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3.4 Clinical Diagnosis Versus School Identification

There is frequent confusion regarding the difference between the clinical diagnosis of dyslexia and the school-based identification of dyslexia as a specific learning disability. The diagnostic term “dyslexia” can be used by clinicians working in a private clinical setting and by evaluation teams found within a public school setting. The use of dyslexia as a descriptor of a specific type of reading disorder (and a specific type of learning disability) is not limited to those working in a medical setting. Rather, its use is only limited by the training and assessment experience of those who would use the term. In Colorado, there is no statute or regulation that would prohibit the use of the word dyslexia in a school setting or within school-generated documents. Likewise, there are no federal rules that prohibit the use of the term “dyslexia” when identifying a phonological-based, word-level reading disorder in a school-based setting. (See Chapter 8: Dyslexia and Legislation) In using the descriptor “dyslexia,” the person or persons using the term have a responsibility to thoroughly understand: typical reading development; what dyslexia is and is not; the key features of dyslexia; how it is assessed; and their obligation to use valid and reliable measurement tools and sound diagnostic judgment when making such a diagnosis. 

Understood (, a consortium of 15 nonprofit organizations that joined forces to support parents of children with learning and attention issues, offers an easy-to-read comparison of a school diagnosis and a clinical diagnosis as commonly recognized in current practice. In both instances, the purpose of the evaluation is the identification of the student’s specific profile leading to the implementation of an appropriate remediation plan.


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Understood has a webpage, called The Difference Between a School Identification and a Clinical Diagnosis, which provides a table highlighting the differences.


More Information 

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Computer-Based Information

The IDA has the fact sheet Dyslexia Assessment: What Is It and How Can It Help? available free on its website. Another publication, Basic Facts about Assessment of Dyslexia, is available from the IDA bookstore.

The National Center for Improving Literacy recently published Screening for Dyslexia (2019), a white paper that discusses universal screening for dyslexia risk.

The Tuft University Center for Reading and Language Research offers online access to articles and resources, including the article “Tackling the ‘Dyslexia Paradox’: Reading Brain and Behavior for Early Markers of Developmental Dyslexia,” by Ola Ozernov-Palchil and Nadine Gaab.

Understood offers a range of information regarding assessment on its Evaluations webpage.

Learn more about the Colorado READ Act at on CDE website.

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View Video

Reading Rockets and the National Center for Improving Literacy have produced an extended video interview in 13 brief segments with Dr. Nadine Gaab, a research associate at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, who discusses a range of topics, including early screening for reading risk and the paradox of dyslexia. The video “What is the dyslexia paradox?” is available on the Reading Rockets website.

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Books and Print Information

Essential of Assessing, Preventing and Overcoming Reading Difficulties (2015), by David Kilpatrick