Dyslexia: Learning Difficulty or Learning Difference? What’s in a name?

Dyslexia: Learning Difficulty – or Learning Difference?

Is labelling dyslexia as a “difficulty” a good thing?

Dyslexia is usually identified as a Learning Difficulty, or a Specific Learning Difficulty.

A difficulty is “a thing that is hard to accomplish, deal with, or understand”.

Well, it’s certainly true that reading, writing and spelling can be all of those things for the dyslexic child! Hard to accomplish, deal with and understand! But does that mean your child has a Learning Difficulty? Does your child find learning difficult?  Not necessarily!

Do you agree that the word “difficulty” is a negative term?  A word that somehow suggests there is something “wrong” with the child?  That the child with dyslexia is in some way “broken”.  Perhaps his brain is wired incorrectly. Maybe he has an inability to learn because he is not intelligent enough!

Is dyslexia really a “difficulty”?

Should we tell a child he has a “difficulty”?

Could describing dyslexia as a “difficulty” gives dyslexia a negative slant?  Something to be overcome?

And what if your child is told he has a “difficulty”? Does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Will he come to  believe “I can’t do that because I have a Difficulty”? Would he expect to struggle?

In addition, let’s think about those surrounding the dyslexic child. Parents, friends, relatives, teachers. Might they focus on the child’s weaknesses, rather than his strengths?

But the dyslexic child may have many positive attributes.  He may have better three-dimensional spatial reasoning.  Perhaps he may be able to understand abstract information and see connections between concepts.  It could be he is exceptionally creative.

 Specific Learning Difficulty

The British Dyslexia Association call dyslexia a Specific Learning Difficulty

Seems like the British Dyslexia Association don’t like the term Learning Difficulty either.  Although it’s a bit clunky, they are keen to call dyslexia a  Specific Learning Difficulty.  This is because Learning Difficulty is more of a global term which indicates an overall impairment of intelligence and function.  Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Difficulty because there is a discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability.

But what if a dyslexic child is taught in the right way, the way that enables them to learn? Then is the word “difficulty” still applicable? Wouldn’t dyslexia become a learning difference, rather than  a difficulty?

What’s in a name? Celebrating difference

If dyslexia was acknowledged globally as a Learning Difference rather than a Difficulty, would it help your child?

Would a name change make a difference to your dyslexic child?

  • First of all, your child may be encouraged to be the best he can. To embrace a “can do” attitude to life. After all, who wants to go through life thinking they have a “difficulty” which they need to somehow overcome?
  • Also those surrounding your child may be reminded that a dyslexic child needs a different way to learn.  Acknowledging dyslexia as a difference places the emphasis firmly on inclusion.
  • In addition, teachers may feel encouraged to embrace difference when they plan and teach.  Perhaps it would help teachers to remember to think about the needs of their dyslexic learners more and differentiate their lessons to accommodate their needs.  It might remind teachers to embrace multi-sensory teaching methods.  Multi-sensory teaching helps all the children learn.
  • Finally, school authorities may feel more responsibility to support difference through school policy, practice and ethos.

But do children really want to be different? Does Learning Difference describe dyslexia better? Would difference be a great ethos to celebrate?



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