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Reading, Writing, and Arithmatic!

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

At first glance, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia may appear to be the same, but each is unique. They affect reading, writing, and math, respectively. What do they all have in common? They are all “specific learning disabilities” under federal and state law and if your child is diagnosed with one or more of these specific learning disabilities, your child may be eligible for an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Dyslexia (/dəsˈleksēə/) “is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” (definition by The International Dyslexia Association)

Dysgraphia (/disˈgrafēə/) “is a neurological disorder of written expression that impairs writing ability and fine motor skills. It is a learning disability that affects children and adults, and interferes with practically all aspects of the writing process, including spelling, legibility, word spacing and sizing, and expression.” (definition by ADDitude)

Dyscalculia (/diskalˈkyo͞olēə/) is a “learning disorder that makes mathematical reasoning and computation difficult, in spite of adequate education, average or greater intelligence, and proper motivation. It appears as poor memory for numbers, time, sequences, directions, layouts, and visual-spatial information, as well as a confounding inability to manage these things.” (definition by

Under the Federal Law, “specific learning disability” is "a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.” The law further states that one of these disorders is dyslexia. The State law complies with the requirements of the Federal law.

If your child has been evaluated “generally” and the results show distinct weaknesses in areas such as phonological awareness, decoding, and/or reading fluency, your child may have a reading-based learning disorder such as dyslexia. In order to determine further, your school is required to assess your child in the area of the “suspected disability”. It is an affirmative obligation, but if the school does not assess on its own, you should request a meeting an ask for the appropriate assessment(s). Using the term “dyslexia” helps you identify the areas of difficulty for your child, but the evaluations should be in all areas of the suspected disability, not strictly limited to dyslexia.

Although Dyslexia is the only disability listed by name under the law, dysgraphia and dyscalculia are implied in the language. This is supported by a Dear Colleague Letter dated October 23, 2015 from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS). In that letter, OSERS stated that “there is nothing in the IDEA or our implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP”.

Not only was OSERS saying that the law permitted the use of the terms dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, but that the use of the terms could be useful in identifying and addressing the unique needs of students.

OSERS’ letter “encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.“ So when you're in your Team meeting, remember, "use your words!".

Over the years, the law has evolved to address the prevalence of Dyslexia among children, the need for early detection, proper evaluation and diagnosis, as well as evidenced-based reading instruction. In September 2016, the Senate unanimously passed Resolution 576. The text acknowledged “That the Senate—calls on Congress, schools, and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed…”

Massachusetts has made its own strides by way of Chapter 272, “An Act Relative to Students with Dyslexia” of 2018. DESE has also been working with 89 stakeholders to create new Dyslexia Guidelines using a Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) Approach. The MTSS will provide literacy screening, interventions, and support to all early learners with baseline data to track progress while still providing special education assessments and support for students with dyslexia. DESE’s MTSS approach is intended to provide "immediate and equitable access to reading support”.

If you have a child who is struggling in school, who has a suspected disability or a diagnosed learning disability of dyslexia, dysgraphia, and/or dyscalculia and you need special education legal assistance, please contact me for a free initial consultation.


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