Dyslexia Laws in the USA: A 2018 Update

By Youman, Martha; Mather, Nancy | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Dyslexia Laws in the USA: A 2018 Update


Youman, Martha, Mather, Nancy, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Across the United States, 33 legislative bills related to dyslexia were introduced between January and March of 2018. This rapid influx of proposals to initiate change at the state and federal levels signifies the ongoing sentiment that most states share today: dyslexia must be recognized and interventions must be provided early to children. This article summarizes the status of current dyslexia laws across the U.S., focusing on updates to legislation since our original article, Dyslexia Laws in the USA, which was published in the Annals of Dyslexia (Youman & Mather, 2013), and our update, which was published in Perspectives (Youman & Mather, 2015). It provides a current view of the dyslexia laws in each state, as well as how these laws are affecting school practice. Figure 1 summarizes the status of current laws as of March of 2018.

In our 2013 initial review, only 22 states had dyslexia laws. Furthermore, many of these states only hinted at dyslexia within their existing laws, but there was little guidance as to how to identify and help individuals with dyslexia. Today, as of March of 2018, 42 states have dyslexia-specific laws, and, among the states that have passed laws, most have updated their education codes to clearly define dyslexia and provide guidelines to school districts on how to identify dyslexia and provide evidence-based interventions. Ten states now have a dyslexia handbook and one state has a resource guide, and the term dyslexia is now an integral part of parent-teacher conferences, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 504 plans, and the school community as a whole. The rapid expansion of dyslexia laws appears to be partially driven by group efforts, such as Decoding Dyslexia, as well as individuals who have been affected by dyslexia in some way, and have used the Internet and social media to spread awareness. Today, laws continue to focus primarily upon: a) dyslexia awareness, b) pilot programs for screening and intervention, c) teacher training, d) provision of interventions and accommodations, and e) the overall rights of individuals with dyslexia. A full listing of laws as of March 2018 is available on the International Dyslexia Association's website at https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-laws-status-by-state/.

Dyslexia Awareness

Many states are now advocating for dyslexia awareness and, specifically, a more precise definition of dyslexia based on the guidelines of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). One example is the Massachusetts House Bill 330 (2017). The sponsors of this bill cite the National Institutes of Health's definition of dyslexia as a "Neurological Learning Disability" and request that Massachusetts' educational laws reflect this definition. This increased focus on the neurobiology of the disorder is in contrast to the previous vague description of dyslexia as just one type of "Specific Learning Disability" under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), or as Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Reading in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In addition, by clearly defining and emphasizing dyslexia, school districts are becoming more comfortable with the term "dyslexia" and IEP meetings are now including discussions about dyslexia, as well as ensuring the provision of structured literacy interventions that specifically help these students.

Historically, it was common practice for districts to discourage or even prohibit teachers and school psychologists from using the term "dyslexia." The fear of using the term dyslexia was so prevalent that, in 2015, the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued a letter to school districts stating that, "There is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents. …

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