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Dyslexia Does Exist

May 7, 2009

This was originally posted by Rod Duncan this morning as a response to this post. I thought it would add to our Is Dyslexia A DisAbility? debate, so here it is as a post in itself. Thanks to Rod.

To begin with Graham Stringer’s remarks: he seems to have based his article on the astounding assumption that if someone can be taught to read and write then they cannot be dyslexic. He added to that with literacy statistics from different countries for which I can find no basis in fact. If his article was intended as a means of self-publicity, it has certainly worked. I did pursue the Labour party about it and they confirmed that he was not reflecting party policy (their response to my questions on the issue can be found here: http://rodduncan.blogspot.com/2009/02/labour-party-policy-on-dyslexia.html )

In contrast to Graham Stringer’s risible article, Julian Elliott’s work is coherent and based on facts. The popular presentations of his work, however, take a similarly narrow definition of the problem. The argument seems to be that once a child has been taught to read and write, the question of dyslexia has no more meaning.

This is at odds with my experience.

I have known many adults who struggled through the education system, eventually managing to learn to read and write, but in adult life always felt out of step with the world around them – sensing that other people were doing things differently but not quite being able to put their finger on what the difference was. Then at some point (typically when they re-entered education) it was pointed out to them that they were probably dyslexic.

Suddenly their many strange quirks fell into a pattern. The fact that they could not easily remember left from right or track the flow of time or retrace their steps out of a big building. Their anomalous abilities were also pointed out to them. It was a moment of huge relief for many. A psychological burden being removed. A puzzle explained.

I am quite prepared to look at arguments that say the funding structures in education are distorted by the idea of a single one-size-fits-all diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’. And synthetic phonics – wonderful. If it works, let its use be expanded. (It seems to be extremely similar to the system that was used to teach me after I was diagnosed with dyslexia back in the 1970s.) But to say: because we can now teach all children to read and write ‘dyslexia doesn’t exist’ is to miss the point entirely.

Dyslexia is a physical difference in the brain that gives rise to a fairly well established cluster of differences in functioning – positive and negative. It is not – as its name implies, and Stringer clearly believes – a synonym for illiteracy.

As to the assertion that: “if you cannot accurately define or diagnose something then it cannot be said to exist” – science progresses by making observations of phenomena that are imperfectly understood, forming hypotheses and then testing them. Dyslexia was a term coined to described a perplexing phenomenon. Since that time understanding has increased. But no one would say that it is yet fully understood. Far from it. Perhaps, when the science of the brain has progressed further it will turn out to be more than one condition. I would think that is highly likely.

Early medicine might have described many different illnesses with the same words – “a fever” perhaps, or a “congestion of the lungs”. It took developments in medicine before the specific causes could be identified – different varieties of flu, which can only now be defined genetically. H1N1 flu existed before it could be properly defined or diagnosed.

Dyslexia exists also.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 21, 2015 10:59 pm

    A-f###in’-men! Well said, Rod Duncan. I salute you.

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