What’s in the name?

While attending a school as an advocate for a recently assessed child last week, an interesting comment was made by the teacher in charge of literacy. She made the comment that at that school they do not use the term ‘Dyslexia’, as they do not believe that such a thing exists. Interestingly this was a school in the State system, where it was thought there had been some enlightenment around the topic.

Certainly, there has been considerable debate over time about whether Dyslexia does exist as a profile. A recent text on the topic “the Dyslexia Debate” by Elliot and Grigorenko, outlines some interesting arguments against the term while also outlining the thinking from the other side. A couple of the other labels put forward include ‘Developmental Reading Difficulties’ or ‘Language Based Learning Disorder’. The term ‘Dyslexia’ has been used for a considerable period in the United Kingdom, and there has been a great deal of work done there in gaining acknowledgement of the difficulty as well as development of supports for individuals with it. In Victoria, there has been considerable work done to bring Dyslexia to the attention of the public as well as education providers. People with diagnoses of Dyslexia and their families have worked hard to have the difficulty acknowledged and understood, to gain better access and outcomes for people with it.

No label is ever totally satisfactory, as invariably with something like Dyslexia, no two people are ever exactly, the same. The presentation of something like Dyslexia involves many aspects of literacy proficiency, attention, cognitive and linguistic function. Numeracy may or may not be involved etc., so the ‘total may be more than and may be not equal to the sum of the parts’! In truth, what we call it does not matter, it is the presentation, its identification and then management that really, counts. The varied nature of dyslexic presentation certainly means that diagnosis is not simple and requires careful consideration. A cognitive assessment alone is insufficient. A careful consideration of ability and achievement is required.

Identification of the learning difficulty is the most important thing. Ultimately, if the term ‘Dyslexia’ has raised people’s awareness and concerns about such difficulty and is meaning that people as well as governments are doing something about it, then quibbling over too much over what we call ‘the rose’ does not alter that rose. The main need is to get on with proper identification of students with difficulties that impact their access to the curriculum and academic outcomes. A discussion with the parents about what the problem is called or not called should not constitute the issue. The discussion should be about how we can alleviate the child’s difficulties to provide a positive learning outcome.