Under Texas law, public schools are required to provide services to students who are diagnosed with dyslexia and related disorders. That includes disorders like dysgraphia—which makes it difficult to write letters and translate ideas into written words.
As KUT has reported previously, getting services for students with dyslexia in Texas public schools can be an uphill battle for parents and students. But for students with those less common disorders, it can be even harder to detect and diagnose. Many times, parents and school districts are often at odds over what kind of services a student requires.
Texas residents Jen White and Rebecca Bratz live in different cities in Texas and lead different lives. But they do have one thing in common: their children have been diagnosed with dysgraphia and ADHD.
This year, Jen White put her child in private school after facing pushback from her local school in Lewistown, Texas, just outside Dallas on providing services.
“They never really knew how to support him," she recalls. "It was always some confusion, or 'We just don’t know, he doesn’t fall within our parameters for this.'" She says since her child started at private school, he's been much more engaged in his schoolwork, which she credits to the more individualized learning experience and attention.
Rebecca Bratz is a single mom who works as a paralegal in Austin. Her son, Gregory, goes to school in the Round Rock school district. It wasn’t until Gregory’s fourth grade teacher asked if he had been tested for dysgraphia that Bratz even learned about the disorder.
“His teacher before that in third grade said he’s lazy and I believed her. I believed he was just being lazy because she’s the expert, right? She’s the teacher, she’s the expert, she knows?" Bratz says.
Bratz says an outside doctor diagnosed Gregory with dysgraphia. Since then, she’s been working with the school district to get him the services he needs. The school gives him accommodations under state law, like more time for writing assignments, or smaller homework assignments. But she wants him tested for special education – something Round Rock ISD has denied.
“I really feel like he’s discriminated against because he doesn’t have any behavioral issues, because he’s well liked, because he’s smart. I feel like they expect a lot more out of him than he’s able to produce," Bratz says.
Jen White, up in the Dallas area, feels similarly about her son's experience in public school.
“If he looked different, if he was a child with mental retardation or some other disability … he would get services he needed," White says. "But because he doesn’t have something that makes him look different, they think he can choose whether or not to write – it’s a choice. And it isn’t. That was most frustrating part of the whole thing.”
Bratz says she’s considering private school, but it’s expensive. She says right now she helps Gregory with homework, but has had to give up night school to do so.
These difficulties exemplify a larger tension between school districts and parents about just how much service or remediation a child requires, says Mary Cardiff, the special education director for the Round Rock School District.
“Sometimes parents want more services than the student demands. As a parent, I understand we all want the best and most for our children, that’s our jobs as parents. But that’s not necessarily the standard the school is held to," Cardiff says.
She says the district finds itself at odds with parents. Plus, she says teacher training is expensive – especially for learning disabilities that are less common, like dysgraphia.
“You can spend a lot of the districts resources training teachers and then that teacher moves or quits and then we’re left with training someone again," Cardiff explains. "So teacher turnover is probably a big part of the struggle in providing consistency in services.”
And with fewer resources and high stakes testing, Cardiff says schools are pulled in many directions. In that regard, Round Rock mother Rebecca Bratz agrees.
“When you’ve got STAAR tests and you got things to do and you’ve got to do them in a certain way and a majority of the kids can do it that way, then why would they worry about the other kids?"
But since there are different ways to define or categorize dysgraphia, it’s a disorder that’s hard to quantify – and that makes it hard to determine just how prevalent it is nationwide.