We don’t call it dyslexia anymore

Teacher 1: It’s a shame about John; he will get excluded soon.

Teacher2: Why what’s up?

Teacher: I don’t know, he seems fine when you speak to him but he can barely read and write. 

Teacher 2: Does he have dyslexia?

Teacher 1: We don’t use that term anymore, it’s unscientific -dyslexia doesn’t exist. We call it dysteachia.

Teacher2: So you haven’t taught him properly?

Teacher 1: Well not me, he came to us with very poor skills now he just won’t engage in our lessons. 

Teacher 2: But his friends can read and write? So the teaching can’t have been that bad? Surely John is confused why he can’t read and write when his typically developing peers can? Do you tell him he’s got dysteachia? 

Teacher 1: No we tell him he’s got a severe reading difficulty.

Teacher 1: Like dyslexia?

Teacher 2: Well last year he would have had dyslexia but it doesn’t exist, it’s unscientific …

Teacher 1: So now you say severe reading difficulty?

Teacher 2: Yes which wouldn’t have been so severe if he’d been taught properly.

Teacher 1: Right – I thought dyslexia, sorry, severe reading difficulty or is it dysteachia? Anyway, whatever you call it, was when a reading difficulty persists despite interventions?

Teacher 2:  *Shrugs* He doesn’t get on with most of the class. The others tend to spend time in the nurture group, come here for lunchtimes and enjoy the quiet little class we have. 

Teacher 1: Where’s John at break and lunchtime?

Teacher 1: Well he’s outside with his friends – they’re all much brighter than him though – yet you wouldn’t know that to talk to them all – John’s got excellent language skills.

Teacher 2: There’s a discrepancy between his reading and verbal ability?

Teacher 1: But you can’t diagnose dyslexia using the discrepancy model – dyslexia (even though it doesn’t exist) affects all abilities.

Teacher 2: Well it’s not diagnosed purely on a discrepancy model but that can be one factor and dyslexia may well explain why he can’t read and write.

Teacher 1: Well he’s actually weaker than the rest of the group with his reading and writing despite his verbal ability -he’s the worst and needs to learn to read and write.

Teacher 2: But he’s not learning anything because of his behaviour. Do you think John would be better in mainstream English?

Teacher 1: How can he? His reading and writing is like a 6 yr old.

Teacher 2: Well you say he has good language skills, could he not use audio books? Text-to-Speech? Speech recognition?

Teacher 1: He needs to learn to read and write.

Teacher 2: Yes but that could be in a daily 1:1 session;  using a systematic and cumulative reading programme. How is he accessing text and recording his work in the meantime? 

Teacher 1: He’s not, he just plays up, gets sent out of classes and as I said, will be excluded soon. 

Teacher 2: Right.

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16 thoughts on “We don’t call it dyslexia anymore

  1. Thanks Jules, great piece. Your blog reminded me of this quote: “If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.”

  2. I am not actually clear what this post is trying to say. Is it that we need the word “dyslexia” around for some reason? If so, what is wrong with “severe reading difficulty”? In this scenario the lack of the word “dyslexia” does not seem to be preventing John from accessing specialist reading support. The real problem here seems to be his behaviour – what is the plan to deal with that?

    The conversation with regards to discrepancy models of SEN is especially confusing. It is most emphatically NOT true that “dyslexia (even though it doesn’t exist) affects all abilities”. This is false. The point is this: there is a bell curve of general mental ability, and a bell curve of reading ability. The two overlap quite well, but perfectly. People can and do exist who have high GMA but low reading ability. However, it does not seem to be the case that those people benefit from different treatment to those who have both low GMA and low reading ability, or that their deficiencies have a different aetiology.

    I think I am supposed to think that “severe reading difficulty” is of less utility to John than “dyslexia”, but it is not obvious to me why this is the case.

    • Well, Andrew, it sounds to me like you don’t know anyone with dyslexia. My son reads a ton (and by a ton I mean a book never leaves his hands unless he’s on the Xbox).

      He has no problems with context. It’s phonics and spelling. And yes, single words he comes across in books that he doesn’t know he thinks are pronounced another way but he still gets the meaning. His vocabulary is above his peers but he writes below grade level.

      We need the word dyslexia because if you’re in your first IEP meeting and they’re telling you your son has problems with word deciding and letter reversal you’re thinking “what the eff is that?!?” We need more awareness so teachers like “teacher 1” finally “get it” and recognize the problem so they can be part of the solution. Teacher 1 is obviously ignorant.

  3. I am not actually clear what this post is trying to say. Is it that we need the word “dyslexia” around for some reason? If so, what is wrong with “severe reading difficulty”? In this scenario the lack of the word “dyslexia” does not seem to be preventing John from accessing specialist reading support. The real problem here seems to be his behaviour – what is the plan to deal with that?

    The conversation with regards to discrepancy models of SEN is especially confusing. It is most emphatically NOT true that “dyslexia (even though it doesn’t exist) affects all abilities”. This is false. The point is this: there is a bell curve of general mental ability, and a bell curve of reading ability. The two overlap quite well, but perfectly. People can and do exist who have high GMA but low reading ability. However, it does not seem to be the case that those people benefit from different treatment to those who have both low GMA and low reading ability, or that their deficiencies have a different aetiology.

    I think I am supposed to think that “severe reading difficulty” is of less utility to John than “dyslexia”, but it is not obvious to me why this is the case.

    • Andrew, this is my point; that he has different needs to those in the group he is with. He has the worst reading and spelling in the group but has better language and his peers (those he plays with at break time) are in mainstream classes. The rest of the group have better spelling and reading and are in the group for poor literacy skills possibly regarding, language, ability to conceptualise, make links etc. They are are in a group with their peers e.g. Who they socialise with, attend nurture group with possibly – their needs in this group are being met. His are not; his severe reading difficulty needs 1:1 attention but he doesn’t require an abridged version of novels and plays – he gets it if he can read with his ears. For him, a more appropriate strategy would be to put him in mainstream classes using assistive technology alongside a 1:1 intensive, systematic and cumulative reading programme. Interesting your comment on behaviour; I intimated that this was being dealt with, by exclusion however if his news had been identified and appropriate strategies put in place; it is likely the behaviour would sort itself out.

      • ah, ok. So essentially this is a plea for more imaginative and flexible ways of accommodating learning difficulties/differences – perhaps on a necessarily temporary basis, perhaps not – within mainstream classrooms? If so I am entirely on board with that. I think I initially read it in completely the wrong way, but am very happy that you took the time to correct me.

        Exclusion, to me, is not a way of dealing with bad behaviour (especially permanent exclusion). You are simply giving the problem to somebody else. That may very well be the correct thing to do in X percentage of cases of bad behaviour, but it is not a solution in itself. Instead it is hopefully a pathway to a solution.

    • Blogs can be poetry or playscripts, as well as essays: an imaginative description of life. The language is more opaque, so you have to look a bit differently to understand. The poet/playwright doesn’t *want* to tell you what she meant (sorry if I’m wrong, Jules!), because you’re meant to construct your own meaning. At least that’s what I think when I read or write them, anyway. Nancy Gedge just did a beautiful poem here, too: https://notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/celebrating-the-special-school-edfest-part-2/ 😉

  4. Pingback: The natural home for reading interventions (and it’s not SEN) | thinkingreadingwritings

  5. Pingback: My students will never hear the term Dysteachia  | MainstreamSEND

  6. let me put this abundantly clear so people who don’t have dyslexia can understand. which is very difficult since people who don’t have dyslexia believe they know everything about people who do have dyslexia which is a real problem.

    1. dyslexia is a term similar to depression. that is it’s a basket term that we put a bunch of symptoms of reading and writing difficulties. the symptoms are scientific verifiable. the reason why dyslexia is controversial is far more of a political one that it is a realistic one after all you don’t see anybody questioning depression and schizophrenia or any of these other “nonscientific terms.”
    if you want to know about a term is actually scientific then it’s something like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. these can be verified by brain scans and other hard science tools but no one can scan someone’s brain and say that you have depression they look for the symptoms. is that enough for people or do I need to go on.

    2. dyslexia for me the reading and writing difficulties are symptoms of an underlining difference in the way neurological circuits interact with symbols phonics and other fundamental language processes. these processes are fundamental to reading and writing and spelling such as phonic memory. they were always there and they always will be there. you can not fix your child you can have her find better treatments for their difficulties.

  7. I believe the word dyslexia has been misused. There does not appear to be any two definitions that are the same. Dyslexia as defined by Stanovich in 1990 is what I subscribe to. I have been successfully teaching so called dyslexic kids for the past 11 years. I have learnt from my students that they are unable to read fluently when they come to be because they had ‘shut-down’ when things taught to them were illogical – when things taught to them were inconsistent with what they had learnt earlier.

  8. Here,it was called,Specific Learning Difficulty,but no one knows what that means..so I called it Dyslexia.The boy in the blog sounds exactly like my son,apart from at break times,he played alone.The teacher in Primary1(age5 ) said you could have an adult conversation with him,the other kids just didn’t get him…by age13 I’d say he was practically suicidal,school hopeless,no friends etc.we took him out and homeschooled( not really done much here in UK) We did an Americam High SChool diploma on line..He’s now at college in the U.S.,and has hundreds of friends!!

  9. Pingback: The Last Post (on this anyway) | MainstreamSEND

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