Article

Dyslexia: Diagnoses, Debates and Diatribes

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Abstract

In this article, the author argues that there are so many different understandings and conceptualizations about what dyslexia is, or is not, that the term has become almost meaningless. The questioning of the value of the dyslexia concept turned into media headlines in the UK. The author accounts three key questions surrounding the debate about dyslexia in children: (1) The question of "conceptualization"--Is the term meaningful in differentiating between children with literacy difficulties? In other words, can one locate individuals into clear dyslexic/non-dyslexic groups?; (2) The question of "teaching"--To what extent does a diagnosis of dyslexia guide the educator in devising appropriate forms of intervention?; and (3) The question of "resourcing"--To what extent should a diagnosis result in the provision of additional help? The author points out that the current state of knowledge suggests that all youngsters with reading difficulties should be provided with structured intervention programs and one must query whether the amount of energy devoted to diagnosing the condition is a sound use of time and resources. (Contains 15 notes.)

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... In 2005 Julian Elliott, an Educational Psychologist (EP), sparked a media frenzy in a channel 4 documentary by suggesting that dyslexia was a 'myth' (Dispatches 2005). The points he was trying to make during the programme were later clarified in two articles in which he posed three fundamental 'questions', (Elliott 2005(Elliott , 2006. Firstly, whether the term dyslexia helps to differentiate between children who have literacy difficulties that are dyslexia related, or due to other reasons? ...
... Secondly, whether it influences subsequent teaching interventions? Elliott (2006) suggested that it does not. He described a conversation with one of his experienced EP colleagues who declared that the interventions he recommended following an assessment were often the same; whether the child was 'labelled' as dyslexic or not. ...
... Parents of dyslexic children and dyslexic adults alike expressed concern that support they had fought hard to obtain might be withdrawn if the condition was deemed not to exist. This gave rise to an article published shortly after the programme in which Elliott reflected on the way that the media had portrayed his ideas and the strength of reaction they had provoked, (Elliott 2006). In both this and a subsequent paper (Elliott and Gibbs 2008) he maintained that dyslexia is a problematic construct. ...
Thesis
The decision to request an assessment for dyslexia whilst at university is often one of the most complex decisions a student has to make. It involves careful examination of the implications; balancing any perceived benefits, against actual or potential disadvantages. Despite this, very little is known about factors which influence students making this decision. A two-phase exploratory qualitative approach was selected to identify how many university students consider being tested for dyslexia, how they proceed and reasons behind this. Phase 1 consisted of an online survey available to all students registered at one UK University. Data was obtained from 674 students at all stages of their educational journey, across 8 different faculties, including 533 on Undergraduate; 54 on Post-graduate taught and 85 on Post-graduate research programmes. Of these 310 students had considered being assessed and explained why they had chosen not to go ahead. In depth interviews with 6 of these students, and a further 5 who had been assessed then provided a greater understanding of the factors involved. Results revealed a myriad of reasons, with some considered pivotal. Students had to have reached a tipping point before they were sufficiently motivated to seek an assessment. Reaching this point was largely determined by their academic self- concept and how well they perceived that they were doing. When students did acknowledge that they were struggling, often after prompts by others; whether or not they recognised dyslexia as a possible explanation was influenced by their understanding of the condition. This in turn was heavily influenced by how they saw it manifest in others. All of the students who had been assessed did so following a prompt by a member of academic staff. There are clear implications for educational practice arising from this research, which need to be supported by policy change. These focus on the need to enhance understanding of dyslexia in both students and academic staff. Strategies to raise student awareness, alongside more in-depth staff development initiatives are proposed. There is also a need for future research to explore in detail factors influencing specific professional groups and postgraduate students.
... The policy of 'assessment, statement and placement' for children with dyslexia has generated criticism, not only from the current Coalition Government, but also from within educational practice (Elliot and Gibbs, 2008). This criticism is founded on the argument against labelling children with dyslexia. ...
... Elliot and Place's (2004) critical approach to dyslexia raises concerns over the reliability of research that defines dyslexia as a 'valid' neurological disorder (Presland, 1991;Sternberg, 2000;Rice and Brooks, 2004). As well as raising concerns over labelling with reference to stigmatisation, there are also concerns raised about the usefulness of the term 'dyslexia' in contemporary education (Elliot and Place, 2004;Elliot, 2005). This approach is especially critical about the credibility of methods to distinguish between poor readers and people with dyslexia. ...
... Therefore, they claim that no distinction can be made between dyslexia and poor readers, especially in those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds; and that links can be made between reading difficulties and socio-economic disadvantage, for example that the quality of language in working-class homes may not prepare children for school (Rice and Brooks, 2004). There are many similarities between this argument and the position of Elliot (2005) who says that dyslexia is a social construct in spite of it having a genetic and neurological basis. He also states that there is little distinction between poor readers and individuals labelled as dyslexic. ...
Chapter
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In Ulrich Beck’s (1992, 2001) analysis of the cultural construction of risk, he asserts that the discourse of ‘rights’ and ‘risk’ emerged from the 1970s because of the transition from ‘industrial modernity’ to the era of ‘reflexive modernity’. According to Beck, the idea of civil rights occurred because of society’s increased access to welfare and education, which resulted in ‘lay’ members of society questioning professional knowledge and power. Therefore, people’s ability to conceptualise their own social position led to an increase in social activism and constructed a new reflexive language of ‘rights’ and ‘risk’ (Beck, 2001; Denney, 2005; Heaphy, 2007). This corresponds with the foundation of the social model of disability, which also developed out of the disability rights movement of the 1970s. The social model of disability has challenged social attitudes since that time by suggesting that people with impairments are disabled by society rather than by their bodies (Oliver, 1997; Barnes and Mercer 2010).
... Labelling is often seen as fundamental in constructing issues of discrimination and stigmatisation (Goffman 1963;Oliver 2009;Saszs 1974Saszs , 2007Scott 1969). This has led to a number of social scientists rejecting the medical labels associated with learning difficulties (Elliott 2005;Harris 1995;Ho 2004;Rice & Brooks 2004), referring to it as a form of over medicalisation. By using dyslexia as an example of learning difficulties, this article illustrates key flaws in the anti-labelling approach concerning the rejection of labels. ...
... For example, the British Medical Association has offered a description of dyslexia as affecting 'all aspects of literacy: reading, spelling, writing' as well as affecting 'short-term memory' and 'phonological awareness' (Terrell & Passenger 2006: 87-89). Yet, due to lack of specific medical classification within the UK, dyslexia has continued to be controversial and continues to be disputed particularly within the field of education (Elliott & Place 2004;Ho 2004;Rice & Brooks 2004;Elliott 2005;Elliott & Gibbs 2008). ...
... Their approach dismisses the diagnoses procedures as subjective due to the unreliable nature of IQ measurement. Educational psychologists in the UK compensate for problems when defining IQ measurements by generally focusing on age-related literacy levels, short-term memory defects, clumsiness, speech and language difficulties, and letter reversal (Elliott 2005;Farmer et al. 2002;Rice & Brooks 2004;Snowling 2000). Rice & Brooks (2004) claim that no distinction can be made between people with dyslexia and people with general reading difficulties (GRD). ...
Article
Accessible summary• In recent years, some academics have dismissed the legitimacy of dyslexia.• This approach implies that diagnoses cannot distinguish between general reading difficulties and dyslexia and educational support is the same for both groups.• The article confronts this ‘anti-labelling approach’ by reflecting on life experiences of people with dyslexia.• By doing this it confronts certain stereotypes associated with dyslexia to develop a meaningful response to the label of learning difficulties.SummaryDespite recent advances in understanding dyslexia as a neurological condition, a number of academics in both the United Kingdom and United States have dismissed the validity of this impairment. The key thinking behind this approach is twofold. Firstly, individuals labelled as having dyslexia cannot be separated from individuals with general reading difficulties. Secondly, educational ‘treatment’ of dyslexia is consistent with educational support for children labelled as having general reading difficulties. Rather than expand on a psycho-cognitive approach, this article endeavours to reflect on individual subjectivities. This is to analyse the social aspects of dyslexia and its symptoms. By discussing the life stories of people diagnosed with dyslexia, the article confronts certain stereotypes associated with this syndrome. In doing so, the study concludes by developing a meaningful response to the label of learning difficulties.
... An alternative possibility to categorical assessments would be to use graded assessments, where the diagnosis is not categorical (Elliott, 2006;Elliott and Gibbs, 2008;Protopapas, 2019). Elliott (2006), for example, proposes a system in which anyone who identifies as a poor reader, independently of where they fall in the distribution, would get into additional teaching streams. ...
... An alternative possibility to categorical assessments would be to use graded assessments, where the diagnosis is not categorical (Elliott, 2006;Elliott and Gibbs, 2008;Protopapas, 2019). Elliott (2006), for example, proposes a system in which anyone who identifies as a poor reader, independently of where they fall in the distribution, would get into additional teaching streams. This approach, already observed in educational and clinical practice in some countries, offers two advantages: the first consists in assisting a larger group of children, since children in the gray area are more than those getting a diagnosis of dyslexia or those being flagged as being below average. ...
Article
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Dyslexia is often assessed using categorical diagnoses, and subtypes of dyslexia are also recognized in a categorical fashion. Children may meet the criteria for dyslexia, and they may more specifically meet the criteria for a subtype of it, and thus get a diagnosis. This approach to diagnosis clashes with the actual distribution of reading performance in children (which is normal and continuous), and it has received criticism. This article offers a conceptual framework for conciliating these two positions. In short, the proposal is to use a set of multicomponent continuous assessments of reading, rather than thresholds. The proposal is explained using original data obtained from a sample of 30 children (age 7 to 11), tested in the United Kingdom. Using an assessment based on categorical-thresholds, only five children in our sample qualify for extra assistance, and only one may get a diagnosis of dyslexia, while with the mixed system proposed, a few additional children in the gray area would receive attention. This approach would not discard previous categorical approaches such as those distinguishing between surface and phonological dyslexia, but it would rather see these subtypes of dyslexia as the instance of a lower score on the continuum obtained on a single component of the multicomponent assessment.
... In terms of curriculum, there is also a variety of views that have been discussed. Some supported the teaching in small groups as Gabor (2010), some others argued by supporting the individualised instruction (Elliott, 2005;Reid, 2011) and those who remained somewhere in the middle (Maxwell Gillott (2014). ...
Article
This paper focuses on the ongoing debate of the appropriate type of provision in mainstream or special schools and considers inclusion as the key to the education of dyslexic children (DC). Polarised views for and against mainstream and special schools have been extensively discussed by teachers, parents and students. Based on the contrasting perceptions, there is a need to investigate the implications that arise and encourage the implementation of good practice of inclusive education that should be adopted by school contexts, if certain aspects, such as teachers’ attitudes, availability of the right resources and social acceptance of dyslexics’ peers, are modified. Article visualizations: </p
... This would lead one to predict that in such situations of shallow orthographies and small phonological grain size, dyslexic readers reading Maltese would still read quite accurately if slowly. Maltese dyslexics typically struggle with both English and to a lesser extent, Maltese reading and writing but certainly their situation is more complex than that of the monolingual child (Firman, 2009).In spite of the difficulties that dyslexic children experience (Elliott, 2005;Elliott & Gibbs, 2008;Elliott & Place, 2004;Rice & Brooks, 2004) some describe it as a 'gift', often accompanied by creativity, intuition and problem-solving skills (Davis & Braun, 2010). Others describe it as some sort of an advantage rather than a learning difficulty (Tafti & Faizipour, 2005;Tafti, Hameedy, & Baghal, 2009). ...
... This would lead one to predict that in such situations of shallow orthographies and small phonological grain size, dyslexic readers reading Maltese would still read quite accurately if slowly. Maltese dyslexics typically struggle with both English and to a lesser extent, Maltese reading and writing but certainly their situation is more complex than that of the monolingual child (Firman, 2009).In spite of the difficulties that dyslexic children experience (Elliott, 2005;Elliott & Gibbs, 2008;Elliott & Place, 2004;Rice & Brooks, 2004) some describe it as a 'gift', often accompanied by creativity, intuition and problem-solving skills (Davis & Braun, 2010). Others describe it as some sort of an advantage rather than a learning difficulty (Tafti & Faizipour, 2005;Tafti, Hameedy, & Baghal, 2009). ...
Article
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Empirical studies of the relationship between dyslexia and creativity and visuo-spatial skills are inconsistent. While some anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a positive association between dyslexia and creativity, other studies suggest that such an association emerges only in adulthood as a result of adverse life experiences. Others state that dyslexia is associated with weaker rather than enhanced creativity and visuo-spatial ability. The aim of this study was to examine whether adolescents with dyslexia possess superior creativity and visuo-spatial ability as measured by the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) and two measures of visuo-spatialability, the Spatial Reasoning Test and the Virtual Bungalow Test. The participants in this study were secondary school students diagnosed with dyslexia and a group of students without dyslexia (N=76) matched for age, socioeconomic status and ability. In spite of some variation in the scores between the two matched groups on all the measures administered, the differences were not statistically significant. Overall, no support was found for the hypothesis that adolescents with dyslexia are highly creative or visuo-spatially endowed and it is advised that teachers treat learners with dyslexia like other learners with learning difficulties and not assume that they possess compensatory skills.
... The recent Channel Four Dispatches programme, which reported this research, was met by an outpouring of protest by those with visual difficulties such as scotopic sensitivity. Here, theoretical precision appeared to be subordinate to the fact that the label 'dyslexic' was proving to be personally meaningful in ways that went beyond simple identification of specific difficulties (Elliott, 2005). ...
Article
This paper considers conceptual and methodological difficulties concerning the assessment of children’s special educational needs. It argues that the resurgence of the medical model of diagnosis and categorisation often offers little to those who seek to develop meaningful intervention programmes. Six specific difficulties in assessing special educational needs are identified and discussed. The paper concludes by offering a number of proposals which, it is argued, would add greater scientific rigour to this process.
... Over the years, the convenience of labeling dyslexia as a (neurodevelopmental) disorder has been repeatedly brought into question [3][4][5]. One of the main arguments against the term is that people differ in their reading proficiency along a continuum, and dyslexia is simply the lower-end tail of this continuum, cut-off from the rest of the distribution by some artificial, arbitrary criterion. ...
Article
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The convenience of referring to dyslexia as a neurodevelopmental disorder has been repeatedly brought into question. In this opinion article, we argue in favor of the current diagnosis of dyslexia based on the criteria of harm and dysfunction. We discuss the favorable clinical and educational outcomes of a neuroscience-informed approach of dyslexia as a disorder. Furthermore, we discuss insights derived from neuroimaging studies and their importance to address problems related to developmental dyslexia.
... The University of Minho study´s (Gomes, 2015) has pointed out that researchers widely vary in the inclusion criteria in samples of dyslexics and controls. This is most likely a consequence of the lack of consensus about the definition, the causes and the methods of assessment of dyslexia (Elliott, 2010;Snowling, 2013). However in a significant number of studies it is difficult to identify the conceptualization and/or the definition of dyslexia that is being employed. ...
Chapter
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The definition of, the nature of, the diagnosis of, and intervention in dyslexia are controversial. There is no consensual definition of dyslexia and although most of the specialized literature states that dyslexia has a neurodevelopmentalbasis, the debate seems far from exhausted. Also there is no single diagnostic procedure for dyslexia and it is not clear in what aspects interventions for dyslexia differ from those for other reading related (decoding) problems. Such disceprancies raise concerns about the constitution of samples in studies about dyslexia mainly in those studies where groups of participants with different but related reading conditions are included and compared. Reserchers apparently use different methodologies to constitute theirs samples. This makes any comparisions across studies problematic and eventually threatens the generalisability of the findings.
... For many, a diagnosis of dyslexia is seen as a principal means of gaining additional help or support for identified children. It would be naïve to argue that such a label does not put pressure on local authorities, schools and teachers both through formal SEN procedures (SENCO-Forum, 2005) and by placing more subtle pressures upon teachers (Elliott, 2005b). This may explain why it has been suggested that powerful lobby groups have resulted in the over-representation of dyslexic children within the SEN system (Daniels and Porter, 2007). ...
Article
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Children's failure to develop proficiency in reading and writing continues to challenge educationalists, parents and carers. In this chapter we argue that the concept of dyslexia as an explanation for failure or as a starting point for intervention is fatally flawed. Our argument is that the concept is a socially constructed category with no scientific basis. Hence quasi-medical differential diagnosis is invalid and educationally divisive. We question this phenomenon that persists despite the protestations of Stanovich (1994, 2005) and others, through a brief survey of work in the fields of social categorisation, cognitive psychology and neuroscience. In summary our view is that whilst there are some ‘natural’ tendencies to categorise, with regard to literacy there is no identified objectively defined and unambiguous discontinuity between skilled and unskilled reader. There is, therefore, no support for the persistence of a distinctive category of dyslexia. Further, the notion of ‘dyslexia’ in itself does not support appropriate intervention.
... For many, a diagnosis of dyslexia is seen as a principal means of gaining additional help or support for identified children. It would be naïve to argue that such a label does not put pressure on local authorities, schools and teachers both through formal SEN procedures (SENCO-Forum, 2005) and by placing more subtle pressures upon teachers (Elliott, 2005b). This may explain why it has been suggested that powerful lobby groups have resulted in the over-representation of dyslexic children within the SEN system (Daniels and Porter, 2007). ...
Article
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In this paper we argue that attempts to distinguish between categories of ‘dyslexia’ and ‘poor reader’ or ‘reading disabled’ are scientifically unsupportable, arbitrary and thus potentially discriminatory. We do not seek to veto scientific curiosity in examining underlying factors in reading disability, for seeking greater understanding of the relationship between visual symbols and spoken language is crucial. However, while stressing the potential of genetics and neuroscience for guiding assessment and educational practice at some stage in the future, we argue that there is a mistaken belief that current knowledge in these fields is sufficient to justify a category of dyslexia as a subset of those who encounter reading difficulties. The implications of this debate for large-scale intervention are outlined.
... Similarly, the educational model refers to a number of cognitive factors particularly the phonological deficit hypothesis, but moves beyond a deficiency approach by recognizing the impact of teacher-pupil educational intervention. The educational model conceptualizes dyslexia as a specific learning difficulty where symptoms are overcome by educational adjustment/accommodations (Elliott, 2005;Pumfrey, 1995;Riddick, 1995;Snowling, 2000;Todd, 2006). Although this model uses the discourse of barriers to learn; this draws on an individualistic approach that fails to acknowledge the importance of social and cultural ideologies that underpin discriminatory practice (Barton & Armstrong, 2001). ...
Article
The aim of this study is to develop perceptual knowledge of dyslexia from adults diagnosed with this condition. Historically, the dominant conceptual frameworks used to study dyslexia stem from psychological or educational practice. These disciplines predominantly draw on professional neuro-biological or educational knowledge that can be broadly summarized within a medical or educational model approach. Both the medical and educational models view dyslexia as resulting from a neurological and learning dysfunction. As such, only a small amount of research has attempted to locate dyslexia within a sociological context. This paper analyses the life narratives of adults diagnosed with dyslexia using the social model of disability. The author investigates the impact that disabling barriers have in education and employment for people with dyslexia. The implications of this are discussed, particularly how issues of disabling barriers and social-class structures affect the lives of people with dyslexia. The paper argues that social-class positioning and institutional discrimination (in the form of disabling barriers) shape the experiences of people living with this condition.
Article
Dyslexia in Malta constitutes a significant share of the work load of most educational psychologists. This difficulty is often compounded by the use of English and Maltese that are taught side by side. Against a backdrop of learners battling against their difficulties with variable rates of success, optimistic voices make a case for such learners’ other skills to be recognised. There is some anecdotal evidence which suggests that dyslexia may be associated with enhanced creativity but in reality there are few empirical studies which support this notion and results are sometime inconsistent, in part due to the difficulty in recruiting the right participants in large enough numbers. Vic Martinelli and Josef Schembri try their hand at throwing some more light on the issue through a study which if no different from others before it, claims to be tightly controlled and is embedded in a bilingual context.
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Roazzi, A., Cidrim, L., Roazzi, M., Angelo, M. Bayma-Freire, H. (2016). Dislexia em debate: Usos, abusos e desafios. Revista EDUCAmazônia, 16(1), 203-228. https://goo.gl/00Sc13 Resumo: A dislexia, apesar de ter sido objeto de inúmeras investigaç ões científicas-sobretudo nos últimos anos, a sua natureza e forma de tratamento permanecem em aberto. Mais recentemente, o exagero em diagnosticar crianças como disléxicas provocando um excesso no uso desta palavra e suas implicações nas crianças, tem le vado pesquisadores a questionar este uso demasiado sem uma fundamentada justificativa, chegando até à proposta de eliminar completamente o uso do termo, gerando um debate que se encontra só nos estágios iniciais e que promete bastante desdobramentos nos pr óximos anos. Neste artigo iremos retratar antes os distúrbios específicos de aprendizagem (DSA) da leitura e/ou da escrita, incluindo a dislexia que faz parte destes distúrbios, para em seguida introduzir este debate científico e os novos rumos a serem trilhados em função destes questionamentos e contendas. Palavras-chave: Dislexia; Aprendizagem; Distúrbios específicos de aprendizagem (DSA); Leitura; escrita. Abstract: Dyslexia, despite having been the subject of numerous scientific investigations - especially in recent years, the nature and form of treatment remain unanswered. More recently, overstatement in diagnosing children as dyslexic causing an excess in the use of this word and its implications for children, has led researchers to question this excessive use without a reasoned justification, coming to the proposal to completely eliminate the use of the term, generating a debate that is only in the early stages and that promises quite unfolding in the coming years. In this article we will portray before specific learning disorders (DSA) reading and/or writing, including dyslexia that is part of these disorders, and then introduce this scientific debate and the new directions to be followed according to these questions and debates. Keywords: Dyslexia; Learning; Specific learning disorders (DSA); Reading; writing.
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DefinitionGeneticsReading ModelsM-System, Eye Movements, and ReadingEye FixationLetter OrderVergence ControlThe Visual Magnocellular System in Dyslexics – RetinaLGNVisual CortexV5/MTHigher Visual AreasRemediation of Visual ProblemsAuditory/Phonological Processing?Auditory M-System?CerebellumA General Temporal Processing M-System?The Reading Network in the BrainVWFATemporoparietal JunctionInferior Frontal GyrusImmune ControlOmega-3 Fish OilsConclusion References
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