Dyslexia and Specific Learning Disabilities

Date: November 9, 2006
To: Special Education and Pupil Services Directors
From: Stephanie J. Petska, State Director of Special Education
Subject: Dyslexia and Specific Learning Disabilities

Questions from the field have arisen regarding the relationship between dyslexia and identification of a specific learning disability under Wisconsin law. This communication is intended to clarify how dyslexia and determination of specific learning disabilities (SLD) are related.

There are a number of definitions of the term “dyslexia” in use from different sources including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV). The DSM-IV sets forth classification criteria for a reading disorder, stating that “it has also been called dyslexia”, pg. 48.

The DSM-IV and other criteria are used in various settings to identify a reading disorder. The DSM-IV identification can be made by any personnel with the necessary training and experience. This non-school identification does not include a determination of the need for special education, as required in state and federal special education law.

The Department of Public Instruction does NOT require a medical diagnosis of reading disorder, which may also be called dyslexia. In public schools, individualized education program (IEP) teams must use the definition and classification criteria contained in federal and state special education law to identify a specific learning disability in reading. These classification criteria are different from those identified in the DSM-IV and other sources.

IDEA 2004 and state law indicate that a specific learning disability “may include conditions such as perceptual disability, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia.” IDEA, Sec. 602(30)(A-C); Wisconsin PI 11.36 (6). Wisconsin rule PI 11.36 (6) goes on to identify the elements an IEP team must consider to determine that a child has the impairment of specific learning disability. Those elements currently include:

  1. Classroom achievement delay
  2. Significant discrepancy between ability and achievement
  3. Information processing deficits consistent with the classroom achievement delay
  4. Elimination of exclusionary factors

The IEP team must also determine whether there is a need for special education. Thus, the school-based process for identification of a learning disability in reading includes a two-part analysis:

  1. Determination that the child meets the Wisconsin eligibility criteria for specific learning disability set forth in PI 11.36 (6) AND
  2. Identification of the need for special education services as a result of this specific learning disability.

Because the criteria for reading disorder or dyslexia used in non-public school situations is different from the required criteria in federal and state special education law, a child may meet criteria under one system but not under the other. A child identified with a reading disorder, which may also be called dyslexia, must also meet Wisconsin’s eligibility criteria for specific learning disability AND have a need for special education in order to receive special education services.

Identification of a reading disorder, which may also be called dyslexia, does not automatically qualify a student for special education services. However, the information from non-public school evaluations is a part of the existing data that should be considered by an IEP team when determining eligibility and need for special education for a learning disability.

It is important to note that any changes to PI 11.36 (6) resulting from the recent passage of final federal regulations for IDEA 2004 will not change the two-part analysis to determine eligibility for special education services as a student with a specific learning disability.

For questions about this information, contact dpisped@dpi.wi.gov (608) 266-1781