Each week (probably every day) of my professional life, I grapple with the concerns that parents bring to me.  Usually, they involve questions of learning disability, dyslexia and ADHD/ADD.

Why grappling?

I mean, I’ve been in this business a while.  Shouldn’t it be a piece of cake?  Just give the kid the equivalent of the “Dyslexia or ADHD X-Ray,” and wisely pronounce while scratching my beard, “Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, your child is dyslexic,” or “Your child is ADHD and needs to be on medication.”

Ah, to be so wise.  Life would be so much easier and clearer.

Not for me.  I live in the gray zone where things are rarely clear cut.

Young Marla, age 9, is a lovely and spirited child, but she is starting to get on people’s nerves.  Singing at inappropriate times during recess, chatting a little too much during quiet periods in class, others’ patience toward her is starting to wear thin.  In short, Marla is getting a bit annoying and people (parents and teachers) are raising the ADHD question.

I meet Marla and can see some of the areas of concern – she’s a bit too hasty on different tasks when she should be thinking a little more deliberately. She’s a little too exuberant. Rating scale data completed by parents and teachers are elevated on the ADHD factor, but not all that much. So, is she “disordered?”  Certainly, most neurologists would have called her so with little hesitancy.

Perhaps this 9 year old does not need to be on medication, though. Perhaps she needs a little more time to grow up?

Then there’s George, age 8, who is having some difficulty with reading, spelling and writing.  I evaluate George and find most of his scores clustering in the dreaded “average range,” a little left of strict average, but not all that alarming.  I see he has some trouble with reading, spelling and writing and his phonological processing scores are also tilted to the left side of the curve, but not all that much.

So, is he “dyslexic?”  Is he disabled?  When I tell parents that he may not be dyslexic and that with some focused instruction the gap may close, they almost seem disappointed.

I certainly understand the movement (#saydyslexia) to bring awareness of dyslexia forward and to more comfortably use the term and we are now in the decade of dyslexia. (For the longest time dyslexia had Voldemort status and was “that which should remain nameless.”)  But I still maintain there are many kids who show signs of struggling with reading, spelling and writing who may not be dyslexic.

Takeaway Point

Learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia are just not broken bones that show up on an X-ray.  It’s often falling in the gray zone.


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