A an Irish exemption. As I am

A topic of
professional interest which is relevant to the provision of diverse learners is
the educational experience of children with a specific learning difficulty. In
an education system where inclusion is very relevant, I want to discover more
about what children with a specific learning difficulty face. UNESCO 1994
states that “a more inclusive education system is recommended worldwide with
less segregation of children with special education needs”. Where do children
with a specific learning difficulty fit into this inclusive education system? The Report of the Special Education Review Committee (SERC)
(1993, p. 86) defines a specific learning disability as ‘impairments in
specific aspects of reading, writing and arithmetical notation, the primary
cause of which is not attributable to assessed ability being below the average
range, to defective sight or hearing, emotional factors, a physical condition
or to any extrinsic adverse circumstances’. The specific learning disabilities
listed are dyscalculia,
dysgraphia
and dyslexia.
For the purpose of this assignment I will research dyslexia. I will look at the
affects of labelling and how inclusive or exclusive it is for the pupil.

My current
thinking is that a dyslexia diagnosis is something that can be received
positively or negatively at first, yet generally through time is becomes more
positive. My thoughts are in no way definite and I am very open to researching
the topic.  As I am a teacher in a
mainstream primary school my view point will be somewhat focused on that area.
Having worked with infants for many years I have experienced many children presenting
with dyslexia type learning needs, some in later years received an official
diagnosis. The youngest child I have dealt with who received a diagnosis had
just turned eight. The reasons I have an interest in this topic is due to the
fact that statistics report that 10% of the population are people with
dyslexia, therefore as a special education teacher in an Irish school it is
currently the most common learning need I deal with daily. I am also interested
in the supports that are available to children with dyslexia raning from a
scribe in state exams to an Irish exemption. As I am researching this from an
Irish teacher’s perspective I hope to also gain an insight into other
countries, their policies and procedures. Interestingly depending on the
country in question the percentage of people with dyslexia can be higher or
lower than 10% as some languages are harder to learn and therefore the percentage
may differ.

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Current
practice is Ireland for special education teaching has recently changed for
Primary Schools with the introduction of circular 0013/2017. What is now
referred to as special education teaching was previously referred to as
learning support or resource teaching. The old model put an emphasis on
diagnosis and therefore a label to receive support whereas the new model hopes
to move away from this to some extent, yet will it be effective?

With these
questions and queries in mind I will try to develop a deeper understanding and
reflect using Borton’s Developmental Framework; ‘What, So What, What Next?’
(Borton 1970) This was then adapted by Rolfe and his colleagues as the
Framework for Reflective Process. (Rolfe, 2001)

 

The
first step of this framework – What?                                                                  

Whilst
reading I will focus on the first stage of the reflective framework – I have
many what questions with the main one being “What research is there regarding
labelling and dyslexia?”

 

“What do children with dyslexia experience, is there
a stigmatism to labelling, is labelling a positive or negative? How do you get
this label? The thoughts of parents and educators will also be to the forefront
of my mind whist reading.

“Is a label of dyslexia a positive or negative
experience for someone presenting with/diagnosed with the specific learning
difficulty of dyslexia?”

The second
step – So what?

Next
through reading and analysing the relevant literature, research and policy I
will decide what is important and relates to my queries about my “what”
question and others that may arise during reading. I will provide a summary of
the literature.

The final
step – What now?

In the
final stage of Borton’s reflective model I will take into consideration how
this process of reflection will affect my mindset and in turn teaching.

This model
suits me best due to its simplicity and recommendations for starting out on the
reflective process.

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Literature
Review

 ‘Dyslexia is a specific
learning difficulty which makes it hard for some people to learn to read, write
and spell correctly.’ (DAI, website) This is a description of dyslexia in its
simplest form. The DAI then give further detail ‘Dyslexia is characterised by
cognitive difficulties in (1) phonological processing, (2) working memory, and (3)
speed of retrieval of information from long term memory. Dyslexic difficulties
occur on a continuum from mild to severe and affect approximately 10% of the
population. People with dyslexia may experience greater stress and frustration
as they endeavour
to learn, resulting in heightened anxiety, particularly in relation to literacy
acquisition. People with dyslexia may also have accompanying learning
strengths.’ (DAI, website).

Currently in Ireland Dyslexia
exists; people are being diagnosed daily, yet for many years there has been an
ongoing debate regarding dyslexia, which is appropriately referred to as the
dyslexia debate. Interestingly the
American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), in
its final version (APA 2013) used “Specific Learning Disorder” as opposed to
dyslexia. There was conflicting interests regarding the DSM-5 no longer
regarding dyslexia as a diagnostic term and many people wishing to reverse
this. This is due to a lack of agreement on its definition but acknowledging
that international conceptions and understanding of dyslexia exist. (Passe,
2015) Fletcher and Lyon (2010) look further into why it is difficult to define,
they refer to is as an “unobservable construct” and that it is “dimensional”
this leads to the continuum which we see so often in special education.

The
literature refers to the bigger picture of labeling that it is not a straight
forward topic and that it will vary hugely for everyone involved. Riddick lists
three positives and three negatives, positives include appropriate treatment,
enabling further research and getting attention for a difficulty which can in
turn lead to more funding and therefore gain better resources.  The negatives Riddick mentions refer to
professionals labelling for its own sake and not being of benefit for support, labelling “as a way of maintaining status quo by keeping minority
groups at the bottom of social hierarchy” (Riddick 2000, p653) and as keeping
the focus on within child problems and not the other factors which may have
enabled the problem.

Pre 2017
in Ireland labelling was not only encouraged but required for a child to gain
access to resource hours in school. In circular 02/05 the labels are listed and
the resource available e.g. Autism 5 hours, moderate general learning
disability 3.5 hours. These hours were also cut by 15% by the government. In
this allocation model there were no specific hours given for a dyslexia
diagnosis they would have to gain support through the general allocation model.
This is where children falling under the 10th percentile in
standardized tests received support. Therefore if you were having a specific
difficulty with reading but you were still attaining above the 10th
percentile you would not be receiving support if following the recommendations
of the model. Hence a diagnosis of dyslexia was seen as necessary by parent and
teachers for a child to get extra support within school. In Ireland to get a
diagnosis of dyslexia you need to be in the average range of intelligence.
Research in Northern Ireland states that this was also the case there yet the
DECP (1999) had different views and it is noted by Long and Mc Polin that ‘the
definition of dyslexia proposed bu the DECP (1999) does not have such
exclusionary criteria’ (Long & McPolin, 2009) The criteria referred to is
that of an exclusion from a diagnosis of dyslexia on the basis of low
intelligence. Today this is a common viewpoint but is not yet in policy in
Ireland. The discrepancy model is used in Ireland today yet for a dyslexia
diagnosis the IQ test has to give results in the average range. If the same
discrepancy is there but the IQ score is below average a dyslexia diagnosis
would not be feasible. The extra supports that go with that diagnosis in
Ireland would also not be feasible. As cited in Kavale 2005 ‘When unexpected
learning failure is acknowledged as a critical element of SLD, one may conclude
that discrepancy is a necessary component in making decisions about the
presence or absence of SLD’ (Kavale, 2002) Kavale investigates an SLD diagnosis
without IQ testing where interventions are put in place and if the child
responds then the interventions are no longer needed, if not more intensive
interventions are required and if it is ongoing then an SLD diagnosis would be imminent,
yet he fails to mention whether this would use IQ testing eventually or not.

A diagnosis is effectively a label ‘Labelling is sometimes treated as a unitary construct as something
that can be simply described as good or bad. However, as soon as it is
inspected in any detail it becomes apparent that there are many aspects to this
process and that there can be negative and positive consequences of labelling or not labeling.’ (Riddick, 2000, p653) Riddick looks at
the belief that a label a can be harmful, lead to negative connotations and
stigmatizations. She also looks at the ‘further argument is that each child is
an individual and as such has an individual profile of educational needs which
will not be fully indentifies if they are simply assumed to have the needs that
are held to go with a particular label.”(Riddick 2000, p654) The profile of
educational needs that Riddick refers to links with the new and current model
of Special Education Teaching (circular 0013/2017) in Ireland today. This
circular no longer promotes labelling
as much as the previous one did as hours are now to be used as the school sees
fit to best support pupils. Is it the hope that with this model a child with
learning needs will be given support whether they have a label or not. That
could then lead to another debate over parents and how much they query teachers
and principals regarding the support their child is or isn’t receiving and how
this in turn may alter how hours are used.

As
previously mentioned the dyslexia debate is a topic or great interest over many
years in special education so much that recently there was a book written on
the topic “The Dyslexia Debate” by Elliot and Grigorenko (2014). Both writers
having previously wrote about the topic many times. This book looks at
interventions put in place for people with dyslexia. The point of view is that
since supports used for people with dyslexia are the same as those who are
viewed as poor readers that therefore the term dyslexia should not be used. This
lead to a lot of discussion (Bishop 2014) around the term dyslexia and whether
it should continue to exist as a term, leading to also looking at other labelling terms and whether they should be used too. Passe looks at
the implications that go with the being labeled dyslexic or being labeled as a
poor reader. The term ‘poor readers’ leads readers to assume that such
difficulties could be fixed through more effort and quality teaching, whereas ‘dyslexia’
suggests something different, long-term and requiring specialist intervention.
(Passe, 2015 p214) 

The
European Journal of Special Needs Education article does not use Passe’s term
poor readers but instead refers to children with ‘reading difficulties’ -another
term used to describe the same needs? This journal article describes the
difference in opinions of teacher’s when they are presented with a student with
dyslexia and a student who is a poor reader. The aim of the investigation is to
illustrate the effect of an interaction between efficacy and essentialist
beliefs and the implications this might have for teachers’ practice and
educational policy in regard to children’s reading’ (Gibbs & Elliott, 2015,
p326) To do this two questionnaires were used each of two variants, one variant
used the word ‘dyslexia’ the other used ‘reading difficulties’ in place of
dyslexia. The research then ‘suggests that the different labels for the
supposed difficulty were associated with significant differences in teachers’
reported efficacy beliefs.'(Gibbs & Elliott, 2015, p329) The results also
show that the label of dyslexia lead to greater efficacy regarding
‘implementing appropriate strategies, and enabling individual and groups of
children, but significantly less efficacy motivating and engaging children.'(Gibbs
& Elliott, 2015, p329) The authors are of the opinion that the label of
dyslexia is unhelpful to teachers and that the strategies a teacher would use
for reading difficulties are essentially the same. Linking to Passe’s article
on the stigma associated with the label of Dyslexia it differs as the
questionnaire completed by people diagnosed with dyslexia showed that although
over half of the people surveyed felt dyslexia affected their daily lives a
small percentage ‘(9.1%) would want to get rid of their dyslexia’ (Passe, 2015
p320) This questionnaire did not look at getting rid of the label as such but
their dyslexia, which may have had a different outcome.

The use of
labels can be formal or informal and this in itself can lead to various views
and implications. People with dyslexia can also suffer with a variety of
negative labels e.g. lazy or stupid, especially before they were given a formal
label. Yet does the formal label cut out these negative labels? No it does not. Labelling can in turn lead to a self fulfilling prophecy whether
formal or informal. There is more research on formal labels than informal, and
even by want of not labelling are you also already somehow labelling? There are issues with the specificity of labels as Riddick
discusses, one of the main ones being the broadness, ‘the labels are so broad
and inclusive and include such a heterogeneous group of individuals that they
end up conveying little more than the fact that a child is thought to have a
problem of some kind’ (Riddick, 2000. P662). A mother surveyed by Riddick is
quoted as referring to ‘special needs’ as an umbrella term, other may see this
as a want to distance themselves from others who they view in a more negative
sense than themselves.

Regarding
ownership of labels Riddick referred to Bogdanowicz (1996) to state that he
found when different members of the public were surveyed about the understanding
of the term dyslexia that the ‘best informed group were parents of dyslexic
children, rather than educationalists’ (Riddick, 2000, p662). With dyslexia
many parents have fought for its existence whereas many educational
professionals have denied its validity. This links to the current DSM-5
description of the term which is now classes under specific learning
disorder.  A significant amount of
educational professional rather using the term specific learning difficulties
as they say it put the children on a continuum of special needs rather than an
exclusive category. Riddick states that this term in not without criticism as
it is ‘coined to fit the conceptualizations of educationalists and has not been
negotiated with individuals with dyslexia’ yet isn’t this the case for all
labels and not simply dyslexia? A dated example of Riddick’s previous writing
state that university students with dyslexia found writing cheques highly stressful. Generally speaking individuals who are
viewing as disabled are highly aware of the difficulties created for them by
factors in the environment, whereas with a Riddick refers to dyslexia as a
‘hidden disability’ where ‘you first have to prove that you have a disability
before you have the legitimacy to go on and challenge the society that is
helping produce the disability’ (Riddick, 2000, p664)

 

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Critical
Reflection

For the
final stage of the Borton’s model I will reflect on what I have read and ask
myself the final question – What now? What are my thoughts now, have they
changed? Is the label of dyslexia a positive or negative?

Throughout
the literature the main thing I noticed was the different labels for the same
learning needs. Dyslexia, specific learning disorder, specific learning
difficulty, poor reader, reading difficulties and so on. All these terms
whether they are viewed as politically correct or not are all used in Ireland
today, the view point from the course being that ‘a child with dyslexia’ is the
current inclusive accepted term. Therefore the child is first and then the
need/diagnosis. I agree with this that first and foremost we must look at the
child. In my opinion a child needs to be happy to learn and therefore self-
esteem is high on my list of priorities. Although many of the authors spoke
about stigmatism it often referred to what others thought about people with
dyslexia, e.g. educators, parents rather than what they thought themselves.
Some of the literature focused on the person and I found it very interesting to
see that only a very small percentage (9.1%) of people with dyslexia would
prefer not to have it. It would be interesting to see would their parents and
educators agree.

Although I
had previously heard of the dyslexia debate I wasn’t aware of the amount of
media and coverage it had received. It is an interesting topic and one where I
can see the argument both for and against, but I cannot say that I wholly agree
or disagree with it. It links a lot to inclusion too, when you think of others
enabling disability are others enabling dyslexia? It is intriguing to see the
ownership people have on a label. People diagnosed with dyslexia often feel
that it is an answer, that they are not stupid and have a difficulty with
reading and writing. Often a diagnosis can be a relief and a way to explain
their needs to others. Another interesting point from the literature is the responsiveness
to intervention model as a means of making decisions about the presence of an
SLD, which is detailed by Kavale. This was something that I had not previously
heard of and it was good validation for the Irish system that the recommended
model was that of discrepancy, albeit the Irish model requires an average IQ
score and the article was dated 2005. In Ireland a diagnosis may be given by an
educational psychologist whereas in the UK teachers with a qualification can
assess and diagnose.  This is a positive
change in my opinion and one that is echoed by many teachers. We are the
educators who intervene and support these children so why not let us also
assess?  When you think about it whether
you are an educator, parent or psychologist would it be a better or worse
system if someone already familiar to the child was the one carrying out the
assessment? Of course there are many arguments here, when carrying out
assessments with a child you know and have a previous knowledge of their
strengths and needs will you be more lenient or even more stringent? Another
point of view is as the psychologist as doctor and traditionally who gave you a
diagnosis, of course a doctor. Why would it matter that a child only meets this
person for a brief time to complete assessments? These are all things that came
to mind during the reading of the literature. Again putting the pupil’s voice
at the centre here is preferential but how can this be done? Is it as simple as
consenting to an assessment? Something that may give you a label for the rest
of your life? Boyle’s research on this springs to mind where he look at the
viewpoint that for some a label really help to them to understand themselves
whilst for others it was a negative experience leading to a life of stigma and
judgement.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boyle C., (2013).
Labelling in special education: Where do the benefits lie? In A.17 Holliman
(Ed.)

Educational Psychology:
An international perspective

. London Routledge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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