For parents, the idea that their child may have a learning disability can be troubling. They need information but experience trepidation about the process and possible outcomes of assessing for dyslexia and other learning differences. Up to 20% of the U.S. population is affected by dyslexia, and thankfully, there is a wealth of information to support students diagnosed today. The following tips help communicate with families and minimize the anxiety surrounding dyslexia screening procedures and assessments like Tests of Dyslexia (TOD™).
Explain the Purpose
Parents are accustomed to the norm of high-stakes testing environments in today’s schools and may be hesitant to agree to more testing for their children. An explanation of the brief and targeted nature of a dyslexia screening is helpful for greater understanding and buy-in from parents. They should know that screening results ensure all students receive instruction that best suits their needs. Additionally, parents should know how to plan for testing, including the scheduled dates.
Use Trauma-Sensitive Communication
Traumatic experiences are often a trigger for dyslexia. Without knowing whether the student or family has experienced trauma, it is wise to incorporate the following trauma-informed communication strategies to build trust:
- Ask parents for communication channel preferences
- Communicate with respect and sensitivity
- Create formal procedures for feedback
- Determine the home language and use it in communications
- Present families with choices wherever possible
- Provide information through multiple formats
- Safeguard personal information
- Schedule appointments in advance and be respectful of time
- Show sensitivity to cultural differences and how they impact the communication of assessment results
Sometimes clinicians and educators get caught up in their professional terminology and forget that parents don’t always understand the many educational acronyms and clinical terms used to describe assessments, symptoms, and interventions. The best option to ensure parents can follow the conversation is to avoid jargon. In instances where terms like 504 plan, MTSS, or RTI must be used, provide an explanation.
Focus on Positives
The best assessments will highlight students’ strengths as well as challenges. Presenting parents with the positive side of assessment results may be more receptive to the overall message of the test. Many dyslexic individuals cope by developing creative strategies. They are often skilled in seeing the big picture, even though the details can be challenging to grasp. A dyslexia diagnosis is often a positive experience explaining some of the difficulties that have plagued an individual for years.
Share Action Steps
After the assessment process, families will be anxious to know what comes next. In explaining the next steps of the screening process, include who will initiate each action and provide invitations to parents to participate in the formation of the individual education plan. After the assessment, communicate follow-up dates as soon as possible and provide contact information for questions they may think of in the future. It is also helpful to share information about support networks for families to reach out to for additional assistance outside the school.