Tuesday 22 April 2014

The Dyslexia Debate

The Dyslexia Debate is a new book by Professor Elliott of Durham University. The mass of publicity surrounding its launch has suggested variously that dyslexia is a 'myth' that it is a construct by middle class parents whose children are not learning fast enough and that giving dyslexics extra help is an injustice to other students.

This has caused distress among a group of people who are already suffering. So I thought I would lay out one of the many reasons that I believe the concept of dyslexia to be useful.

Some process has selected a group of people and given them the label 'dyslexic'. I'm one of them. Whenever I get together with other adults labelled in the same way, we discover many levels of similarity that other people can't even understand.

  "Do you get that thing where...?"
  "You too?" 
  "I thought I was the only one in the world who did that!"

We can all read and write. We are all well practiced at hiding the difference - though it is stressful and we don't always manage it. But when we get together it is as if we have found a family we never knew we had. All those little quirks and stresses that make us feel out of step with the world - in that company they are gone.

I didn't choose the word dyslexia. I didn't choose what family background I came from. But something deep down on the level of cognitive processing is different from the mainstream. It made learning to read and write agonizingly difficult. I did learn, but reading still takes a lot of concentration for me and my spelling is all over the place - even though I am now a novelist.

They can argue about the name. And they can argue about the best method of helping. And they can argue about disability legislation and funding for special needs education. But my experience tells me that there is a real phenomena here and that the process of identification is selecting a group of people with very similar issues.

Perhaps it would be more comfortable for some people to believe that because the problems are invisible from the outside they can be ignored. Just get the kids to read and write and the difference has 'gone away'?

I'm sorry. It is still here after we have learned to pass ourselves off as non-dyslexic. Something about the dyslexia labelling is working. For the time being it is the only thing we have to enable us to find people with the same differences.

Please don't try to destroy the label unless you have something better to replace it with.

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