Debate over use of term 'dyslexia'

Banbury Cake: A charity says the term "dyslexia" still has meaning and should not be dropped A charity says the term "dyslexia" still has meaning and should not be dropped

The term "dyslexia" should be ditched because it is unscientific and lacks educational value, according to a new book.

Educational experts from Durham and Yale Universities argue that resources are wasted by putting young people who are struggling to read through diagnostic tests, because the label lacks meaning.

But their views have been challenged by the charity Dyslexia Action, which says the term still has meaning and should not be dropped.

In the book The Dyslexia Debate, Professor Julian Elliott, a former teacher of children with learning difficulties, said more focus should be put on helping children to read, rather than finding a label for their difficulty.

The author, a professor of education at Durham University, said: "Parents are being woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis.

"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.

"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, published next month, is the result of five years study of education, genetics, neuroscience and psychology.

While the researchers do not question the existence of the real, sometimes complex, problems some people have with reading, they are critical of the term "dyslexia" because it is too imprecise.

They say a diagnosis of dyslexia could be made for various reasons, including people whose difficulty in reading is unexpected, those who show a discrepancy between reading and listening comprehension or pupils who do not make meaningful progress in reading even when provided with high-quality support.

Its prevalence is unknown, but it is estimated that around 5-10% of the population is classed as dyslexic.

Dyslexia Action disagreed with the book findings, stating there was a clear definition of the condition, which was set out in 2009 following a review by Sir Jim Rose.

Dr John Rack, head of research, development and policy, for Dyslexia Action insisted the term retained a scientific and educational value.

He said: "If the argument is 'treat all struggling readers as if they were dyslexic' then that is fine with us.

"But we don't buy the argument that it is wasteful to try to understand the different reasons why different people struggle.

"And for very many, those reasons fall into a consistent and recognisable pattern that it is helpful to call dyslexia.

"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."

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