Is dyslexia a ‘meaningless label’?

Academics say the label covers vastly different reading problems


A group of experts is controversially calling for an end to labelling children ‘dyslexic’ because they say it’s unscientific and lacks meaning.


The academics at Durham and Yale Universities claim resources are being wasted by putting children through diagnostic tests because ‘dyslexia’ covers vastly different reading problems.

They add that diagnosis doesn’t lead to clear ways to help children with their reading.

What the Dyslexia charity says…

It’s not a view shared by the charity Dyslexia Action. The head of Research, Development and Policy at the charity, Dr John Rack, insists that the term is useful.

“We don’t buy the argument that it is wasteful to try to understand the different reasons why different people struggle. However, if the argument is ‘treat all struggling readers as if they were dyslexic’ then that is fine with us,” explains Dr Rack.

“It’s 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.”

What the researcher says…

The academics behind the new research see it very differently. One of the lead researchers, Professor Julian Elliot, is launching his new book The Dyslexia Debate next month, and argues that more focus should be put on helping children to read rather than labelling their problems.

“Parents are being woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis,” he claims.

“In every country, and in every language, a significant proportion of children struggle to master the skill of reading and some will continue to find it difficult throughout their childhood and into adulthood.

“It is hardly surprising that parents and teachers of children with reading difficulties believe that if the child is diagnosed as dyslexic, clear ways to help them will result.

“Research in this field clearly demonstrates that this is a grave misunderstanding.”

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