Have you ever struggled to try to get the right help for your child?

You're not alone. With the many definitions of what and what are not specific learning disabilities it is a very difficult area to traverse. And varied. Some schools still refuse to use the term dyslexia. This might be to avoid having to provide services or it might be more altruistic, such as trying to avoid confusion.



When a child is struggling to learn to read, clearly that child needs additional assistance. While we might argue about what that assistance should look like and appropriate labeling, nobody argues that the child should be left to struggle alone.


To Diagnose or Not To Diagnose

The difficulty lies in defining the problem, especially when the problem may have a label, such as dyslexia. There are a lot of emotions involved in labeling, and that's natural. Many parents fear placing a label on their child—a label which may follow their child through the rest of his/her academic life and which may cause the child to feel less able to achieve. Yet for other parents and students, a label provides an explanation and presumably steps to take.

Kyle Redford, a teacher and mother, writes about her own struggle to avoid labels and her son's response to an eventual diagnosis,


“My son’s reaction to the dyslexic label convinced me that my reservations were a form of educational elitism. He was delighted with the new word (dyslexia); it helped to contain his condition. His learning challenges could no longer be confused with generalized stupidity.”

Diagnoses can empower a student, or they can define a student. The worst example would be when a child struggling with reading goes through hours of exhaustive testing only to come up without a diagnosis or disability, therefore with no rights to extra assistance in the classroom, and also no explanation for the slower reading. In essence, the education system tells this child there's nothing wrong with him/her, which to the child may, by default, lead to a feeling that the real cause is stupidity or possibly laziness. This is truly tragic for a child, who really does need assistance in learning to read.

As a parent, you may be actively searching for any explanation for your child's under-performance. Or perhaps you went through all the testing and already came up with the diagnosis. Or maybe no diagnosis was given, and you're struggling with what the next steps should look like. Or maybe you're in the camp that doesn't want your child labeled with any diagnosis and are refusing offered testing at your school.

This Fight is a Disservice to Children Who need Help

It doesn't matter which category you place yourself in; you're likely to be interested in this week's debate, and you may very well have strong feelings about it. A new book, The Dyslexia Debate, which hasn't even gone to print yet, has already caused quite a few reactions just from the publisher's description:

The Dyslexia Debate examines how we use the term "dyslexia" and questions its efficacy as a diagnosis. While many believe that a diagnosis of dyslexia will shed light on a reader's struggles and help identify the best form of intervention, Julian G. Elliott and Elena L. Grigorenko show that it adds little value. In fact, our problematic interpretation of the term could prove to be a major disservice to many children with difficulties learning to read. 

This book outlines in detail the diverse ways in which reading problems have been conceptualized and operationalized. Elliott and Grigorenko consider the latest research in cognitive science, genetics, and neuroscience, and the limitations of these fields in terms of professional action. They then provide a more helpful, scientifically rigorous way to describe the various types of reading difficulties and discuss empirically supported forms of intervention

Ruffled Feathers

If you didn't read anything particularly controversial in that summary, apparently you're in the minority (at least among bloggers and journalists). The educational community, particularly those serving students with dyslexia, is up in arms about the possibility of doing away with the term “dyslexia.”

Yes, I did just say “doing away with the term.” For the more careful readers, who actually read the publisher's statement, I do realize that was not actually stated, and, as the book is not out yet, none of us really know whether that's the intention of the Yale and Durham University professors who wrote the book.

However, what's clear is these two professors are obviously protesting the current use of the word. Why is that?


our problematic interpretation of the term could prove to be a major disservice to many children with difficulties learning to read

It's a Question of Usefulness

Thankfully, one of the authors, Professor Julian Elliot, has engaged the pre-publishing debate, referring to the dyslexic diagnosis as simply “meaningless.” He pointed to the hours of testing required for an extraordinarily broad and ill-defined diagnosis, which could not therefore lead to a concrete treatment plan. And for the child without a diagnosis? As we stated earlier, nothing.

Professor Elliot goes on to say in his interview with the Independent,

“We need to identify specific difficulties that youngsters have in their academic life… other aspects of literacy skill, like reading fluently, like spelling, the ability to express yourself through written language, your handwriting... Rather than coming up with a term like dyslexia, which is extremely nebulous, we’re much better having a profile of these particular skills [that children struggle with] and dealing with them directly.”

Let's put the professor's words into action by imagining two scenarios: 

Scenario 1

First, your child spends several days for several hours testing, and when it is all over, you are told your child is dyslexic. You may very well feel relief over “pinpointing” the problem and that your child will have gained the right to assistance for his/her disability. Your child is also enrolled in your school's “dyslexia” program.

Scenario 2

In our second scenario, imagine your child goes through the same testing. When it is all over, you are told your child has a disability with specific deficits in the areas of left-right awareness, sight to sound transitions, and phonetic blending. To address the left-right awareness, an occupational therapist at the school will begin to work with him/her once a week. To address sight to sound transitions, the student will be given a computer program to use for a certain number of hours per week. Finally, to address the phonetic blending, the student will be enrolled in a reading program tailored toward children with difficulties in blending words. The child is not given assistance for the areas he/she has no problem, even though they are common among “dyslexic” children. However, he/she will have the same right to assistance in the classroom.

Which scenario do you prefer? For most parents and educators, more information is better, when it comes to the specific “building blocks” that the child is lacking in order to begin to succeed. In the second scenario, though, the term, “dyslexia,” might have still been used, but broken down into its various components, providing more information for the parents. But even if “dyslexia” was never used in that scenario, would it matter so much? Parents, teacher, and child would all know exactly where the issues lie. The problem would still be “contained” (not allowing the child to believe in generalized stupidity).


Key Takeaways:

Official definitions of dyslexia might not be helpful
There is a huge debate going on over what dyslexia actually is
All the while struggling readers go without the help they need.
any child who is having difficulty in reading needs help

Why Not Identify More Specific Skills

What we need to realize is the authors may have a point: any child who is having difficulty in reading needs help. Moreover, they need it in the specific area of their unique challenges. Creating a system of profiling all children who are struggling in reading, with or without a diagnosis, would benefit many children. Identifying the specific skills that need work and the research-based techniques to address these skills would be extremely empowering. 

Unfortunately, there's a problem here. Right now, a student's right to assistance is based entirely on a diagnosis. Could we possibly move to saying, “This girl cannot spell, and we need to help her spell. This boy is reading two years below his grade-level, and we need to intervene to find out why?"

At the moment, it is illegal for special education teachers to provide specialized services to students without a diagnosis. Do we agree with this system?

The debate over The Dyslexia Debate is not likely to disappear soon. After all, as Ms. Redford said about her son, regarding his diagnosis,

"Dylan was now a member of a community — and what an impressive community it was. Once the word was employed, everyone who knew our son wanted to introduce him to some distinguished dyslexic. He relished his new academic relatives comprised of politicians, lawyers, inventors, business tycoons, entrepreneurs, explorers, artists, musicians and filmmakers.”

For many, a diagnosis has mattered. The question is, do we depend upon a diagnosis to give our children what they need?

Here at Learning Success, we give a resounding “No!” to this question. If your child is struggling with reading, start helping him/her now. Period. No questions.

As a matter of fact we have stated from the beginning that it's determining the specific difficulties that is important. That is where the solutions lie. A diagnosis is simply a personal choice

If you are ready to start building up the components of learning for your child grab your copy of the Learning Success System. 

We also provide a free dyslexia screener which will do more than screen, it will give you specific suggestions. 

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It's always been said that "all dyslexics are different". Each and every one of them sees and hears things differently. Each and every one of them needs slightly different help. Sure there are groupings but you still have to create a plan for each one on an individual basis.

So of course this makes sense. The term has simply been used to cover a wide range of loosely associated difficulties in learning. If we put a finer point on our pencil and look more closely we could do better.

Of course that would mean the bureacracies would have to get out of the way.

I have a 12 year old son diagnosed with dyslexia. Having him diagnosed was the best thing for us to do. Diagnosis is a personal choice, but without a diagnosis the school would never have given him the help and support he needs. It is also very important for the child to know there is a reason that he or she has difficulty learning to read and write. Dyslexia of course does cover a wide range of difficulties, and no two children with dyslexia are the same. Our son knows that having dyslexia is no more or less important than the colour of his hair, or the fact that he is good at music, and tennis, it is just part of who he is. Having dyslexia is about how you manage it, like everything else in life.

My 9 year old is dyslexic and his diagnosis via the school and through our local Dyslexia Centre has been very detailed. We work closely with the school and as a parent I feel I have every piece of information broken down for me to use it build on. After spending the first 4 years of his school life believing he was stupid I am now able to explain to him that he is just a clever as the next person but that his brain processes information differently to most children. In the past year we have already learned new ways of teaching him that appeal to the way he learns - in a 6 month period his reading age has improved by 12 months and spelling by 10 months. What matters to me is that he remains a confident, happy and well socialised child who enjoys school with as much assistance as is deemed appropriate in the right circumstances.

I agree that the decision of whether to label a child is a personal one; yet, without the diagnosis public schools can and will do very little. The label is only meaningless if there is no follow-up reaction to it. It does matter whether a child's struggles with reading stem from lack of exposure, dual language learning or dyslexia. Different approaches are needed. The public school system in the state where I live doesn't use the term dyslexia at all, and as a result, I can't find anyone who has a real understanding of what dyslexia entails. When I tried to explain to my child's teacher that she just doesn't recognize words, although she has encountered them many times and sounded them out, she told me that's really more to do with memory, when in fact it is a typical symptom of dyslexia. Without at least some knowledge of what the problem really is, even those who are very well-intentioned cannot effectively help.