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,
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:
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
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?
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,
Let's put the professor's words into action by imagining two scenarios:
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.
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).
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,
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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