There has been a lot of talk lately about whether Dyslexia even exists. As someone who was diagnosed with Dyslexia when I was seven, it seems very odd that people are questioning whether it exists or not. I know it exists because I have lived with it all my life. I know this blog is normally about autism and related issues, but I have given a bit of thought to this over the last day or so and just wanted to put my views out there. People who claim it doesn’t exist seem to be saying a couple of different things: one thing I`ve heard is that it is mostly middle-class children who are diagnosed with having dyslexia, suggesting it is something rich people come up with to make excuses for children who aren’t really that intelligent – the main argument seems to be that instead of trying to diagnose something, you should simply give the children the help that they need. It was also argued that a diagnosis wasn’t helpful and all children who struggled with reading or writing should be given the same amount and type of help.
There are a few points I would like to make:
1) Of course mostly middle-class children are being diagnosed – you have to pay for a diagnosis – even if that comes back saying your child doesn’t have dyslexia. The reality is that in today’s economic climate, the vast majority of people can`t afford to spend a few hundred pounds on something that they can`t guarantee will help them in the long run – but if you have the money, you spend it because you think it might benefit your child. It is no different than anything else throughout history; middle and upper class people will often look as if they suffer from something more, simply because they have the money to go out and get diagnosis and treatment.
2) One former teacher said that he believed debates about terminology and correct diagnosis were taking up time that could be spent helping children and coming up with ways to teach them to read and write. Well, in a way he is actually right, but my question would have to be – if he thinks spending time on terminology and categorising peoples problems are a waste of time, why spark a debate about terminology? It is hypocritical in the extreme. He is right, it is better to help people rather than spend time debating what you are going to call the issues they are having, but does that mean we should remain ignorant and refuse to diagnose anybody – no, of course it doesn’t.
3) Should all children who struggle with reading and writing be given the same type of support that dyslexics are given? Short and simple answer – no – First of all, there is a reason people with Dyslexia have specially designed techniques to help them to learn to read and write and spell. It is because they need specific help. Somebody without Dyslexia may pick things up faster than somebody with Dyslexia (and remember I speak as someone with Dyslexia when I say this) Why should they have to work with techniques that go more slowly than they can learn? There is no point holding them back. Of course it is right to give them the same level of support, and to not act as if their inability to pick something up is less important than that of someone with Dyslexia. But that doesn’t mean you teach everybody the same. Also, if you teach people with Dyslexia just like everybody else, the likelihood is that you will destroy their confidence. They have a perfectly valid reason why they struggle to pick things up – it doesn’t mean that they will never be able to do it, it just means they will have to work hard. But if you take that reason away – you tell them that it doesn’t exist, that they are just like everybody else – what does that make them? Stupid? I am not saying Dyslexia can be used as an excuse. People with Dyslexia don’t need an excuse – they have a perfectly good reason.
4) Diagnosis itself – of anything – is a strange one. Without getting too philosophical about it – does anything really exist? Something like autism for example; everyone in the world thinks and feels things differently. They have things they find easy and things they find hard. They have a certain way of thinking. A certain percentage of these people, who think and feel and interact in a different way to the majority of people around them are put in to a big category named autism. Now at one end of that category you could have somebody who is slightly socially awkward and likes spending time alone – you could have a highly successful business man who could be the CEO of a company and make massively important deals every day. At the other end you could have somebody who just sits in their room every day, can’t talk or look at people and still uses nappies. Now without wishing to be derogatory towards anyone, you can see that there is a vast difference between those two individuals, and yet they are both diagnosed with the same condition, because they both share some of the core symptoms – just to differing degrees. All you are doing when you diagnose someone is ticking off a list of symptoms that put them in a certain category and sub-category which somebody else thought up years before. Now that might sound pretty negative, but in actual fact I am not so sure it is. If you can put a name to your collection of issues it is much easier to get help. You can search for specific resources out there and talk to other people with the same condition, find out what worked for them and what might help you. If you don’t diagnose it, you never really know what is going on for you, therefore you can’t get help.
5) If you mention Dyslexia to most people, even a surprising number of professionals, they seem to think it is something to do with how well you can read. This is nonsense. Dyslexia has certain key elements, but depending on who you are you can have all kinds of different issues that go along with it. Difficulty in either reading/ writing, poor organisational skills and a bad short-term memory are the most common issues, but there are many more. People who argue that because it doesn’t affect everybody in the exact same way it can’t exist, are just being silly if you think about it.
6) A lot of people will claim that everybody has had symptoms of Dyslexia at some point in their lives, and really they are just things that everybody struggles with – that some people are simply more intelligent and get through these issues faster. I should probably tell you a bit about myself at this point: I could read efficiently by the age of three, but now, even aged nineteen, my hand-writing is still like that of a very young child and my spelling is terrible. I don’t mean that in the sense some people do, where they make the odd mistake and then go back and change it – I mean there are literally thousands of words that I still can`t spell, even to this day – many of them basic, everyday words I was diagnosed with Dyslexia aged 7. At this time I had an IQ of 120, which was higher than the average fourteen year old. I co-authored and published my first book aged twelve. At this time the only things I could handwrite were my name and a few basic words. When I was fifteen and had my second book published my handwriting and spelling had improved, but was I still years behind the average fifteen year old. Because I was home educated I did not have a GCSE in English, so I had to take one when I was in my second year at college. I did get half an hour extra in my exam but I didn’t use it, but I did do the exam on a lap-top, and I managed to get the second highest mark in the class. I finished college after obtaining the equivalent of three A* in IT. I don’t think that one of my assignments was handed in without at least ten spelling mistakes. I am not some kind of genius but I am fairly intelligent, yet even to this day my handwriting and spelling are absolutely terrible. If it wasn’t for having a diagnosis of Dyslexia, and my Mum creating Dyslexia friendly strategies to help me with my spelling, I don’t believe I would have achieved any of the things in this list. The frustration and anger that you feel when you can’t spell a word you need to spell or write for an assignment, even though you know it is only a basic word, is incredibly hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t felt it. But I think that if I didn’t have a diagnosis this probably would have destroyed my self-esteem and caused me to get so angry I`d put my fist through the computer.