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Q&A by Abigail Marshall from The Dyslexic Reader

Convinced that son is dyslexic

Q.My 11 year old son was tested for dyslexia this summer and we got his results yesterday. They came back as negative, but I'm still convinced that he has dyslexia. Out of the 37 basic dyslexia symptoms published on the internet, my son has 33 definite symptoms, and two possibles. I asked the tester, "so your telling me that he has all the characteristics of dyslexia, but because he's not a bad enough reader, he doesn't have it?" And she said "Yes." This doesn't sound right to me.

A.I think you are getting confused by the concept of "diagnosis". Dyslexia is not something that one either has or doesn't have, such as a physical disease. Rather it is a word used to describe a constellation of symptoms and learning characteristics that can range from very mild to very severe. Because schools are concerned with presenting a set curriculum to children at a certain age, they will define "dyslexia" in terms of how far behind the child is. If the child is able to perform at or near grade level in school, even if the child is struggling, they will be reluctant to describe the child as "dyslexic" or learning disabled - instead they want to focus their resources on children who are very far behind. A tester who works mostly for the schools will keep those standards in mind.

But at an individual level, it is very possible that a bright child will have severe dyslexia, and still be able to keep up in school work, and thus not test badly enough at reading or other skills to fit the school's definition. A child like this has the potential to perform much better - perhaps the child reads only a year behind grade level - with help the same child may soon be reading two years ahead of grade level.

Because of this very common situation, Davis providers have a different view. If as in your son's case, the child has many common symptoms of dyslexia, we would consider the child to be dyslexic. We would then ask our prospective client two questions:

  • Do you think you have a problem?
  • Do you want help with the problem?

This is because in the end, only the individual can know whether the dyslexic symptoms are severe enough to warrant help. It isn't what other people think or a matter of test scores - it is how the dyslexic person feels. Usually, our clients feel very frustrated and upset - and often very relieved to have someone who is ready to help them without making them take a lot more tests first. Sometimes we have worked with children who came to us already reading above grade level, they wanted help with their comprehension or reading speed, or wanted help with writing or math instead.

Obviously your son fits in the same category as other bright and talented kids who are able to function at what the school considers and acceptable level in spite of the dyslexia. I think it is just as obvious, that with help, he could do much better. The school is only concerned with making sure he achieves grade level learning - as a parent, I am sure you want your son to achieve his full potential.

Whose decision should it be?

Q.Is it normal for the child to make the decision as to whether or not to do a Davis Dyslexia Program? Or is it the parents' decision? The facilitator who assessed my 14 year old son told him that the decision to do the program was his. It felt like the parents where left totally out of this decision. My son told us that he does not want to do the program. I think most kids will say they don't want a program, even though it might help them. I'd appreciate your fed back on this.

A.Yes, we do believe that the decision to undertake the Davis program must always come from the child. We find that motivation is the key factor in the success of the program. Children who feel persuaded by parents or other outsiders to do the program tend not to do as well. We train all our Facilitators to screen carefully for the program, during the initial assessment. The Facilitator looks for motivation and a learning style compatible with our program. Many of our techniques such as Orientation Counselling, rely heavily on the child's commitment to the process and his willingness to report accurately what he is thinking or feeling. A child who is just there because he wants to please his parents may pretend to get the concepts when he really doesn't understand. Program follow up is also critical to success, and a child who did not want the program in the first place is far more likely to balk at doing the post-program work. Because our techniques rely on the creative participation of the child, they cannot be forced - the child simply must be a willing participant. When a child says he doesn't want the program, it is an indication that he is really not ready for what we have to offer.

In addition, a key aspect of the Davis program is the sense of control and empowerment that the child gains over learning. Rather than saying "I can't" the child will gain confidence with the understanding that he is able to take control and direct his own learning and take responsibility for his own success. Putting the decision in the child's hands at the outset, helps him understand that he can indeed have control.

I know it is frustrating to accept your son's decision not to do the program when you want to help him. But it would be far worse if you were to pay the full cost of a Davis program, only to find in the end that your son had not benefited and was still struggling in school. With a teenager it is particularly important that the child want to do the program, because at around 14 kids can be very resistant and hard to deal with. I've often felt very thankful that I was able to do the Davis program with my son at age 11, because by 13 he became quite a handful, and would fight me on just about everything. (Fortunately it was a phase that he passed out of by 15!)

I think it would be a waste of money to pay for a Davis program with a 14 year old who doesn't want it. Even if the Facilitator could work effectively with him, he would probably argue with you over doing the follow-up work. A younger child might be more compliant, even if motivation wasn't strong; teenagers are more likely to dig their heels in and fight. In spite of this I often get mail from students around age 16. By then, they are a little more mature and starting to think about the future. They may worry about their high school grades or wonder if college is a possibility, and their willingness and motivation to work on their problems may increase. So it is very possible that a seed has been planted, and when your son is a bit older he may decide that he does want the program after all.

From The Dyslexic Reader (Volume 43, Issue 4), (c)2006 DDAI, Used with Permission