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Special Education and Research

Special Education Services

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide free special education supports to children with learning and other disabilities. They must be taught in the least restrictive, most appropriate environments for them.

In most states, children are entitled to these services beginning at age 3 and extending through high school or until age 21, whichever comes first. The teaching environment should be designed to meet the child's specific needs and skills. It should minimize restrictions on the child's access to typical learning experiences. The specific rules of IDEA for each state are available from the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

Qualifying for Special Education

To qualify for special education services, a child must be evaluated by the school system and meet specific criteria outlined in federal and state guidelines. To learn how to have a child assessed for special services, parents and caregivers should contact a local school principal or special education coordinator. Parents can also visit these Web resources:

What Research Is Being Done?

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health support dyslexia research through grants to major research institutions across the country. Current research avenues focus on developing techniques to diagnose and treat dyslexia and other learning disabilities, increasing the understanding of the biological and possible genetic bases of learning disabilities, and exploring treatments to improve outcomes for children and adults with dyslexia.

"Talk with your child, read to your child every day!"

Brett Miller, PhD
Photo Courtesy of Brett Miller

Brett Miller, PhD, directs the Reading, Writing, and Related Learning Disabilities Program in the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He oversees research focused on development of reading and written-language abilities for learners across the lifespan. He spoke recently with NIH MedlinePlus magazine about dyslexia.

Is there a key to helping people with dyslexia?

Early, systematic, and explicit reading instruction—teaching the link between the written word and its specific sounds—is critical for dyslexia. The written word maps directly onto spoken language. So the challenge is to link the sounds of English, for example, to the specific letters of the alphabet.

How can parents help their children?

Since learning begins at home, the best thing parents can do is to talk with their children and read to them every day. Let them soak in what they're hearing and learn how to converse. This is a great opportunity to bond with your children and helps them build their oral vocabulary and learn the structure of language, which are part of the foundation for reading.

What is the goal?

The goal is to build a foundation for reading and that takes lots of time and practice.

When should special instruction begin?

The earlier the better for children who are struggling to read. Some children need more time to learn, while others do better in smaller groups. So parents should build relationships with their children's teachers and school administrators to advocate for the best possible support.

Early intervention reduces long-term problems. Children who are not improving by the fourth or fifth grade may need continued instructional support on foundational skills of reading in later grades.

Find Out More

Read More "Dyslexic" Articles

In Their Own Words: Dealing with Dyslexia / Decoding Dyslexia, a Common Learning Disability / What is Dyslexia? / Special Education and Research

Winter 2016 Issue: Volume 10 Number 4 Page 21