The Dyslexia Debate: our position statement

A SENCo in one of our partner schools had received multiple requests for ‘dyslexia assessments’ from parents who were concerned about their children’s progress in literacy. At a start of year planning meeting, it was queried whether we at Applied Psychologies could assess children for dyslexia.


We discussed this amongst our team, and it seemed that many of us, and our schools, find it difficult to navigate conversations about dyslexia. We felt that it would be beneficial to develop a team position statement, so that we have a clear basis from which to have these conversations with parents, school staff and other partners.


We developed our own dyslexia working group, which involved examining the literature and consulting the Applied Psychologies team about their views and practice regarding dyslexia. The information we gathered was used to create our position statement.


We'd love to hear your views on dyslexia and our position statement - add your comments at the bottom of the page, talk to your EP, email us on info@appliedpsychologies.com or tweet us at @AppPsych



Applied Psychologies Position Statement on Dyslexia


Purpose of this document


This document outlines the view of the Applied Psychologies team on Dyslexia. It states the position we take in response to requests for assessment when children experience difficulties in literacy.


Definitions


Many people do not realise that there is no universally accepted definition of dyslexia (Elliot and Grigorenko, 2014). People may have differing personal experiences and therefore bring an emotional connection or personal attachment to their own understanding of what dyslexia is. Conversations can often feel challenging because of these conceptual difficulties and subjective, often emotive, perspectives.


We found that within the field of Education, the two most commonly used definitions are those published by the British Psychological Society (1999) and the Rose Report (2009).


Many Educational Psychology services use the definition from The British Psychological Society (BPS):


Dyslexia is evident when accurate and fluent word reading and/or spelling develops very incompletely or with great difficulty. This focuses on literacy learning at the ‘word level’ and implies that the problem is severe and persistent despite appropriate learning opportunities. It provides the basis for a staged process of assessment through teaching.

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) uses the definition from the Rose Report:


Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia. A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded intervention

Although they are different, the two definitions share two main areas of overlap, suggesting some agreement that dyslexia is linked to:

  • The development of ‘accurate and fluent word reading and spelling’.

  • An individual’s response to ‘appropriate learning opportunities’ or ‘well-founded intervention’.


How do Educational Psychologists work?


Range of EP practice


As EPs, we are committed to helping all children who are demonstrating difficulties with the development of literacy skills.


Within the Applied Psychologies team, there are differences in the way individual psychologists do this. This is to be expected; there are always multiple ways to view a situation and to gather information. The autonomy and creativity of individual psychologists is valued and celebrated.


Unifying principles and approaches


Despite the differences in how EPs approach situations involving literacy difficulties, there are a set of unifying principles, which are common to the practice of all Applied Psychologies EPs. These are:

  • We consider literacy difficulties within the context of whole-child development and understand that lack of progress can be explained by many contributing factors (e.g. systemic, environmental, social, emotional and cognitive).

  • We focus on the learning opportunities that have been made available and the progress a child has made.

  • We follow an Assess - Plan - Do - Review process to understand a child’s needs, plan an appropriate intervention, implement the intervention and monitor its impact.

  • We train whole staff teams to provide, and monitor the impact of, appropriate learning opportunities for children who experience literacy difficulties.

  • We do not provide ‘one-off’ dyslexia assessments. However, some Educational Psychologists may refer to the above definitions when writing about a child’s literacy needs, if, after completion of comprehensive APDR processes, the child has not made progress.

These common practices are based on our understanding that:

  • All children can make progress with the right teaching and support.

  • Assessment is only as good as the teaching and intervention it informs. We assess need to help us plan the best intervention to enable a child to make progress.





Summary


Dyslexia is a complex construct.


Multiple definitions, personal perspectives, and a lack of agreement both nationally and internationally make it a confusing, and often emotive, topic to discuss. We believe it is helpful to acknowledge these difficulties, and then focus on identifying what can be done to enable all children to make meaningful progress in literacy.


Applied Psychologies adopts the position that through a process of Assess-Plan-Do-Review, we will support our partner schools to understand children’s literacy development, plan and implement appropriate interventions and monitor their impact.


There will be some differences in the way individual EPs complete this process, but we will always consider the best interests of the child and focus on what can be done to make a difference.


References


British Psychological Society (BPS) Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) (1999). Dyslexia, literacy and psychological assessment. Working Party Report. Leicester: BPS.

British Dyslexia Association (2010). What is dyslexia? Cited on, https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/dyslexia/about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia. Accessed 8th September 2021.


Elliott, J.G. & Grigorenko, E.L. (2014). The dyslexia debate. New York: Cambridge University Press


Rose, J. (2009). Identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and reading difficulties. London: DfES



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