Is Need Equivalent to a Diagnosis?

The label of dyslexia can be controversial, especially in light of the new public school eligibility guidelines. Is it the NEED for specialized instruction that makes a child dyslexic/reading disordered or a lack of response that makes a child dyslexic/reading disorder?

Reading is a taught skill. It is not naturally developing such as walking or talking. It needs to be taught, and thus, the quality of one’s reading ability can be greatly impacted by the quality of instruction. Not all readers are solely dependent on the quality of their instruction. Some readers will be proficient with mediocre instruction, but undoubtedly, there is a population of children who are highly dependent on the quality of their instruction. The intensity, duration and frequency of their instruction can greatly impact if they are able to read at a proficient level. Out of this population of children, some with appropriate intensity, duration and frequency of instruction will be able to increase their reading ability to age and grade appropriate skills. Other children in this population will not. They will make progress, but they will not reach proficient levels.

Most people will agree that the children who are proficient readers, despite mediocre reading instruction would not be classified as dyslexic. At the same time, most of us can agree that those who fail to adequately respond to intervention, and have no other coexisting conditions that can explain the lack of response, could also be classified as dyslexic. However, it is the remaining group of children that lead to the endless debate. Is the population that required increased intensity, duration and frequency of instruction, and with this instruction are able to achieve proficient levels, dyslexic? In other words, does the need for the increased level of instruction justify a diagnosis?

I tend to be more of the thinking that this population is not dyslexic and that the diagnosis of dyslexia should be reserved for non-responders. Non-responders are those individuals who, even with increased intensity, duration and frequency of instruction are unable to make sufficient progress at a rate that would allow them to perform at the same level as age-matched peers.

Thus, when determining the presence of a disability it is essential to first deliver instruction at adequate duration, intense and frequency and measure the response. It is the rate of response that determines the presence or absence of a disability.