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Posted 3rd December, 2012 by Sue Partridge

Colleagues within Dyslexia Positive have been debating the right wording to use in our dyslexia assessment reports, for 2 reasons. One is that the CPD events we have attended recently have encouraged us to be bolder in coming to conclusions about dyspraxia, dysgraphia etc. rather than expecting our clients to refer themselves to other agencies or their GP for clarity on this. Secondly, recent guidance about the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) seems to indicate that they want reports to refer directly to which specific learning difficulty (SpLD) the student is seeking funding for. It also arose that some of us were no longer happy with the term “diagnosis,” because of possible connotations of the medical model for dyslexia, which we reject.

We closed our email debate today with the following conclusions.
1. We actually agreed to differ about using the term diagnosis. Those of us holding the qualification pg Diploma: Adult Dyslexia Diagnosis and Support, and who were brought up to use Cynthia Klein’s Diagnosing Dyslexia as our bible, remain moderately comfortable about it. Diagnosis can be viewed as a form of detailed scrutiny, not exclusively medical. However some of our reports will use the term and some will not.
2. We agreed that DSA and other funding sources will need clear signposting, so we will refer to SpLD, even though in our feedback to students and clients we will want to stress that sometimes strengths will outweigh difficulties.
3. We agreed we will each have personal boundaries over which SpLDs we will comment on. We are all slightly more confident about referring to dyspraxia, though we prefer it when it comes in conjunction with dyslexia. Some specialists will refer to to dyscalculia, even though there is no workable assessment tool that can give a definitive answer about dyscalculia. We are all reluctant to refer formally to autistic spectrum disorders or ADHD in our conclusions, though we might mention attentional difficulties and look for strategies to enhance focus and concentration.
We would be really interested for other practitioners to have their say here, so please join the debate.

  • Jan

    I feel there’s a strange ‘push -me pull- you’ effect about using the right words.
    In primary schools, parents push for an assessment in the hope their child will be given extra help and support. Teachers resist this because they feel they can handle it in class, and anyway assessments cost them money and time and no extra funding.
    Naming dyslexia can get extra time in exams. In secondary schools it’s more about strategies that the student can use rather than extra funding or support.
    By the time the dyslexic reaches the work place, admitting to dyslexia may be construed by the dyslexic as failing in some way in the way the real world operates; often other people don’t understand it and think it’s just that dyslexics can’t spell.
    There’s still a long way to go before dyslexia / dyspraxia is given value for a different way of learning and approaching life. Generally, people don’t like to appear ‘different’ –  they want to fit in.
    When I work with older dyslexics, I’ll go with how they feel about it, and respect their position on how it will affect them in the work place. With younger children, I’ll support the parents in empowering them to get the best help they can for their child.
    As one parent said: ‘If it was a broken leg and it could be seen, something would be done about it and everyone would help.’  Fair comment.  I like the perspective.

  • Alison Earey

    As far as having a Specific Learning Difficulty is concerned, yesterday I had yet another conversation with a person, who I was assessing, who told me that a teacher told them that they were “thick”. This happens all too often – which leads me to the question: would people prefer to be labelled as thick or lazy (or just not up to the job – in the workplace) or as having dyslexia? Only a person in that situation can answer that. However, it is a myth to say that a person isn’t labelled, there will be a label, it just might be a somewhat inaccurate and damaging one.

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