Reading Instruction and the Dyslexia Diagnosis Debate

When it comes to diagnosing and providing accommodation for dyslexia, there are more issues involved than just making sure a child can learn to read. What do I mean by that?

First, there is no question that reading is the most important aspect of our early education because we have a short window during which we learn to read and after that, we must be able to read in order to learn. Reading is fundamental and necessary for everyone in today’s society.

Research has proven that all children—not just dyslexic children—learn to read best with an evidence-based explicit multisensory approach. Sadly, most children are not taught that way. This needs to change, not just for dyslexic children, but for all children that struggle to read for whatever reason. Every child should be taught to read the same way.

Reading specialist Faith Borkowsky published an interesting blog on the dyslexia diagnosis debate. One point that stood out to me is that every child can learn to read, and whether the reading difficulty is due to dyslexia or any other problem, the solution is the same, and that is evidence-based explicit multisensory reading instruction, and that I would agree with.

However, some contend that a dyslexia diagnosis is a distraction. In Borkowsky’s blog, she quoted Professor Julian Elliott of Durham University and co-author of The Dyslexia Debate, who argues that the diagnosis of dyslexia is a distraction because it implies that it exists separate and apart from general reading difficulties.

I would agree with that if learning to read was the only issue that dyslexic children face, but for most dyslexics, including myself, the difficulty goes far beyond just reading. A dyslexia diagnosis and appropriate accommodation are critical for dyslexic students to reach their full potential.

Why do I say that? For one thing, not all dyslexics are alike. Beyond the struggle to read, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and each person’s dyslexia can range from mild to severe. And then there are the many sibling conditions of dyslexia, including dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysphonia, and auditory dyslexia, and these can present numerous difficulties beyond just reading.

In my case, I grew up in the sixties when little was known or understood about dyslexia. It wasn’t until my second agonizing year in first grade that I was diagnosed as dyslexic. After that, I received one-on-one assistance from a special ed teacher that helped me to learn to read, and I’m grateful for that intervention.

But in addition to dyslexia, I also had two of its sibling conditions, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. Even after I was helped to read, I struggled miserably in school for the remainder of my early education—not just academically, but especially socially and emotionally.

So what is my opinion on the dyslexia diagnosis debate? That a dyslexia diagnosis is important for more than just reading intervention. A dyslexic child needs social and emotional support and appropriate accommodation (like extra time for testing, etc.).

The books Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent's Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention by Faith Borkowsky and Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Don M. Winn are excellent companion books for parents and educators looking to help children with dyslexia live their best lives.

When it comes to understanding the details of high-quality reading instruction and learning what dyslexia is and isn’t and how to provide the social and emotional support dyslexic students need, there are two important books that every parent should have, Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist Faith Borkowsky, and Raising a Child With Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Don M. Winn.

Please share your comments how you feel about the dyslexia diagnosis debate.

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