Having recently read via multiple sources (notably The Times Education Supplement and The Telegraph) that a couple of English councils view dyslexia assessments as ‘scientifically questionable’ and opt not to distinguish between those who are dyslexic and those who find it difficult to read, I was hugely disappointed. Not least because it raises several problematic questions but it also poses difficulties for those who are affected by this policy.
While some people may question why I would want to concern myself with a problem confined to a small number of English councils, particular ways of thinking – good and bad – are not limited to or by particular locations. Although it might not be an issue facing the people of Scotland, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about. Don’t get me wrong, there are arguments both for and against assessments for dyslexia depending on whether an individual finds the “label” helpful, something I’ve written about previously. But I think there’s a particular danger in calling a neurological difference questionable. Although it does not appear to be readily apparent, could the logic that has been applied to arguments against the validity of dyslexia not be applied to other learning differences, neurological or otherwise? If so, where is the line drawn? And if not, why has dyslexia been singled out?
This blog often discusses how dyslexia is much more than a difficulty with reading. By amalgamating those who have dyslexia with those who find learning to read tricky, one would be potentially damaging the self-esteem of both groups of learners and undermining their struggles thus crushing their desire to learn and obstructing them from fulfilling their potential. By challenging the existence of dyslexia, those with this learning difference could also lose the ability to have something to attribute their need to learn differently, therefore reducing acceptance and legitimising needless stigma. On a related note, children without access to assessments are being denied a potentially helpful identifier in that label. The ‘label’ may help them to find others with dyslexia like Jamie Oliver and Holly Willoughby to whom they can aspire. Furthermore, by saying that dyslexia is ‘scientifically questionable’, it risks devaluing not only the needs of those learners, but also those who work to make sure those needs are met; namely, teachers, teaching assistants and additional support needs specialists.
Ultimately though, what is being said about those who have dyslexia? That their difficulties should cease to be acknowledged? Why should educational provision and perhaps even access to specialist support, be dependent on which council a school is affiliated with and therefore become a postcode lottery? All learners, irrespective of their learning differences, need support and positivity to thrive. By denying the existence of dyslexia, some people are not being supported, and even more could be denied positive learning environments and experiences, which could only be to the detriment of the people concerned, those who care for and support them and society as a whole.