Claims in a new book that a diagnosis of dyslexia is without value have been refuted by dyslexia organisations.
In his book, The Dyslexia Debate, Julian Elliott, a former teacher of children with learning difficulties and educational psychologist and currently Professor of Education at Durham University, claims that the term ‘dyslexia’ should be abandoned as it lacks scientific rigour and educational value.
Elliott also claims that valuable resources are poured into expensive and time-consuming diagnostic tests which are often highly questionable and a diagnosis of dyslexia does not point to distinctive treatment.
But this has been challenged by dyslexia organisations, who counter-claim that there is a clear definition of the condition and that there are various benefits to be gained from a diagnosis.
Although the books’s researchers do not question the existence of the underlying problems that those with complex reading difficulties typically experience, they are critical of dyslexia as a term often used to describe a range of problems, of varying degrees of severity, in a haphazard and imprecise fashion.
“Parents are being woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis,” said Professor Elliott. “In every country, and in every language, a significant proportion of children struggle to master the skill of reading and some will continue to find it difficult throughout their childhood and into adulthood. It is very easy for teachers to identify such children. The hardship and difficulties that typically result are often incapacitating, undermining and distressing.Further reading: 'Survey uncovers terminology preferences'
"Typically, we search for a diagnostic label when we encounter problems because we believe that this will point to the best form of treatment. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the parents and teachers of children with reading difficulties believe that if the child is diagnosed as dyslexic, clear ways to help them will result. Research in this field clearly demonstrates that this is a grave misunderstanding."
The book concludes by calling for an end to the use of the term dyslexia. In its place it advocates the use of an alternative approach that ties more closely to children's educational needs. This would not be directed only to those who have the means to get a (questionable) diagnosis but, rather, to help all children who struggle to learn to read.
Benefits of dyslexia diagnosis
But Dr John Rack, head of research, development and policy for Dyslexia Action, insists the term is of scientific and educational value: "We don't buy the argument that it is wasteful to try to understand the different reasons why different people struggle. However, if the argument is 'treat all struggling readers as if they were dyslexic' then that is fine with us.”
Rack added that a clear definition of dyslexia does exist, which was highlighted in a report accepted by the Department for Education in 2009 following a review by former headteacher and Government adviser Sir Jim Rose.
“Many people show a consistent pattern of difficulties that is recognisable as dyslexia, and it is often helpful to describe it in that way; helpful for individuals because it makes sense out of past struggles and helpful for teachers who can plan the way they teach to overcome or find ways around the particular blocks that are there,” Rack added.
Dyslexia Action also points to several advantages to a diagnosis:
• It enables people to receive disability support through the Government’s Access to Work Scheme including funding and mentoring
• It helps children to understand why they are struggling more than their peers and can boost their confidence and self-esteem
• Reasonable adjustments can be provided in exam settings.
A statement from the British Dyslexia Association agreed with Dyslexia Action’s position, saying: “The British Dyslexia Association refutes any suggestion that the definition of dyslexia is misleading and irrelevant.
“Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty. Difficulty with the acquisition of literacy is just one aspect of dyslexia. In adults who have had effective intervention at school, literacy difficulties can be less prominent, and organisational and time management skills may present the main issue. Dyslexia can affect the way information is processed, stored and retrieved, with problems of memory, speed of processing, time perception, organisation and sequencing.”