Dyslexia Debate in Schools: Latest Special Education News
Dyslexia in schools: Should the term ‘dyslexia’ be abandoned or embraced? This question lies at the heart of a heated debate among educators, spanning the gamut of student from K-12 all the way through levels of higher education. Experts such as Professor of Education Julian Elliot, in his 2014 book, The Dyslexia Debate, argue that the diagnosis of dyslexia lacks scientific rigor and is too often applied to children with only mild literacy problems, such as poor spelling and grammar. Others, such as Dr. John Rack, Head of Research, Development and Policy for Dyslexia Action, maintain that for many who struggle with reading, the term dyslexia has educational as well as scientific value. Furthermore, parents who waited for years to understand why their children struggled with reading are advocating for more services for dyslexic students.
According to Educational Psychologist Dr. Gay Keegan, one of the problems with diagnosing dyslexia is that there are no unifying identifying characteristics or interventions that people deemed to have the disorder share. Hence, while many children and adults struggle to master the skill of reading, the term ‘dyslexia’ is often applied as an umbrella term to individuals who display vastly different reading problems. As a result, interventions which help one student diagnosed with dyslexia do not necessarily help another.
A related hot-button issue concerning the broadly applied term of dyslexia is the extra funding students with learning disabilities are eligible for. At the university level, for example, dyslexic students receive a disabled students’ allowance, support for study, a free laptop and printer, and special accommodations during examinations. Some argue that these benefits keep the current diagnostic system in place.
On the other hand, at the K-12 level, dyslexia is not included in the conditions which require services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act. Moreover, schools with budget constraints may be reluctant to have teachers acknowledge the disorder. This puts parents of dyslexic children in a tight bind when it comes to procuring adequate services for their youngsters. Many of these parents are now part of a fast-growing network of “Decoding Dyslexia” organizations, which aim to have dyslexia recognized as a learning disability within public schools and obtain funding for the daily and sometimes intensive support these children need.
Dyslexia, often thought of as reversing letters and numbers or seeing words backwards, is in fact more widely encompassing. According to neuropsychologists and learning disability associations, dyslexia can cause the brain to process and interpret information differently, impacting reading, writing, spelling, and speech. As a result, many of the reading intervention programs currently offered by schools are insufficient for students who suffer from dyslexia.
Statistically, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reports that the number of dyslexic students registered in 2012-13 was 22 times higher than those registered in 2007-8, marking a vast increase in the diagnosis of dyslexia. Yet according to Dr. Rack at Dyslexia Action, this rise in numbers is not bad news since it indicates improved detection of the condition at schools and universities, which in turn leads to better services. Rather than debate whether or not dyslexia is over-diagnosed, many argue that the solution lies in spotting reading difficulties early on, offering training for teachers to identify and assist children with literacy problems, and providing classroom resources which promote a love of reading.
Fortunately, as many students with dyslexia will attest to, when provided with high-quality support and taught how to overcome or find a way around their particular blocks, dyslexic students of all ages can make significant progress in reading and rise to the top of their class.