Detecting dyslexia

Detecting dyslexia presents a challenge for education institutions across Latin America.

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that causes problems with reading, writing, and spelling. Considered a learning disability, dyslexia does not affect intelligence, but causes day to day challenges to those who suffer from it, especially children in learning ages. Worldwide, it is estimated that 10% of people have dyslexia but reported levels across Latin America are lower as social and educational institutions face difficulties in detecting dyslexia.

A specialist at the National Pedagogic University (“UPN”) in Mexico was concerned about the detection of dyslexia, “In Mexico, and many other countries, dyslexia is generally classified as a learning difficulty rather than a neurobiological disorder, so the school has become the first centre of detection and response, which means that, especially in public education, it is often confused with mere disinterest, lack of concentration and, in more serious cases, ADHD. Also, sadly, the general population is unaware that health institutions, specifically the social security system, do provide neurobiological detection and specialised therapy.”

According to the World Health Organisation, 10% of the world’s population suffers from dyslexia and between 3% and 6% of children between 7 and 9 are believed to be impacted by this disability. The percentage of affected population is similar in Latin America, as Disfam Argentina, the largest non-profit organisation in the region for people with dyslexia, estimates that one in ten people in the country is affected by it.

In Brazil, the specialised dyslexia Instituto ABCD, reported in 2021 that 4% of the population have it. However, there is thought to be a significant level of undetected cases an Education Researcher at the Centro Universitário Belas Artes de São Paulo told us that, “Brazil has a problem with diagnosing this specific learning transition disorder. To start with, it’s even unclear the number of people with dyslexia in the country. Recent estimates vary between 8 and 10 million but the number is likely to be much higher.”

“Brazil has a problem with diagnosing this specific learning transition disorder. To start with, it’s even unclear the number of people with dyslexia in the country.”

Education Researcher at the Centro Universitário Belas Artes de São Paulo

The lack of appropriate diagnosis procedures, and specific educational tools for children with dyslexia is the main barrier for healthy children with sufficient cognitive abilities who struggle to follow the pace of their peers. As a hereditary neurobiological difficulty, dyslexia is permanent in those who suffer it and organisations such as Disfam cooperate with public institutions to raise awareness and support affected children through multiple means. By supporting a secondary school project, Disfam developed LectO, a free grammar and reading application which edits texts easing the learning process of children with dyslexia. LectO already counts with 25,000 users in 35 countries.

In this context, in December 2021, the Brazilian Congress passed a law for the comprehensive assistance of pupils with learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD in both public and private schools. Diagnosed students are granted a specific tutelage programme by its academic centres with the assistance of healthcare professionals. Similarly, the committee of attention to the development of childhood of the Congress of Mexico is currently debating a similar law to provide specialised attention to children with learning disorders.

A Brazilian lawyer, familiar with the new law commented, “The law passed by the Congress was a major first step in tackling the lack of specialised educational needs experienced by children with dyslexia. There were schools in the country which refused to provide specialised training to pupils arguing that education laws did not provide for it when, at the end of the day, it was a matter of more investment. But the law is still very ambiguous. It needs a more solid regulatory body which specifically determines who will make the final diagnosis, who will form the multidisciplinary support team for the pupil. And, more importantly, the law should also include higher education, which was left out of the bill.”

“The law passed by the Congress was a major first step in tackling the lack of specialised educational needs experienced by children with dyslexia. […] But the law is still very ambiguous.”

Lawyer, São Paulo, Brazil

Unfortunately, it is the poorest members of society who suffer the most when it comes to education and this was especially true during the pandemic, the pedagogic specialist explained, “Research from the Instituto ABCD showed that almost 60% of children with dyslexia in Brazil did not receive appropriate education during the pandemic and there was a strong correlation with household income.”

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