multi-disciplinary team.

You are allowed to pay for outside testing, which you can submit to the school. Just make sure your motivations for getting outside testing are based on serving your child’s best needs.

Private schools may not be subject to the same evaluation requirements.

Do schools have to cover the cost of treatment?

As long as the disability affects the child’s education, yes, public schools are required to provide treatment. This may look like reading or speech/language therapy. It could also mean providing accommodations like additional time to complete tests or reading assignments.

Charter schools are public schools, and they’re technically not allowed to discourage your student’s attendance. However, some administrators may argue that the charter school is not the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for your child given their disability.

Know that you hold a lot of power as the parent, and don’t have to heed administrators or teachers who are trying to bully your kid out of their school. This is important to remember even if you child is not in a charter school.

Private schools are different. They cannot deny your child admission based on their disability. However, whether or not your child will be accommodated depends on how they ended up in private school.

If you opted to enroll them, the private school doesn’t technically have to provide accommodations. If a public agency placed your child in a private school, accommodations are expected.

Treatment outside of school.

There may be services your child requires that are not related to their education. You’d hope to see the school district provide the services anyways, as any number of things can affect a child’s ability to focus and learn.

For example, let’s say your child is diagnosed with convergence insufficiency. They may have things they want to discuss with a mental health therapist. Maybe the inability to retain information at school has damaged their self-esteem, or they simply need to discuss all the extra effort and mental exhaustion it takes to keep up in the classroom.

You would hope a therapist or counselor would be made available by the school, but you might find yourself seeking outside assistance.

Alternatively, an oral-motor disability may affect your child’s food selection along with their literacy, but a school might put you through a years-long argument over food therapy. The argument would be around whether nutrition affected a student’s ability to learn.

These outside services can be expensive. In some states, they’re simply unobtainable if you don’t have the right health insurance or income source. In others, the fact that your child has been diagnosed with a disability will automatically qualify them for Medicaid coverage, regardless of your household income level.

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