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CONTROVERSY: Is dyslexia a 'meaningless label' to excuse bad reading skills?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 26th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Educational Psychologist Professor Julian Elliott is hopping mad. He says that dyslexia, a condition that makes the subject read letters backwards is a meaningless label. He says it's a convenient catch-all for middle-class parents who fear their children being branded stupid or lazy.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Elliott doesn't deny that dyslexia exists. He says that it's clear that some children do have genuine, complex reading problems. The definition of dyslexia, he says is so broad that it is impossible to make any meaningful separation from other poor readers.

Elliott argues that this is a "pointless" waste of resources - because the same techniques help both groups of children improve their reading. As such, the Durham University professor says that dyslexia is a "useless term" -- that should be abandoned altogether.

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In lieu of putting children though expensive and lengthy diagnostic testing, Elliott says that schools should focus on identifying early on those who struggle to read and treat all of those with problems equally.

As expected, this is a highly controversial stance. Charities have disputed Elliot's claims. They point to the fact that a diagnosis of dyslexia has scientific and educational value.

Professor Elliott goes as far as to say that parents also benefit from the "pseudo-medical" label.

Diagnoses of dyslexia, he says, tend to be found in more affluent areas. He rails that some middle-class parents seek this diagnosis out because they fear their children will be judged slow or lazy. "Most parents are delighted with the label," he maintains.

"Professionals have said to me that they agree but they still use the term because they make people happy.

"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," Elliott says. "You show a parent this list and they say, 'You are right, I didn't realize my kid was dyslexic.'

"It is like showing someone a horoscope; they look at it and see bits of themselves in it."

Well-intentioned parents may only want the best for their children, but they are being "woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis," he says.

Backing up the professor's claims is the fact that the Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into literacy in 2009 concluded that the definition of dyslexia was too broad to be meaningful.

The committee also accused the Government of "bowing to pressure from the dyslexia lobby" when formulating its educational policy.

In response, 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 recognizable 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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