Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The dyslexia "myth" and the damage of documentary controversies

Documentary controversies such as the forthcoming one on dyslexia may catch the headlines, but the problem is that on many occasions the media is just ill-equiped to present the nuances that may lay behind such dramatic claims as "dyslexia doesn't exist". Whilst some of what Professor Julian Elliott presents has some justification (especially in terms of there being a need for earlier intervention to resolves reading difficulties, for all pupils regardless of intellectual ability), the manner in which the argument has been presented does few favours to those currently being supported as dyslexic for whom realising that there is a different way to make progress educationally is revelationary and reassuring.

I would also argue that the situation becomes even more complex when dealing with older children and adults being identified as dyslexic.

Is 'dyslexia' being used as a catch-all term for all poor readers, for those inexperienced in education presenting difficulties with memory, comprehension, visual processing and reading skills? Possibly in some cases yes; but then what is happening to those who cannot be identified as 'dyslexic'? One of the problems with Elliot's argument is that it suggests that predominantly bright children - or rather those who do well at IQ tests [NOT THE SAME THING] - are being identified as dyslexic. One of our regular educational psychologists said that he measures in along a spectrum by comparing students' abilities with the performances of those in the same age bracket and IQ results as well as in response to the broader tests.

Are too many being left behind who cannot / are not identified as dyslexic? Possibly, but given that I work with older teenagers and adults who have often had little support or identification as being dyslexic - and not all are just educationally inexperienced - seeing the progress some can make when different teaching tactics are used is very rewarding. It seems there is still difficulty in getting the right support for learners regardless of how much attention seems to be being paid to dyslexia (going on what Elliott suggests).

Solution? A less restrictive manner and approach to teaching skills at school from the earliest age; and inculcation that reading and learning are not just things that happens in schools for the purpose of passing assessments and examinations; and less convoluted appraisal systems for identifying dyslexia. The label might be problematic and might be covering some bigger problems but that doesn't mean that the best thing we can do is ditch the idea of dyslexia wholesale. Those who have found supoprt to enable them to achieve because of 'dyslexia' being identified deserve better than to be told their efforts and who they are is meaningless.

Note to researchers: high profile documentaries with 'sexy' claims designed to catch controversial headlines may not be the best way to change orthodox thinking.

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