Monday, 10 March 2014

Dyslexia

Professor Julian Elliott of Durham University’s School of Education and Dr Elena Grigorenko, of the Yale School of Medicine have just had a book published entitled ‘The Dyslexia Debate’:


Professor Elliott recently gave an interview on Radio 4 in which he summarised the main findings in the book, which reviews evidence in the fields of education, genetics, neuroscience and psychology. 

As soon as Professor Elliott’s interview was over, I felt a sudden urge to rush up to my attic, lock myself in, stick my fingers in my ears, and remain in this position for the rest of the week.  You see, I was anticipating a verbal explosion from all sorts of quarters, either in agreement with or in protest against what people believed to be Professor Elliott’s claims without having properly listened to them.   

The main thesis of the book is that a minority of children, for various reasons that do not include lack of intelligence, experience great difficulty learning to read and write; that these children should be given all the help necessary to overcome or mitigate this problem; but that saying that these children are ‘suffering from dyslexia’ is of questionable scientific validity, as are the numerous screening tests that purport to diagnosis this ‘condition’, and may not be helpful for children as a whole who struggle with their literacy. 

Cue for parents of children diagnosed with dyslexia to personally abuse Professor Elliott in the media for saying that their offspring don’t have genuine difficulties and for certain newspaper columnists to praise him for saying likewise. 

Having not yet read the ‘The Dyslexia Debate’ I shall reserve judgement on it.  However, I find that there is nothing controversial in what the professor has said in his exposition of the book’s contents and, though lacking the extent and depth of knowledge of the authors, I myself made similar observations based on my own experience:


It is also worth visiting:


One observation I would like to add is that the more remedies there are on the market for a diagnosed condition, the more our suspicions should be aroused about the utility and authenticity of the diagnosis.  There are indeed many treatments whose proponents claim are capable of curing dyslexia. 

Consider the example of a headache.  There are many treatments or cures for a headache, orthodox and otherwise, because a headache is a problem and not a diagnosis.  Once you have made the diagnosis – that the headache is due to, say, a viral infection, high blood pressure, cerebrovascular disease, food poisoning, or noisy kids – then the range of effective remedies narrows down considerably, sometimes even to just one. Even in medicine, this distinction is lost, and the urge to put impressive-sounding diagnostic labels on problems, (labels that are usually just another way of describing the presenting complaints) can be irresistible - see ‘Spurious syndromes: we create disease by giving every illness a name’ at:

In psychiatry and clinical psychology this malaise is rampant.

One final comment: investigating whether the brains or the genes of ‘dyslexic’ children are different from those of the rest of us is of benefit only to the careers of those doing the research.  It is of no help to the children concerned.

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