Medical Or Educational

I now pass to issues where there were apparent conflicts but where these were due not so much to disagreement as to misunderstanding. In particular there was the issue of whether dyslexia was a medical matter or an educational one.

In the 1970s this distinction was sharper than it is now. Medical budgets were separate from educational ones and funding had to come either from one budget or from the other. From this point of view dyslexia was an awkward hybrid: no one had ruled whether it properly belonged in education or in medicine.

One of the reasons why some people objected to the dyslexia concept was because of its allegedly 'medical' overtones. In medicine it is common to use the words 'patient', 'diagnosis', 'treatment' and 'cure'; but, if a child has a reading problem, so some people supposed, such terms are inappropriate. In the words of one critic (I do not remember the source), the term dyslexia 'wraps in medical mystery what should be an educational problem'.

It is admittedly difficult to think of dyslexic children who are receiving special tuition for their dyslexia as 'patients', and although 'cure' would be appropriate if all manifestations of the dyslexia disappeared, this does not happen in practice. However, there are plenty of treatments other than medical ones, and, as for the word 'diagnosis', diagnosing is something which teachers do most days of their working lives, for example if a girl in their class is being inattentive, and the teacher attributes this to the fact that she went to bed late the previous night, it is surely quite proper to call this a 'diagnosis'.

Interprofessional rivalries may have influenced this aspect of the debate. I think that psychologists in the 1960s and 1970s, because they were not medically trained, were sometimes overly keen to emphasise how they were superior to medical doctors in their knowledge of statistics and research methods. For instance, I remember one of them writing very scathingly about 'the unsubstantiated guesses of neurologists'.

I also remember on one occasion speaking to an educational psychologist who told me that a boy's funding might be jeopardised if I described him as dyslexic and that the psychiatrist who had made the same diagnosis had no business to do so. This is a broad generalisation, to which there were many exceptions. By and large, however, I found medical doctors to be more receptive to the idea of dyslexia than were educational psychologists, and, when I asked an experienced medical doctor why this was so, he replied, 'We spend our lives looking at symptoms and it therefore comes very naturally to us to ask what these symptoms mean and what others may be expected.'

One hopes that these interprofessional rivalries are now a thing of the past. If, however, there remains any conflict in this area, it seems to me that the best way of resolving it is to say that dyslexia is a medical matter in its origin and an educational matter in its remediation. However, the whole dispute seems to be rather trivial.

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Adult Dyslexia

Adult Dyslexia

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