Training to aid disability diagnosis


GREENFIELD — When Lora Cole learned her son had been diagnosed with dyslexia, she found herself feeling more relief than concern. For years, she’d seen the indications of a learning disorder, but doctors originally misdiagnosed her child, and it didn’t add up.

After receiving a formal diagnosis at the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana in Indianapolis, her son is receiving treatment and is now performing well in school. A newly enacted law requiring incoming Indiana teachers to receive training to identify learning disabilities may help thousands like Cole, who went years without answers about her son’s condition.

“We just couldn’t understand,” said Cole of Greenfield. “We were spending hundreds of dollars on tutoring and medication, and something didn’t click. He still wasn’t grasping it.”

House Bill 1108, which went into effect July 1, requires the Department of Education to develop a training program for those preparing to enter the classroom to recognize when students aren’t progressing at a normal pace in reading lessons. The new law, which does not change requirements for current teachers, also establishes a formal definition of dyslexia: a neurological learning disability marked by difficulties with word recognition and poor spelling ability that may include problems in comprehension and vocabulary growth.

About 20 percent of the U.S. population has dyslexia, but early intervention can help students overcome the learning disability and excel in their studies, according to the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, a nonprofit that serves and advocates for those with learning disabilities characteristic of dyslexia.

“We really view this as a huge step toward getting dyslexia recognized and to get affected children the care they need,” said Kaitlin Ferries, director of communications for the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana. “With the new law, every new teacher who enters the classroom will be aware of dyslexia and will be able to notice the signs so they can identify if they need more resources, or the student can be flagged.”

Without proper training, it can be difficult to identify the symptoms of dyslexia, which can affect students in multiple subject areas including math, language and problem-solving, Ferries said.

“Dyslexia can represent itself in a wide range of instances,” she said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of language disability; it’s unique to each individual.”

Harold Olin, superintendent of Greenfield-Central School Corp., said he expects that specialized training will better equip his staff to identify issues earlier in a child’s education.

“We want our teachers to be able to meet students wherever they are, with whatever difficulty they’re experiencing,” he said. “The earlier we can recognize the learning disabilities, the better we’ll be able to meet their needs.”

Ferries predicts the law also will raise awareness among administrators and educators, who can seek out additional training to recognize through the institute and other nonprofit organizations.

“We have many teachers who are seeking this information and wanting it, so we’re excited that it will be available on a much broader scale,” she said.

Warning signs for dyslexia include confusion about the similar looking letters, such as b and d, similar-sounding words and a general difficulty expressing thoughts, verbally or in writing, according to the institute. If parents recognize several symptoms, they are encouraged to complete further analysis at a testing center to determine a diagnosis.