If you have a child who’s been diagnosed with dyslexia, you’ve likely struggled to figure out what the best educational environment would be for them. Should you look at specialized schools for dyslexia and if so, how do you go about finding the one that is right for your child? There are a number of choices today, including schools exclusively for dyslexic learners, schools that cater to a wide range of learning differences, and programs within mainstream schools.
In this article, we’ll look at how to determine if a school is dyslexia friendly, what you should consider when choosing a school for dyslexia, and the questions you should ask prospective schools to ensure they meet your child’s individual needs. We’ve also provided a list below of some of South Florida’s specialized schools for kids with dyslexia. You might also find it helpful to review our Guide to Specialized Schools: From Learning Challenges to Accelerated Learning which details the different kinds of specialized schools, the benefits they offer, and how to know if your child needs a specialized school.
What Determines If a School Is ‘Dyslexia Friendly’?
As you begin to seek out specialized schools, the first step is to determine if the school is dyslexia friendly and will provide the adequate support, nurturing, and resources to help your child succeed. A dyslexia-friendly school not only welcomes students with dyslexia, but has awareness, empathy, and a depth of knowledge and experience with the learning difference. It has practices in place that recognize dyslexic children as talented, capable students who simply have different ways of absorbing information. Here a few of the main indicators that a school is dyslexia friendly:
- They have experience with dyslexic learners, welcoming attitude toward dyslexia and other learning differences and incorporate dyslexia into their policies and planning.
- The staff includes dyslexia-trained experts, utilizes teaching tools that support dyslexic learning, and regularly assesses children
- The classroom environment is conducive to stress-free learning for dyslexic students
- The school collaborates with parents on development plans for the child
What to Consider When Choosing a Dyslexia-Friendly School
First and foremost, it’s important to know that every child with dyslexia is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to choosing a dyslexia-friendly school. You’ll want to utilize the knowledge you’ve gained so far through professional evaluations, your child’s experiences, and your all-important parental sense of what’s best for them as you move forward in the decision-making process. Of course, your family’s priorities must factor into the choice as well. Variables such as location, costs, and whether a school fits your family’s lifestyle and routine should all be addressed.
With those elements in mind, you’ll then want to focus on the specifics of what the dyslexia-friendly school offers in the following areas:
1. Teacher Qualifications and Training
As a parent, you know that your child is capable of learning and thriving; they just require methods and systems that are not used in most mainstream classrooms. Typically, dyslexic students do best with multisensory approaches such as the Orton-Gillingham system or The Wilson Method. You’ll want to inquire about the teachers’ backgrounds and qualifications in the area of dyslexia. Have they been trained in methods that support dyslexic learning? How long have they worked with dyslexic students? What are their success stories? You’ll also want to know if they take advantage of continuing education and new training opportunities to stay on top of the latest trends, new resources, and up-to-date research.
It's also important to investigate how the teachers interact with students in the classroom. Are the lessons modified for the dyslexic student? For instance, an empathetic teacher would make sure not to ask the student to read out loud or write on the board in front of the class. And assignments would be delivered in a dyslexia-friendly manner, whether that is using certain fonts in handouts or working with technology that is geared toward multisensory learning.
2. Class Size
Make sure the sizes of the classes correspond to the level of attention and social interaction your child requires. In larger classes, especially if they are not specifically geared toward dyslexic learners, your child may wind up just as frustrated as if they were in a public school classroom. On the other hand, if the class is too small, they could feel lonely or isolated. The advantage of a specialized school is typically a smaller class size that provides the optimal atmosphere for receiving one-on-one attention, as well as working independently and fostering connections with classmates.
To get a true feeling for the environment, try to observe the school while classes are in session, if the school allows. When considering whether it’s right for your child, note the physical details, such as the classroom layout, the space, and the sensory accents. Is this a place that would feel welcoming and comfortable for your child? If you’re able to visit during school hours, does the way the students and teachers interact feel supportive and nurturing for your child? Is there enough structure or freedom to meet your child’s needs? Other aspects to consider include the overall schedule and the tools that the school will use to help your student succeed. Will the student receive a laptop or access to helpful software programs? Is the school’s curriculum challenging enough or too rigid for your child?
Ideally, you’re seeking an environment that will boost your child’s self-esteem and reduce any anxiety they might feel, which is a natural side effect for dyslexic learners. A dyslexic-friendly classroom will have clear visual aids without being too distracting, offer personalized attention when needed, and provide plenty of opportunities for students to participate in group activities.
As you consider a specialized school, find out how the school plans to support your child and you on a long-term basis. What systems are in place to measure your child’s progress? In order to help your child succeed, it’s important for the school and teachers to be flexible, to assess and evaluate on a consistent basis, and to adjust as needed to create a learning environment in which your child can flourish. Make sure you are also clear about your role. How much parental involvement is encouraged? What forms of communication will there be and how often?
5. Assessment Policy
It’s also important to know in advance what accommodations your child will be given because of their dyslexia diagnosis. For instance, some schools allow dyslexic students to take exams on a computer, rather than having to handwrite them. Some will allow extended time limits or provide alternative forms for submitting projects. Make sure that your child is being evaluated in a way that will allow them to put their best foot forward and hopefully, gain confidence in their ability to successfully complete assignments and tests.
Top Questions to Ask a Prospective School
Once you’ve identified one or two prospective schools that might be a good fit for your child, take the time to get all your questions answered. Some great question to ask include:
- What type of students do you teach? While you may prefer if all the students were dyslexic, many good schools cater to a variety of learning differences. If that’s the case, be sure you’re comfortable with the level of attention your child will receive.
- What methods of teaching do you use? Do they use Orton Gillingham, Wilson or another approach? Are their teachers certified in these methods?
- How will reading instruction be handled? You’ll want to be clear about how much time will be devoted to help your child in reading and how the instruction will be delivered. Are there reading groups and/or individualized reading instruction, such as a “reading clinic” where the student will receive one-on-one attention? How many hours a week will the student have direct reading instruction in phonics, reading, fluency, and comprehension?
- How do you address problems with handwriting? Find out what accommodations and options the school employs to ease the frustration and challenge of handwriting.
- Can I see sample Individualized Education Plan? Check out their IEP to make sure you understand and are comfortable with the detailed plans they put together. You might even request the school to create a sample IEP for your child.
- What are the costs? Every school is different, so make sure you are clear about what’s included and what “extra’s,” such as books, tutoring, or activities, might be needed.
- Do you have parent references to share? Other parents are one of the best sources of information to get an authentic feeling about the day-to-day experiences at the school. Don’t be shy about reaching out. Parents typically enjoy meeting you and sharing what they can to help you.
- Has your school been independently reviewed? If so, ask to see the report, which could provide valuable information as weigh all the options and make your final decision.
Schools for Dyslexia in South Florida
Finding the right specialized school for dyslexia that best suits your child does require some time and research. The result, however, has the potential to give your child the best possible opportunity to excel and gain confidence in their ability to learn. We’ve assembled the following list to help you get started if you are looking for a school in the South Florida area. Your education specialists may be able to help you as well.
If you need further guidance in finding the right school for your child, contact us to set up an appointment with our specialized school expert.