Neurodiversity awareness: Do schools embrace this concept for all learners?
Monday, October 23, 2017
I tend not to get too wordy in my writing, but with October being Dyslexia Awareness Month I've decided a few more words won't hurt anyone. As adults, we can easily go through the motions with special events and awareness initiatives, but it's not always second nature to pause and reflect.
The term "neurodiversity" is generally used in context of spectrum disorders like autism or mental health issues such as ADHD. Neurodiversity means that people don’t come with one-size-fits-all brains. People are more complicated and science has shown that different brains are wired in different ways.
It is common for schools to celebrate Autism Awareness Month in April. This is important because it raises awareness. It reinforces acceptance, support and builds understanding around autism with the goal of making life easier and happier for those who have autism.
Do schools in your area celebrate Dyslexia Awareness Month? Come to think of it, I've never worked in a single school — and I've worked in several — that has recognized October as being significant to dyslexia.
Dyslexia is known as an invisible disability. Autism is generally easy to spot because of how a person interacts or doesn't interact socially. Dyslexia is not visible from the outside. You can't tell someone has dyslexia by looking at their outward behavior. This makes dyslexia awareness all the more important.
Dyslexia comprises 80 percent of all learning disabilities and is visible through FMRI imaging in neurological research. Yet the term is taboo of in many of our schools. Neurological imaging has proven that dyslexics have different brain wiring in the language processing center of their brains and that there are different activation patterns within the brain while they are reading.
This sounds like neurodiversity to me.
With the school year underway, I've had more opportunities to talk with teachers and parents in the area. I love doing this! It's exciting to hear the passion, intelligence and genuine concern that our local teachers and parents have for children of all ages.
This past week, I spoke with a special education teacher who shared a frustrating conversation he had while at school (work). He was in a meeting with the school's psychologist discussing student literacy needs. He shared that several of his students are showing signs of dyslexia. He went on to reiterate that most of these students have shown little progress in reading even with ongoing tiered intervention and classroom instruction.
His colleague, the school psychologist, responded by saying that it didn't really matter if his students were dyslexic or not because it wouldn't change the way they would teach reading to them anyway.
It wouldn't change the way they would teach reading anyway. This statement is worth repeating because of its transparency. This professional has no awareness of dyslexia nor the neurological/medical research surrounding it.
You and I know that it very well should change the way reading is taught especially when students are not making enough progress to close the achievement gap between themselves and their "benchmark" peers. This speaks volumes and is coming from someone who is well-educated, has years of experience and whose decisions are affecting the lives of many students.
I felt the need to share this because it's not an uncommon experience. I hear versions of this story quite often, except with different players. In the other versions, there have been principals, special education directors, reading specialists, literacy coordinators and other teachers as the persons who weren't aware of dyslexia.
Unfortunately, I shared in this experience when I was a special education teacher in one of our local school districts. As a teacher, I listened to my special education director tell our department not to use the word, "dyslexia" when talking to parents, but instead to refer to the cluster of symptoms as being a reading disability. Yikes!
This is a real problem and solidifies the reason we have Dyslexia Awareness Month. This perspective is comparable with going to the doctor with bronchitis and the doctor telling you that all you have is a cold. The prescribed solution for bronchitis is different from that of a cold. With a cold you would simply rest up and drink lots of fluids. With the latter, you'd be given medication with specific directions on how to take it.
We — those who have read the research on dyslexia and aren’t swayed by popular educational theory as opposed to medical science — have a job. That job is to build awareness within our community. Awareness can't stop with knowledge, we need to instill a sense of concern in others. That starts by building understanding, which can only happen through education.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about the science behind teaching those with dyslexia, I would suggest reading the book, "Overcoming Dyslexia" by Sally Shaywitz. A few years back, I shared this book with a reading specialist who, after reading it, came to me in tears. "Had I only known sooner ..." was one of the feelings she shared.
How can you help others feel a sense of concern when it comes to dyslexia?
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