Who do you refer students with literacy difficulties to?

This question doesn’t have a simple answer, but it is something I feel quite strongly about. Teachers have a hard time deciding who they should refer students to for literacy difficulties. It is hard to know initially if the literacy problems stem from an instructional deficit  (i.e has not been taught structured synthetic  phonics for decoding and encoding) OR if there is an underlying learning difficulty/ language disorder. In order to assess a child for Specific Learning Difficulty in Reading (previously dyslexia), the Response to Intervention model must be followed- that is, using evidence-based Tier 1 and 2 (or 3)  intervention for 6 months to see if they improve. The operative word (or phrase) being EVIDENCE-BASED intervention- this does not mean starting the child on Reading Recovery. Currently, the gold standard intervention for literacy difficulties in Structured Synthetic Phonics programs including decodable readers. Intervention should also include areas that the child is experiencing particular weakness in (phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension). For more information on EBP literacy instruction, I urge you to visit www.fivefromfive.org.au The work of Kerry Hempenstall and Jennifer Buckingham is second to none.

HOWEVER,  is it unethical to hold off on formal clinical referral/assessment for 6 months if the student still hasn’t made significant gains in literacy within 2-3 months of intervention? I think so.

So here is what you can do:

1. seek advice from a literacy Specialist/Educational Psych/reputable literacy organisation (I.e SPELD Dyslexia).

2. Refer to a Speech Pathologist (one specialising in literacy and language-based disorders). A speech pathologist can provide comprehensive assessment of the child’s language -both oral and written language  (dyslexia is considered to be stemmed from a language disorder, with most clients experiencing deficits in phonological processing).

After 6 months of intervention with limited progress being made, a referral can be made for SLD assessment.

The gold standard of assessment practice for SLD in Reading should involve a multidisciplinary team and include an Educational Psychologist, Speech Pathologist and possibly an Occupational Therapist. There is not one single test for SLD/Dyslexia, nor a world-wide consensus about what this testing should specifically look like but by involving a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, the assessment will be more representative of the students’ learning profile and contain a range of functional goals to support the student’s learning needs. More information can be found here at Smart Speech Therapy (this is a US site but still very relevant and useful information). 



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