Friday, February 28, 2014

The Dyslexia Debate

So I just finished reading an article on CTVNEWS.CA that there is a new book out called, "The Dyslexia Debate".

The author is Julian Elliot, a professor of education at Durham University. He brings the argument that there is too broad of a notion associated with the word Dyslexia and that ultimately he feels that it is bringing those classified in that group to harm because some may, in fact, not have Dyslexia. He goes on to say there should be no word referenced to Dyslexia except that of, "Reading Disabled." Elliot reasons that he feels it lacks in "scientific rigour and educational value" because those same children may 'just' be struggling to learn reading essentially, and they need to be referred to as "reading disabled." He also mentions that some children differ in areas of Dyslexia, and that lends to proof in an improper system for classifying anyone Dyslexic as a general. The article does however, continue to say he does believe in early detection and an individual profile for each student showing signs of reading struggles.

Although I agree that teachers need to be more aware and consistently checking for learning disabilities, and yes, they need to have profiles and be on top of these students who do have difficulty in any circumstance; I don't fully agree with what Julian Elliot is saying. Giving that this information is from an article and I have not gotten my hands on the book to read it first hand yet; Respectively, I can get a sense of what the ultimate push and goal is that the author sought for the book. I can understand his concern as a parent and teacher over my children. This is one of the main factors I originally started to Homeschool. It was the lack of awareness for their struggles and one-on-one for my child in the current school system. And though I agree there needs to be a change, I don't think what Mr. Elliot is proposing will work and could be detrimental to students. Here is why...

I think that he is pointing fingers in all the wrong directions, which will deter the help that many children still desperately need. Truly, will it really harm children who may be miss-diagnosed to have extra phonemic awareness help and one-on-one training by Special Educators? That is not the real problem here.

 There is a problem. That is a fact. 

But where should we be looking? It is most certainly not in redefining a child's reading difficulty, or undermining the real problems of Dyslexic children.

 It is finding a solid solution! 

 Let's take a look at what the parents have to go through:
 Parents are on the front lines and often notice problem signs. They heed the voice of concerned Teacher's saying it is normal, it will work itself out and then hit a wall at Grade 3. After that comes the dreaded, " You don't want to 'label'."

So, labelling has never been the real issue! Teacher's usually try to avoid it, I know mine did and many other people mentioned it to me personally.

Giving that there are variables within the Dyslexic realm, it may be hard to identify Dyslexia precisely. This can pose another problem, which Elliot also mentions. I don't agree that because one student shows a great difficulty in comprehension and phonemic awareness, while another shows less strengths in writing portions, that this is not Dyslexia? Why not propose proper education of defined areas within Dyslexia? Mr. Elliot is still suggesting an over-all label called, Reading Disabled. Isn't that also a broad spectrum? Where are the definitions to help with specific struggles? Students are getting overlooked everyday and now might find help through the label Dyslexia. How will this change benefit them?

I have 5 children. I am Dyslexic. My Dyslexia looks a little different from my children's, but we all show the same difficulties. I may be stronger in writing, and grammar, but I have overcome some of those challenges. That doesn't mean I don't still struggle in those specific areas. It is because I have built a stronger neurological path for them. I still have trouble with identifying 'e' and 'i' phonemically. To this day, I can't tell some French words because of the lack of phonemic awareness. It does not just simply go away! Some kids may have worked very hard to get better at their problems before being diagnosed. You have to remember, they normally get diagnosed after grade three! That is a lot of hard work for the first four years of their school lives!

When a concerned parent notices an issue with decoding: reading, writing, grammar, spelling, that it may be a sign of Dyslexia, typically Teachers are quick to resort to, "Well, you don't want to LABEL Johnny now do you?" Remember these kids are not just a year behind, many are very far behind and simply CAN NOT catch up even though they are trying. They work so hard to do the little they can do. Even with that, there is a big out-cry and plea to keep our children as normal as possible. They can be fine and hide any problems by shoving them under the carpet. But they don't go away! That is no way to help individuals that really need help.

Honestly, how are these children even able to get help? Most Special educators are full and it is hard to get one. The teachers barely get assistance and have 20-30 students to care for. This is a huge problem for the educator to have to assist daily and accommodate a few students out of thirty. Its almost like asking them to be to do the impossible.

How do we fix it then?

 Well, here is the issue:
Once a teacher, parent or other influence, notices there are reading struggles, they think of many ways and tools in order to help the child to get them up to snuff. But, when they don't perform well or at all, failing time and again, they are left scratching their heads and turn to Dyslexia.

Instead, they really need to be aware of all of the child's warning signs and help to identify the learning disability. Not just quickly brand a child Dyslexic, but see...Is this Dysgraphia? Is it Dyslexia in its purist form? If it is writing is it motor issues like Dyspraxia? Is it Irlene Syndrome? Could it be a behavioural issue? Could it be an emotional issue? Could it be a practical issue, where previous teachers were not able to give appropriate time and work for the struggling student? They fell too far behind and simply can't progress without a great amount of help? In some ways, this may be where Elliot and I agree.

BUT, all these things do not stem from labelling. It comes from how the educators, parents and other influentional people in the child's life, are being instructed with, or have the-lack-of education within the knowledge of Dyslexia.

 Knowledge is key! 

I beleieve all teachers have to have a course on Dyslexia by an accredited course through an Orton Gillingham certified instructor. Or something similar, at least one crash course that really teaches aspiring educators what to look for and how to help those that are truly Dyslexic. Teach them how to look for various signs of other Learning Disabilities that are not specifically Dyslexia. Then you will start to see a shift in proper diagnose and less struggling readers thrown into the mix with them.

I think there needs to be an overhaul of the educational system as well. This is just wishful thinking on my part though. I went through the public school system barely knowing how to read. Nobody did anything about it! My mom couldn't help me, she had Dyslexia and didn't know what to do herself let alone help me with my schooling.

It wasn't until I went to college to become a teacher that it was final. They slapped a massive book down (along with other's for different courses) saying I needed to learn it in a week as well as give a written report showing that I comprehended it. That is when I cried and finally dropped out, confessing that I could not read well enough to even go to college. How sad! It wasn't my fault. Had I had more one-on-one with my teachers, I would have been more successful; Had I had Orton Gillingham one-on-one, I would have been incredibly successful!

I also have to agree with Mr. Elliot in the fact that there needs to be a change. But, I think it is more like an overhaul than a classification issue. 

This needs to be:

-Starting at the University level where teachers (who can wrongly diagnose children as well) are rooted in their education and stem. 

-Getting proper resources/education into the teacher's hands that are scientifically based/studied and not just thought provoking on Dyslexia. 

-Understanding the need for Orton Gillingham training for all teachers so they are better equipped in the classroom to bring a variety of learning for all of their students. 

-Less signalling out to focus on words descriptions and classification and get to the real problem at hand.

-More teacher action in the school system to better educate those children right from the very start.

These are what I propose will change the current need for clarification in the Dyslexic Debate.

Teach them right and they will learn! 

Any ways, thats just my two sense worth ;D
Happy Learning!

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