Warning: This post was published more than 11 years ago.
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Some ill-defined ‘experts’ have put their thinking caps on and come up with the hypothesis that dyslexia
does not exist and is no more than an emotional construct
Their full arguments will be put forward in a Channel 4 documentary next week, but there’s an outline of them in today’s Guardian. Now it’s clearly foolish to comment on their theories before hearing them in full, but heck, I’m going to do so anyway.
I am by no means an expert in dyslexia, and I have very little experience with it. So frankly, I’m quite probably spouting ill-informed rubbish. Nothing new there then. But… I don’t think dyslexia is a myth. I think it’s a genuine disorder which requires special treatment for those who suffer from it. I think there’s a wealth of neurological and genetic evidence to suggest that such a condition exists, and to say it is merely a myth doesn’t seem helpful or sensible. However, I think it’s chronically over-diagnosed, and not nearly so widespread as it appears to be. As the producer puts it:
Dyslexia persists as a construct largely because it serves an emotional, not scientific, function. Forget about letter reversals, clumsiness, inconsistent hand preference and poor memory – these are commonly found in people without reading difficulties, and in poor readers not considered to be dyslexic …
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.
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.
Yes of course, some children will require special resources and dispensations, but we certainly don’t need spurious diagnoses of dyslexia to achieve such ends.
The diagnosis of dyslexia essentially creates an excuse for poor reading, and can be used to garner extra support – both educational and emotional – for the child. For any child who is having difficulty at school, this diagnosis can provide the extra help they need, and so be seen as a very positive thing. It is also practically impossible to obtain an educational statement of needs – as well as the appropriate funding for the school – without some kind of medical diagnosis, and dyslexia provides the perfect solution. The statementing process largely fails to recognise that some pupils need individual support not because of a medical problem, but just because of a generalised learning difficulty – and without a statement, there’s no money, and so no additional support, which means the child’s performance is below par and hence the school’s league table position slips.
There is, therefore, a practical incentive for the child to be diagnosed, and a financial incentive for the school which is conducted the testing to make the diagnosis. In such circumstances, it would be a minor miracle if only those with the condition were labelled as having it.
Of course, all of this does not mean that those incorrectly diagnosed with dyslexia are not genuinely struggling, and do not require extra help. But surely the over-diagnosis can only have a negative impact for the help given to those with dyslexia, as the evidential base for the help given becomes muddied by successes garnered from those without the condition.
As far as I can see, what’s needed here is a greater recognition of generalised learning difficulties, so that each child can get the support they truly need without having to be wrongly burdened with a medical label for the rest of their life.