The Forbidden Word: Dyslexia

“Megan Lordos, a middle school teacher, says she was not allowed to use the word ‘dyslexia.’ She’s not alone. Parents and teachers across the country have raised concerns about some schools hesitating, or completely refusing, to say the word. As the most common learning disability in the U.S., dyslexia affects somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of the population. That means millions of school children around the country struggle with it.” G. Gmanuel, NPR

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Excerpt: Dyslexia: The Learning Disability That Must Not Be Named By Gabrielle Emanuel, NPR

“Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools are required to provide special services to help these students — things like reading tutors and books on tape. But those special services can be expensive, and many schools don’t have the resources to provide these accommodations.

That has led some parents and advocates to worry that some schools are making a careful calculation: If they don’t acknowledge the issue — or don’t use the word ‘dyslexia’ — then they are not obligated to provide services.

Last year, when Lordos was teaching English at a public school in Arlington, Va., she recalls a parent-teacher meeting in the conference room. Things started smoothly.

Lordos says two parents had come in to talk with teachers and administrators about their son – Lordos’ student, an eighth-grader – who was struggling to read.

Partway through the meeting, Lordos says she suggested that the student might have orthographic dyslexia.

When I mentioned that in the meeting, I was stopped. Lordos remembers being interrupted. They said: ‘Oh no no. We don’t say that.’  It wasn’t until after the meeting adjourned and the parents left that Lordos understood why.

We’re not allowed to say it because we don’t have the capabilities to support that particular learning difference, Lordos recalls the school administrator saying. Several parents in the district recounted similar experiences.

However, Brenda Wilks, an assistant superintendent of the Arlington Public Schools, says educators and administrators there use the term dyslexia, but they have to use it carefully. That’s because educators cannot officially diagnose dyslexia.

To help the situation, the district launched a Dyslexia Task Force last year. Its website now has a page explaining dyslexia, the district has expanded literacy screening, and it has hosted training sessions to inform teachers about the disability. Many years ago it wasn’t a word that was widely used, says Kelly Krug, who is co-chairing the task force. And in the past few years, it’s really become a focus.

Both Megan Lordos and the other parents say things are beginning to get better. But this issue is not limited to Arlington, and the U.S. Department of Education is paying attention.

Schools engage in strategies to lower their special education expenses… And dyslexia is by far the largest group within the special education category.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Several schools are not required to provide special services.
  2. That has led some parents and advocates to worry.
  3. Parents feel that the schools should be obligated to provide services.
  4. Orthographic dyslexia is common.
  5. There is nothing legally preventing schools from saying the word dyslexia.
  6. Many schools don’t have the resources to provide these services.
  7. The woman chairing the meeting came over and apologized.
  8. Many districts have expanded literacy screening.
  9. Dyslexia should be treated just like any other disability.
  10. Long after she left the conference room the explanation lingered with her.


Reading Comprehension


Directions: The following sentences are from the article. Choose the correct word for each blank space from the word list  or make up your own words.

Hal Malchow, of the International Dyslexia Association, says there’s another___at play:___. He says those ___services are all things the ___district could have to fund.

And since there are so many ___school children who have___, that___ tag adds up – and school___are tight.

WORD LIST:   special, budgets, American,  school, money, dyslexia, factor, price,

Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. Schools are required to provide special services.
  2. The meeting  started smoothly.
  3. Two parents had come in to talk with teachers about there children.


  1. A eighth-grader was struggling to read.
  2. They thought that the student might have dyslexia.
  3. The woman chairing the meeting came over and apologized.


  1. Many years ago it wasn’t an word that was widely used.
  2. In the past few years, it’s really become a focus.
  3. This issue is not limited to Arlington.


III. Post Reading Activities

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following  topics.

“Ryder says they heard from school administrators about what might be going on: “What we were told was that, when they used the term ‘dyslexia,’ then families thought that it meant they would get a specific kind of instructional program.”

“IDEA requires schools to help students who have dyslexia – just like any other disability – but the exact help they receive is decided locally. Some kids may get a trained reading specialist, others could get one-on-one tutoring, and still others might receive adaptive technology.”


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.


Category: Education