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7.1 What are Special Populations?

All educators are aware that there are students who need particular attention, who have specific challenges or who have needs that require specialized instruction. Although we view each student as an individual with unique characteristics, we sometimes refer to a group of students with similar challenges as a “special population.”  

Dyslexia is found in all student populations and in people within all cultures and languages. In this chapter, the information provided will initially center on the occurrence and identification of dyslexia among two specific populations of students: English Learners and students identified as gifted. In the final section of this chapter, we will discuss the issue of comorbidity, which is the coexistence of dyslexia with one or more other identified conditions (e.g., dyslexia + attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; dyslexia + anxiety).

It is important in the identification and diagnosis of dyslexia that other potential contributing factors to reading failure be eliminated or understood in their relationship to dyslexia. An obvious example is to assess a student’s hearing and visual acuity in order to rule out a sensory deficit as the underlying cause of reading difficulties. Likewise, when diagnosing dyslexia, the evaluation needs to be comprehensive enough to know whether there are other factors, in addition to dyslexia, that may hinder a student’s growth and development of reading. Similarly, additional factors that may complicate or mask the identification of dyslexia must be considered. Among these latter factors are issues of language development in students whose first language was not English and the identification of dyslexia in students who have been identified as gifted.