Dyslexia – myth or a highly specific learning difficulty?

The comments made by Graham Stringer MP (14.1.09) that dyslexia is a myth supported by a dyslexia industry illustrates the confusion that surrounds  poor literacy achievement in the UK and the inaccurate use of diagnostic labels for specific learning difficulties.

It is certainly true that a percentage of children fail to read and write as a result of poor or inappropriate teaching methods, and that the teaching of phonics is an essential part of teaching children to read.

However, there are a number of other reasons why an otherwise intelligent child might fail to achieve reading, writing and spelling levels commensurate with chronological age.

In a series of small scale independent studies carried out across the UK between 2001 and 2005, it was found that the balance and coordination abilities of 38% of 7 – 8 year olds and 45% of 4 – 5 year olds were immature.  Problems with balance, posture and coordination can affect the development of the eye movements necessary for reading and writing (Child Care in Practice. Vol 11/4 pp 415-432, 2005).  Not all of these children have dyslexia, but the lack of oculo-motor control can interfere with the acquisition of literacy skills.  These studies found a corellation between immature physical abilities and lower educational performance.

Children diagnosed with dyslexia can have a mixture of phonological deficit with or without additional visual processing and motor-perceptual problems.  These children, need a combination of therapy aimed at improving the underlying deficit and specialist teaching to support the weaker skills. It is unlikely that a single method of teaching as suggested by Graham Stringer would eliminate the clinically identifiable features of true dyslexia.

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