A diagnosis of dyslexia may help identify the best form of intervention, but its problematic interpretation could become a major disservice to children who struggle with reading.
By Abha Ranjan Khanna
Like Dysgraphia, Dyslexia is the medically diagnostic label for anyone who displays difficulties with reading. When a child struggles to read, he/she displays trouble with:
- Sounding out words and may confuse the order of letters.
- Decoding This is the ability to match letters to sounds and then use that skill to read words accurately and fluently. One reason kids have difficulty decodingwords could be lack of phonemic awareness.
- Difficulty memorising sight words
- Poor reading comprehension, spelling and grammar.
- Trouble following a sequence of directions and difficulty organising thoughts when speaking.
Children with dyslexia avoid reading aloud and become anxious when asked to read in class. This may bring back memories of childhood when you were beginning to learn how to read. Recent studies and journal articles on dyslexia have indicated a link with difficulties in language acquisition at younger ages and also with Specific Speech Delays in Early Childhood. None of the articles, however, take into account or even make a mention of the early language experiences of the infants and toddlers. Are these infants and toddlers immersed in language rich environments right from birth?
The UK Parliament’s Select Committee on Science and Technology said in 2009: “There is no convincing evidence that if a child with dyslexia is not labeled as dyslexic, but receives full support for his or her reading difficulty, that the child will do any worse than a child who is labeled dyslexic and then receives special help.”
Interestingly, The Dyslexia Debate, published in February 2014, is a rigorous study of this alleged ailment by two distinguished academics, Professor Julian Elliott of Durham University and Professor Elena Grigorenko of Yale University.
The book examines how we use the word “dyslexia” and questions its efficacy as a diagnosis. While many believe that a diagnosis of dyslexia may help identify the best form of intervention, the authors state that it adds little value. In fact, the problematic interpretation of the term could become a major disservice to children who struggle with reading.
Elliot and Grigorenko examine the latest research in cognitive science, genetics and neuroscience and the limitations of these fields in terms of professional action.
The authors say: “Being labeled dyslexic can be perceived as desirable for many reasons.” These include extra resources and extra time in exams. And then there’s the hope that it will “reduce the shame and embarrassment that are often the consequence of literacy difficulties. It may help exculpate the child, parents and teachers from any perceived sense of responsibility.”
Their book makes several points. There is no clear definition of what “dyslexia” is. There is no objective diagnosis of it. Nobody can agree on how many people suffer from it. The widespread belief that it is linked with high intelligence does not stand up to analysis.
Currently, if your child is struggling with reading or writing, it can be difficult to know exactly what the problem is. Talking to your child’s teacher about what she has observed is a good starting point. Together, you can develop a plan. There are lots of ways to help kids with reading and writing issues succeed in school.
- Extra time for reading and writing, access to the teacher’s notes from the lesson to reduce the amount of note-taking, simplified directions, books on tape, shortened assignments.
- Specific instruction on identifying sounds, understanding how letters represent sounds in speech and decoding words, instruction, either one-on-one or in a small group using a multisensory reading program that focuses on using all the senses to learn.
- Read aloud so your child hears stories above his/her reading level. Encourage your child to listen to audio books, help your child use spell-check programs, use speech-to-text tools.
Finally, do remember the early years are crucial to all learning and development that comes later in life. Talk to your infant/toddler through all daily routines, embed them in a language rich and vocabulary enhanced auditory environment, sing with them, tell them stories and show them books every day, make up rhymes and sing them together, play with rhyming words and have lots of fun together!
(The writer is an occupational therapist.)