Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dyslexia: Is it time to rethink or examine the diagnosis?

Some years ago, a student informed me that she was encountering a problem with my classes.

When asked to explain a little further, she told me that she had been diagnosed as dyslexic.

I asked if she could be a little more specific about the particular difficulties she was encountering.

Responding, “I can’t understand what you are talking about”, she explained that the ideas I was expressing were complex and she found them difficult to grasp.

I enquired how I might help her with this problem. She replied that she would welcome a single sheet of A4 for each lecture containing a set of bullet points that summarised the key points.

This anecdote exemplifies some of the confusion that surrounds “dyslexia”, a term used to describe a variety of problems. Researchers tend to describe as dyslexic all those who struggle to decode text.

Others, often clinicians, argue that only some poor decoders are dyslexic. Still others contend that decoding difficulty is but one part of a much broader dyslexic condition.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that diagnosis is deemed to be highly subjective and lacking in scientific rigour. 

While special tests and symptom profiles are commonly used, there is no means of making a consistent and meaningful judgement.

As the list of so-called signs and symptoms is lengthy, most people reporting reading difficulties will demonstrate some of them.

Many such symptoms are found in good readers, and those diagnosed as dyslexic often differ substantially from one another.

Many clinicians still employ IQ tests as a basis for diagnosis, even though this practice has been discreditted and no longer has any scientific support.

Meanwhile, research studies in neuroscience and genetics, often used by proponents to justify the dyslexia construct, are typically conducted with poor decoders (not a so-called dyslexic subgroup), and currently offer no additional diagnostic information.

The key problem is that dyslexia diagnoses have moved far away from their original focus (severe reading difficulty) to incorporate an ever-increasing range of cognitive and self-regulatory deficits including poor working memory, processing speed limitations, attention/concentration problems, difficulties in analysing and synthesising complex information, and in organising and expressing ideas.

For any students who struggle to cope with academic demands for such reasons, there are obvious equity issues within our highly competitive higher education sector between those who are diagnosed dyslexic and those who are not and, instead, are considered to be academically weaker performers.

Read the full article here

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