How to help non-English speaking family with a possibly dyslexic child?
October 30, 2018 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I have been tutoring an 8- year old boy from France for the past year. He is showing all the classic signs of being dyslexic, which explains his poor performance in school. His family speaks hardly any English. They have asked that I communicate with the school on their behalf, yet repeated requests for meetings with his teacher and principal have been ignored. What can we do from here?

I should preface this by stating that we currently live in a place that is consistently in the worst 10 academically performing counties in the US.

The 8- year old French boy I have been working with is incredibly bright and intelligent. His problem lies with reading, which is adversely affecting all other areas of school for him (he is quite good at math, but cannot read word problems, for example). He describes that words and letters moving around on the page, and a slew of other signs that indicate a textbook case of dyslexia.

The issue is compounded by a teacher who is unresponsive, and who has written off this incredibly bright child as lazy and stupid.

The boy is fluent in English, but his parents speak/understand very little English at all, and they don't understand the American accent very well. I finally found a wonderful local translator who is willing to step in and do some interpreting for us. We have all met casually in person, and I am confident that he is perfect for helping in this situation.

I have not yet told the family that I think he could be dyslexic. I am not qualified to make an official diagnosis, and I don't see the need to get them worked up over this until he is tested by an agency that can make an accurate diagnosis. I did tell the family that I might have an idea of what is going on, but that we might need to sit down with his teacher and discuss the next steps in more detail. The family strongly trusts me and wants me to be part of the process.

At that point, the family asked that I reached out to his teacher on their behalf to set up a meeting. No response from the teacher. A couple of weeks went by. Report cards came out (not good), and the principal wrote a letter stating that the family needed to make arrangements with the school to meet and discuss their son's performance. The family asked that I write to the principal to set up a meeting. No response from the principal or the teacher. Another week and a half went by. The boy came back with a post-it note on his binder from the teacher stating that he had a test to study for. I wrote a post-it note response to the teacher saying that we have been attempting to set up a meeting with her or someone at the school for several weeks, and requested that she respond. I received a very terse one-line email from her stating that student grades are confidential between student, parent, and teacher. I replied, asking if/how the school requires the family to submit any documentation authorizing me or our interpreter as their representative. No response.

Now the school is beginning its annual parent-teacher conferences, and the family has again asked that I be present for this. We are concerned that the school will not allow an interpreter or tutor to be present for the conference. I am looking for ideas on how we should all proceed from here.

Some ideas:
- Having the family notarize something in writing that names me as a representative for them (which will hopefully be recognized by the school as valid).
- Explaining my concerns about the dyslexia to the family and having them circumvent the school and have their son tested (and then placed in a program that tailors to his educational needs)

What does the Hive Mind suggest in this case? What are the next steps that the family needs to take? What would it take for the school to be flexible in allowing an interpreter or tutor assist with the process?
posted by chatelaine to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For dealing with the school now, I think you might want to start producing correspondence from the parent(s). It needs to have their name(s) on it and not yours. Perhaps they write a note/letter to the teacher in French and you/your interpreter translate below and then they sign it? I would have the meeting request come from them. When you all show up at the meeting or parent teacher conference, if the school wants the parents to do paperwork designating you as an authority, it can happen in person at that point.
posted by delezzo at 9:53 AM on October 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Having an interpreter there is practically a legal requirement. I find this crazy as my wife teaches high school and her parent meeting schedule is driven by her ability to get an interpreter for the meetings. So really they should be able to bring anyone they want as long as they're there.

The parents need to ask for their child to be assessed for a 504 plan. Go find your school board's 504 plan policies and have the parents submit a request for an assessment in writing. There's some info here. It talks about how to request a 504 assessment, some of your rights and how to handle the meeting.

Being an EL student or a non-native english speaker does not disqualify a student from getting a 504 plan or an IEP (although afaik dyslexia isn't likely to get covered by an IEP).
posted by GuyZero at 9:53 AM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

When post-it notes and meetings fail, telephone calls have to be next. In many public schools, telephone calls are still king. Pick up the phone, keep calling until you get through to the principal, and introduce yourself as the child's advocate. (You don't have to be a lawyer to be an advocate.)

Cheerfully inform the principal that you've been trying to get a hold of the teacher, but haven't been able to connect, that you are coming to all future in-person meetings, and to expect that 504 assessment letter GuyZero refers to shortly.
posted by kimberussell at 10:18 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

For more resources on how the parents and child's educational rights, see if you can find a Parent Information Center near you. The one where I live is fantastic!
posted by metahawk at 10:22 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

So because of FERPA, it's very likely that - barring a legal release from the parents - the school is legally barred from talking to you about the child's grades, performance, etc. Even if there's gray area there, they are definitely going to be in CYA mode regarding talking to someone who totally says the parents say it's ok (obviously you're legit, but they have no way to know that for sure). Definitely get something written, translated, notarized and signed by the parents that says that educational records, etc. can be released to you.
posted by brainmouse at 10:38 AM on October 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

This is a doctor problem, not a school problem.

Also, you are entirely incorrect that you shouldn’t inform his parents that he needs comprehensive testing because there’s strong evidence he has an entirely treatable condition.

Most people get a medical diagnosis for learning disabilities, then take the diagnosis to the school. It’s HIGHLY possible the parents will need to pursue intervention via their medical insurance, especially since the school district is sub-par.

First stop is his pediatrician. Get a referral for testing and get him tested!

Second step with a diagnosis in hand is to provide the diagnosis to the school. Be warned, they don’t sound like they will provide suitable intervention, and I highly recommend outside intervention along with whatever the school provides.

Third step is a lawyer (in this situation usually referred to as an advocate) to help get the school to step up. Most work on a sliding scale.

There are many organizations and often state funded programs that perform testing for autism and learning disabilities. If you provide your jurisdiction folks can make recommendations and/or you can google for your area.

I think the translator will be most helpful to the parents during the doctor diagnosis phase, and it’s super awesome you are helping this family navigate the system. This is a medical issue. If the child were injured, you would not hesitate to speak thoroughly about any accident and subsequent injuries so that the right medical attention was provided. This is the same thing.
posted by jbenben at 10:48 AM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

The school district should get him the testing he needs and the parents can ask for it. Since the teacher and the principal so far have been useless you might want to figure out who the special education coordinator and/or the school psychologist are. I do think you are going to have to explain that you suspect he's dyslexic to the parents. How well educated are they?

Here are a few sites I found that explain dyslexia in French:
-Comment puis-je aider mon enfant dyslexique?
-A youtube video
-another link on how to explain it to kids

I was hoping to find something from Canada that would give the same info in both languages, haven't found anything so far. Maybe a bilingual Canadian special ed teacher will see this and help.
posted by mareli at 11:25 AM on October 30, 2018

Here's another one.

How long has he been speaking English? Did he go to school in France before moving to US? Can he read in French?

Learning to read in French is a lot easier than in English because it's much more phonetic. If school is the only place where he speaks English this may further compound his difficulty with reading in English.

If the parents can afford it they might want to look for a psychologist who understands bilingual issues.

(I was fully bilingual in English and French at his age, somehow taught myself to read English at age 4, then we moved from US to France and I went to French schools and was taught in school to read in French. )
posted by mareli at 11:43 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're in Nevada as your profile says you might want to contact someone here.
posted by mareli at 12:00 PM on October 30, 2018

Best answer: Former teacher here. Walk into the school's main office with the parents. Have them start to talk, then start interpreting. You are formally requesting testing and assessment for Child. You can mention the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. By Federal law, they must respond and set this stuff in motion. If it doesn't happen, or if they're dragging their asses, escalate to the district-level office focusing on students with special needs. There will also be a district-level Title III office for immigrant students. Talk to them too.

You don't have to be nice about this any more -- they are Federally required to assist this kid.

(Disregard the person above who says you start with the kid's doctor. That isn't the next step you should take. It may be a part of the formula later, but schools are required to assess, test, create the IEP and abide by it.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:11 PM on October 30, 2018 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I think BlahLaLa has it. Our son is very likely dyslexic, and after watching him struggle with a teacher who didn't seem to recognize the underlying issue or know what to do about it when we spelled it out for her, we escalated, specifically with a reference to the school's obligations to support him. In our case, we are lucky -- the school is on top of it, has programs already in place to help him, and immediately acknowledged their obligations. It sounds like the family may need to fight for this, and the fact that you're in a poor-performing district doesn't help. But generally speaking, the family is holding the cards here. It's a matter of forcing the school to cooperate. That becomes easier once the issue is framed in terms of learning disabilities and not poor performance, which is how the teacher is trying to frame it.

On a more personal note, I can tell you that smart dyslexic kids are good at compensating for their learning styles in ways that look like poor performance to teachers. My kid is very smart, and very good at getting other kids to help him with answers, reading contextual clues to guess at answers, dodging the question, changing the subject, and other behaviors that probably look like cheating. Not coincidentally, all of these tactics are common to dyslexics, and some experts would argue, an actual, legitimate part of their learning style. Reading The Dyslexic Advantage (Brock and Fernette Eide) was a real eye-opener. You may also want to seek advice through their blog / online community. My oldest brother only came to understand his dyslexia late in life, and the work the Eide's are doing was tremendously helpful.

Best of luck!
posted by ga$money at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

For more resources on how the parents and child's educational rights, see if you can find a Parent Information Center near you.

Yes, if you are in Nevada, your PTI is Nevada PEP. PLEASE call them and ask them this question! Special education procedures, including the process for accessing services for dyslexia through an IEP, can differ greatly from state to state. You need to talk to someone who understands Nevada's procedures and quirks and can help you sort through conflicting information to move forward.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:00 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a clinical psychologist and former special education teacher, with a very intimate knowledge of how this process works.

The parents need to submit a request IN WRITING to the school district, requesting that their child be assessed for special education services. Here is information about how to initiate the process. Once the parent makes the request and consents to the evaluation, the school district has 60 days to complete it. Putting the request in writing is important to make sure that there is a record of when the request was made.

If the parents are interested, they can also seek an evaluation through a psychologist or a developmental pediatrician. However, that is not necessary for accessing special education services. If the school completes the evaluation, determines that the child is not eligible for services, but the parents disagree, then having a diagnosis from an outside professional can be helpful. But at this stage, I'd suggest they start with a school district eval.
posted by scalar_implicature at 3:37 PM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your incredibly helpful responses. I just want to post an update here in hopes that it may help someone facing a somewhat similar situation someday.

I contacted the local PEP office. They have some wonderful people and were very helpful, and expressed their sincere thanks to me for reaching out. They gave a great deal of valuable information, which helped me to draft out a letter to the family and to the school delineating the need for an assessment for the boy I've been helping. The PEP even has a "language line", in the event our interpreter isn't available, to step in and translate.

Breaking the news to the family was difficult, but they were very receptive and grateful to me for seeing that something was off, and that the school should be stepping in to assist. All in all, that part of it went very well.

The boy's father is taking the letter I drafted for them and making copies to go out to the school principal, the teacher, and the school counselor. I made sure to include a reference to the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Edu. Act) so they know we mean business. The parent-teacher meeting next week should prove to be very interesting, and hopefully, productive.

The ball is now rolling in the right direction. Your responses made me aware of resources I wasn't aware existed in the community until now. You made a world of difference in a lot of people's lives. Thank you.
posted by chatelaine at 5:09 PM on November 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

« Older Website hosting for site the only gets two huge...   |   Initiative Q sounds too good to be true, right? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.