An expert in in reading disability has called for scraping of current US policies for dyslexia as these policies are undermining the education and life chances of large numbers of children, particularly those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Professor Julian Elliott from Durham University in the UK says valuable resources are put into expensive and time-consuming tests to diagnose children which are not only often highly questionable, but also do not point to forms of learning support that are different from what should be provided to any other poor reader.
The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) includes dyslexia as a specific learning disability that can make students eligible for special education. While political pressure has proven very successful in getting this term on the statute books – at least 33 states have passed dyslexia-related legislation since 2012 – it is not at all clear what criteria can, or should, be used to make such a diagnosis, says Professor Elliott.
He argues that many of the symptoms listed for dyslexia are simply factors that are more prevalent in those who struggle to learn to read rather than a feature of so-called dyslexic readers.
In his research, Professor Elliott has shown that teaching approaches to help children who are deemed to be poor readers are no different from those who have been labelled dyslexic. Drawing upon his experience in the UK, he argues that myths around dyslexia persist despite overwhelming evidence against them and that the dyslexia industry privileges poor readers with a dyslexia diagnosis at the expense of large numbers of other poor readers.
Although Professor Elliott does not question the existence of the very real underlying problems that those with complex reading difficulties typically experience, he is critical of dyslexia as a term often used to describe a wide range of problems, of varying degrees of severity, in a haphazard and imprecise fashion.
Research has shown that it has proven impossible to identify a dyslexic sub-group that is scientifically justifiable, and which has value for practitioners. Symptoms found in one person leading to a diagnosis of dyslexia may well be absent in another person similarly diagnosed, according to Professor Elliott.
To illustrate his argument, in his presentations Professor Elliott will report new research findings from his team’s study of school psychologists and specialist teachers. Additionally, he will highlight conceptual and operational flaws in dyslexia legislation currently passing through the New York State Senate.