Potato, Potahto? Tomato, Tomahto?

To build on the post by Anonymous:
One of the things we struggle with in our field is terminology. Learning Disabilities? Learning Differences? Dyslexia? Specific Learning Disorders? How can we purport to know anything about learning and it’s individual variations if we don’t even know what to call it?

For one, we can rest assured that the choices are better today than they were more than 40 years ago. I would hate to tell a kid to their face that they had “minimal brain damage” or to explain that they were “educably handicapped” (or as my 17yr old used to say, “candilapped”).  Reading disorders used to be named according to what they looked like, such as “word blindness” or to make it really fancy, put it in Latin: “Strephosymbolia” (twisted symbols). 
   
Ever since the early coinage of the term LD in the late 1960′s, the field has struggled to separate itself on one hand from more general mental delays (hence, the addition of “specific”) and also differentiate itself from “normal” developmental variation (hence the prefixes DISability or DYSlexia).

I do find “disability” to be a misnomer, because I spend much of my treatment hours persuading children that they ARE able, given the right strategies, practice, etc. 

In my own mind, the lack of agreed upon terminology reminds me to be humble. What medical field would still not have a name for the disease they are curing? “Hmm, should we call it Cancer, or…” The fact that we don’t even have our terms straight yet tells me how early we are in our thinking. No blood tests yet, no diagnostic fMRIs, no Hippocrates to lay down the tenets of ethical treatment (“First, do no test bias”).  I guess it could be encouraging that the field of Physics still hasn’t quite settled on whether LIGHT (the most trusted way we could be said to know something directly) is a particle or a wave.  Sounds a little bit like our field of LD calling it one thing to a kids face and another thing to a suit-sporting table of professionals at an IEP.   In the mean time, while we muddle through our terminology differences and DSM revisions, I tap back into that humility notion and listen to the way that kids talk about their own struggles.  That’s probably the best way to find out what it feels like from the inside out, and it’s the best way to know whether they have recovered, or compensated, or overcome their, um, their…oh, whatever you want to call it.

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