Programming for students with dyslexia, dyscalculia or dysgraphia

Although dyslexia is not itself a category of disability under the federal IDEA or Maine’s special education regulations (MUSER), the definition of the disability category Specific Learning Disability (at both the federal and state level) expressly references dyslexia as one example of a disorder in psychological processing involved in understanding or using language which can be the basis for special education eligibility under that category.

In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter (dated October 23, 2015), the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) wrote, although not required, nothing in IDEA prohibits the use in IEPs of the term dyslexia, or its close relatives dysgraphia and dyscalculia, to describe and address a child’s unique identified needs. OSERS stated its belief that, “There could be situations where an IEP Team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability.”

The Maine DOE likewise finds nothing in MUSER that would prohibit the use of any of these terms in an IEP, where appropriate, to describe a student’s needs. It remains critically important, however, that each child’s IEP be specifically developed to address the unique identified needs of that child, avoiding an approach that provides a pre-determined instructional program whenever one of these conditions is present.

The Maine DOE cautions SAUs against referencing in the IEPs of children with specific learning disabilities a specific instructional program as a special education service (Section 6 of the IEP). This would lock in the requirement that said program continue to be utilized during the term of the IEP. The choice of methodology is not ordinarily an IEP Team decision, but is solely an SAU decision.

The IEP need only provide for specially designed instruction in reading, for example, giving the SAU flexibility to select the instructional program to be used with a child based on the child’s needs, the child’s response to a particular program, and on current research regarding programs’ effectiveness.

SAUs may still wish to include in the IEP statement present levels of academic performance (Section 4.A of the IEP) data representing a child’s current level of performance in the instructional program currently being utilized with the child, which documents the program currently in use without creating an obligation that is not flexible to continue with that program.

For more information, contact Maine DOE’s Dyslexia Coordinator Lisa Whitis at or Federal Program Coordinator Roberta Lucas at