Dyslexia is a ‘meaningless label used by middle-class parents who fear their children are being branded stupid’, professor claims
Professor Julian Elliott, an educational psychologist and former special needs teacher, said it is clear that some children do have genuine, complex reading problems.
However, the definition of dyslexia is so broad that it is impossible to make any meaningful separation from other poor readers. And trying to do so is a ‘pointless’ waste of resources – because the same techniques help both groups of children improve their reading.
Professor Julian Elliot of Durham University has claimed dyslexia is a meaningless label sought out by middle-class parents who fear their child being branded stupid
The Durham University professor described dyslexia as a ‘useless term’ that should be abandoned. Rather than putting children though expensive and lengthy diagnostic tests, schools should focus on identifying early on those who struggle to read and treat all of those with problems equall
However, charities disputed his claims and said a diagnosis of dyslexia has scientific and educational value. The British Dyslexia Association estimates that 10 per cent of Britons have dyslexia, or word blindness, and have trouble learning to spell, read and write.
The professor says the definition of dyslexia is so broad it does not allow for the separation between suffering from the condition and just being a poor reader
While children diagnosed with the condition can get more individual teaching help and extra time on exams, Professor Elliott claims that their parents also benefit from the ‘pseudo-medical’ label.
Diagnoses tend to be found in more affluent areas and he argues that some middle-class parents seek it out because they fear their children will be judged slow or lazy.
‘Most parents are delighted with the label,’ said the professor. ‘Professionals have said to me that they agree but they still use the term because they make people happy.’
He also argues that the definition of dyslexia is so broad that it is meaningless. ‘You have a long list of symptoms, things like anxiety when reading out loud, but any kid that is learning to read might be expected to show some anxiety,’ says Professor Elliott. ‘You show a parent this list and they say, “You are right, I didn’t realise my kid was dyslexic.”
‘It is like showing someone a horoscope, they look at it and see bits of themselves in it.’
Professor Elliott added that while parents may only want the best for their children, they are being ‘woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis’.
In 2009, the Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into literacy concluded that the definition of dyslexia was too broad to be meaningful.
The influential committee of MPs also accused the Government of ‘bowing to pressure from the dyslexia lobby’ when formulating its educational policy.
Professor Elliott said: ‘Diagnoses tend to be found in more affluent areas, it is quite clear that it isn’t found a much in disadvantaged areas. Most parents are delighted with the diagnosis’
But Dr John Rack, of the charity Dyslexia Action, said that the term ‘has value both scientifically and educationally’.
‘We don’t accept the argument that it is wasteful to try to understand the different reasons why different people struggle,’ he said. ‘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.’