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Dyslexia and Prejudice

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Not effectively evaluating the prevalence of dyslexia has left our education system in a perpetual state of trauma, and is a significant factor in explaining why nearly 50% of teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying. They enter schools where, for a whole host of reasons, the pupils are not diagnosed or supported for their dyslexia. This is evidenced by 80% of dyslexic children who leave primary education without a diagnosis, leading to discrimination against the 20% of pupils who are dyslexic, through no fault of their own. This is where the problem lies, not with the individuals with the difference, but rather with those who refuse to recognise the condition. As Albert Einstein said: ‘Everyone is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’

Pupils with dyslexia find many educational tasks difficult for various reasons like issues with information processing, short term memory, being disorganised, and needing new information to be recapped, etc. Where a diagnosis has been carried out, and an individual learning plan has been made (EHCP) then the pupil with dyslexia can thrive. The repeated under-recognition of the scale of dyslexia, and its consequent under-resourcing, has led to a strategic shortfall in provision – allowing for the ideal conditions to perfectly propagate stigma and prejudice against dyslexia. 

Sequential governmental inertia towards dyslexia is unfortunately compounded by some local authorities who also prefer not to diagnose dyslexia, using the following arguments: ‘We don’t want to label children,’ ‘We use inclusivity practices in the classroom, and therefore, do not need a diagnosis,’ or simply: ‘We can’t afford to deal with it.’

What does all this mean for the dyslexic pupil? Generally, the person at the toe-end of this situation (undiagnosed or unsupported dyslexia), soon learns self-doubt, gets used to high levels of anxiety, and battered self-esteem. Most of these children fall behind in class – struggling with the tasks their pals seem to do easily. Subliminally, these kids learn about self-stigma, which constantly undermines their self-worth and value. This soon evolves into enacted stigma: ‘I’ve never been able to do that, why should I try?’ Hence, dyslexics underachieve at school and then in the workplace. This unfortunate position is then compounded by public stigma. Teachers view dyslexic pupils as lazy, stupid, problematic, or kids to be excluded. Perhaps most disappointingly for dyslexia is structural stigma. This is where cultural norms and prejudice is embedded in institutional policy. This inhibits the school’s ability to provide support. 

This can be demonstrated by schools not being able to assess children for dyslexia or provide an EHCP. They are unable to give access to dyslexia technological support, or provide sufficient numbers of teaching assistants, especially where budgets are not commensurate to wholly support the need. The personal consequence of this painful stigmatisation too often leads to negative behaviour patterns – tantrums, being bullied or being the bully, disrupting lessons, truancy, etc. This is a very well-worn pathway resulting in a lifelong imprint with predictable psychological/emotional/physical outcomes for the person with dyslexia. The lived experiences are in no way positive for the individual or their community (drugs, depression, poverty, criminality, and poor health). The option we have is to keep making the same prejudicial mistakes, a flawed situation where: ‘Every time we repeat the same mistake, the price goes up’ (Paulo Coelho), or be brave and change what we do.

We need everyone to remember that we are all different, and agree that this is to be cherished. Our uniqueness, flaws and all, is who we are.

You can find further information on their Dyslexia Institute.

Roger Broadbent is the director of Dyslexia Institute UK.

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