Does having a diagnosis matter and truly make a difference?
First of all I know this may well be a controversial post, but sometimes controversy helps raise awareness and sometimes to debate about something moves thinking forward and can change things for the better.
I came across a post on Facebook last night from a parent asking if it was possible to diagnose a child at the age of 7. A flurry of posts appeared from professionals, parents, students and dyslexic adults offering their opinion on whether this was possible. As I read the responses I could see it from many points of view. I could see it from the parents point of view, who just wanted and needed a diagnosis. I could see it from the schools point of view who often are asked to do an impossible job with a very small budget and perhaps don’t have the knowledge needed. I could see it from a teachers point of view; the teacher who had only had a few hours of training in SEND during their training and was expected to meet the needs of 30 children. I could see that people’s responses depended on their own experiences, knowledge and background. None of them were wrong… Just merely a reflection of what experiences they had lived through and the knowledge these experiences had helped them gain.
Mostly I could see it from the child’s perspective and I was left with an overwhelming feeling of guilt and responsibility…
I have been the newly qualified teacher who did a PGCE in teaching and only had 6 hours training on supporting pupils with SEN. Looking back today I know in that first year of teaching I brushed off a parents concerns and did not listen as well as I could have, not because I didn’t care but because I didn’t know. I was trying to get to grips with the learning needs of 30 kids in my class and didn’t have anywhere near enough knowledge, support or time to properly look into it. As an NQT I was an advocate of equality and supporting children with additional needs and I’ve always been good at it. When I look back I always did my best, but did I always do the right thing? Now I know more… I know there were times when I didn’t.
I have been the teacher who has responded to a parents concerns with, ‘let’s wait and see what progress they make this term, perhaps it developmental.’ I have known that something wasn’t right and I have known that more needed to be done, but I didn’t have the skills or the knowledge to properly fix it. I responded with ‘I’ll make sure I hear them read everyday, I’ll give them less spellings and I’ll ask the SENCo for advice on what to do next.’ The SENCo has brushed me off telling me that the pupil is too young or that they will monitor progress and consider assessment next term. I have known that something wasn’t right and I have known that more needed to be done, but I didn’t have the skills or the knowledge to argue the case. Knowing what I know now I would use interventions such as ‘toe by toe’ or ‘stairway to spelling’ but at the time I didn’t know they existed. You can’t use what you don’t know about.
I have been a new SENCo when a parent has asked for a DST screen to be carried out and I carried them out and did not always properly understand the results. Knowing what I know now I know that the feedback I would give today would be so different. I did the best I could do at the time. I sought help from the specialists available to me at the time. I independently read books and researched difficulties and put interventions in place and supported teachers to the best of my ability at the time. Would I ever carry out a DST now I’m a specialist teacher? Definitely not, however it was all that was available and recommended to me at the time. It was all I knew so was all I could use.
I am the parent who constantly talks to the class teacher about what my son needs, pleading they will consider allowing him to wear ear defenders to cut out the noise so he only needs to process what is relevant to him. Frustrated, that again spellings have come home not in rhyme groups or spelling patterns and without any multi sensory input. Annoyed; because once again he has been asked to copy from the board. I’ve been relieved when he has come home and told me he has been out of the classroom for interventions. I’ve been desperate to find a private assessor who can write a detailed report of his needs, simply because then at least I have some evidence to back up what I am saying so that my son can finally start to fulfil his potential by being taught in a way that is conducive to his individual and specific needs.
I am the undiagnosed dyslexic who has worked exceptionally hard to keep their difficulties hidden and to keep their head above water. I lived in fear of being handed a pen when working in a group incase I had to spell in front of people. I lived for 34 years feeling that I had not worked or listened hard enough. Feeling stupid and unintelligent all the time. I collected wounds for years… Undiagnosed dyslexia did not stop me from achieving and attaining but it did damage me emotionally. The cost of achieving my goals with undiagnosed dyslexia destroyed my self esteem and belief about myself to the point that I was so low after having my children I considered myself worthless.
I was lucky though because I had the love and support of my family and I also had a drive to gain knowledge and understanding that led to me knowing I needed to get a diagnosis… I was lucky that through fateful circumstance I trained to be a specialist teacher in dyslexia so I knew I needed to get diagnosed.
I am the undiagnosed dyslexic who was able to get diagnosed at 34 and experience the relief and rush of adrenaline when you are told that you are dyslexic and your whole life falls into place, running like a film trailer through your mind. I know how those simple words ‘your dyslexic’ heal you and how they empower you.
Today, because of the life I have lived and experiences I have gained I am armed with knowledge that can make the right difference. Perhaps the actual diagnosis isn’t the bit which makes the difference, after all we generally know before we make plans to be assessed that they will find something… Why else would we spend the money! At this point it could be argued, well if you know why bother paying to get it confirmed…
Here is the why bother part!
Because not only will it help you it will help the NQT, general teacher, SENCO, parent and most importantly PUPIL. It’s simple. A full diagnostic assessment delivered by a specialist teacher of dyslexia or learning difference is a map of a learners needs.
It’s worth getting it confirmed because the information gathered around the diagnosis provides a rich outline of how that pupil learns best, where the areas of development are but most importantly where the strengths are… The information allows us to access our weakness through our strengths and that is a valuable tool that without question or any doubt can make a difference to an individual’s life.
Today I am the specialist teacher who can make a difference by providing advice and support to NQTS, teachers, parents, SENCos and pupils because I have the knowledge needed… I don’t know it all, I never will and my thinking still develops all the time because of the courses I do, pupils I teach and the staff I work with. The assessments might be expensive but I know that they will help the NQT because the report will tell them exactly what interventions to use, how to teach them and how many times they need to be delivered. They will help the general teacher because they will be able to read it in depth and learn about the pupil, develop their own pedagogy to help further pupils who come through their class with Dyslexia and Learning difference. They will help the SENCO because a specialist teacher has recommended it so there is no where for the class teacher to hide when they feel they are unable to squeeze in the intervention that WILL make the difference. An assessment will help the parent because it will empower them to fight with purpose and to fight with the support of specialist knowledge behind them.
Finally and most importantly diagnosis will help the pupil… Because the pupil will know that they have a learning difference and will be able to separate this out from themselves… That is life changing and no price can be put on that.
So whether you choose to get a diagnosis or not is still personal preference. I can only speak from my experiences. As a dyslexic, I wish I had known earlier. As an NQT and teacher I would have welcomed more knowledge about a pupil and how they learn best and what interventions I needed. I could have used these to the pupils advantage. As a SENCo I would have valued a report because it would build on my knowledge and support further pupils I came across with Dyslexia.
Like many things in life not everyone will always agree and thats ok. In an ideal world every single school would have a specialist teacher of learning difference… I think that one day this will happen but in the meantime this is what I think. knowledge is power and the more knowledge we have the more we can improve things and make positive informed decisions and that is how we raise the profile, by working together, not working against each other. Whether you feel a diagnosis is necessary or not an assessment report points us all in the same direction and leads us down the right path for that pupil… That surely makes sense?