An Educational Psychologist colleague has just shared what she puts in her reports when asked for diagnoses of dyslexia:

“While there is not a finite/discrete diagnosable condition of dyslexia, the following descriptors are outlined by the BPS (British Psychological Society) and BDA (British Dyslexia Association):

a) The BPS state that dyslexia or specific learning difficulty is ‘evident when accurate and fluent 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.’  (British Psychological Society, 1999).   

b) The BDA describe ‘dyslexia’ as ‘a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing.  Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of processing, short-term memory, sequencing, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills’.”

These descriptors provide clear criteria for diagnosis.  Psychologists usually follow up with recommendations to schools and parents which include advice about how to improve word decoding.

Since today we can perhaps add a further recommendation to schools based on a new government framework (published 10th July 2021): The Reading Framework: teaching the foundations of literacy.

The framework is non-programme specific.  It provides high quality guidance for foundational literacy based on a combination of research findings and classroom experience.  It facilitates the notion of high quality Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) bodies of work (programmes) and accompanying reading books and training for that foundational literacy. 

One key recommendation in the framework relates to procedures to prevent dyslexia developing.  The framework states that children who show early evidence of struggling with learning to read should be identified as early as 3 weeks of starting their phonics instruction and immediately started on extra teaching and practice with the same programme in order to keep up with the other children in their class. 

The reading framework: teaching the foundations of literacy

According to one of the research reports quoted in the framework (Grant M (2014) The effects of a systematic synthetic phonics programme on reading, writing and spelling’ a child who struggles with learning to read is unlikely to be alone in their class.  The research study found that between 5-9% of each Reception cohort made virtually no progress with reading and spelling by the January of Reception against a backdrop of the rest of the cohort (of about 90 children) who were reading and spelling about a year above their chronological age.  At this point schools may be tempted to say that these children need a different way of learning to read.  But the evidence does not support this view.  Instead the small groups of struggling children were found to be responsive to light-touch, small group, extra SSP teaching and practice.  The groups of struggling children caught up and exceeded age expectations for both reading and spelling by the end of the Reception year.

Instead the small groups of struggling children were found to be responsive to light-touch, small group, extra SSP teaching and practice.  The groups of struggling children caught up and exceeded age expectations for both reading and spelling by the end of the Reception year.

That is what has been missing: this early identification and immediate, extra, small group teaching for these slow-to-start children so that they can keep up with their peers. So the ‘solution’ is not about diagnosing dyslexia but in prevention of dyslexia developing by early identification of difficulties and appropriate intervention.

Dr Marlynne Grant

Registered Educational Psychologist

Dyslexia: Prevention and Intervention

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