Outcry over dyslexia myth claims

Experts claiming that dyslexia does not exist have been accused of making a “damaging and irresponsible” attempt to undermine decades of work on treatment of the condition.

The British Dyslexia Association has strongly criticised experts’ claims, due to be aired in a Channel 4 documentary on 8 September, that dyslexia is an emotional rather than a scientific construct.

In the programme, Julian Elliott, professor of education at Durham University, argues alongside other British and American academics that there are no clear criteria for diagnosis, and that children are often mistakenly labelled with the term when they are simply poor readers.

“Public perceptions often link reading difficulties with intelligence and, in our culture, an attribution of low intelligence often results in feelings of shame and humiliation,” he said last week. “It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the widespread, yet wholly erroneous, belief that dyslexics are intellectually bright but poor readers would create a strong, sometimes impassioned demand to be accorded a dyslexic label.”

Elliott said there was a common misconception that a diagnosis of dyslexia would lead to the provision of specialist help, when there was no “sound” evidence of any one teaching approach benefitting those said to have the condition over approaches for other poor readers.

But the British Dyslexia Association insisted the condition was a recognised neurological disorder. Chief executive Susan Tresman dismissed Elliott’s argument and his notion that interventions specifically tailored to help children with dyslexia were ineffective as factually inaccurate.

“Dyslexia survives as a term because it is a real condition experienced by six million people in the UK,” she added.

Dr John Rack, head of research at the Dyslexia Institute in York, agreed there was a well established scientific basis for the dyslexia diagnosis.

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