dyslexics.org.uk

Dyslexia Myths and Facts
Myth 1: Dyslexics form a special and identifiable (diagnosable) category of poor readers.
Facts: There is no scientifically valid way of differentiating 'dyslexics' from other poor readers. What was for a great length of time the most used definition of dyslexia (the 'IQ discrepancy' definition where reading age was considerably lower than IQ would predict) was discredited a long time ago. 'It is perhaps strange that this notion of a discrepancy definition survived as long as it did' (Miles p114) NO operational definition or scientifically acceptable way of sorting a specific group of 'dyslexics' out from a population of poor readers has appeared to take its place. As there is, at the present time, no infallible way of separating the 'dyslexics' out as a special group, either ALL poor readers are dyslexic (correct, in the descriptive sense that they all have difficulties with the written word), or none are -see What is dyslexia?

Myth 2: This is the BIG one; dyslexia is a specific brain defect; an incurable, genetically-based neurological difficulty with phonemic awareness (PA) and processing skills (the ability to consciously detect and manipulate the smallest perceptible speech sounds).
Facts: Phoneme sensitivity is innate as all babies need it in order to acquire spoken language, but they are not consciously aware of this ability. Humans are not biologically 'wired' to be consciously aware of the phoneme level of speech and the natural unit of speech perception and production is the syllable. PA is 'not an outcome of cognitive maturation or exposure to language' (Rice/Brooks p54), PA is only necessary when learning to read and spell involves using an alphabet code. This is confirmed by research which found that people who read and write using non-alphabetic writing systems lack phonemic awareness (Kerr p103-4); studies, 'show the strong impact of the type of writing system and type of instruction on the development of phonemic awareness -an environmental effect, and restates the point that you do not acquire this aptitude unless you need it' (D.McGuinness WCCR p135). Whilst a tiny minority do develop a good level of PA seemingly effortlessly, acquiring the alphabetic code and skills through a lucky combination of nature and nurture, most students need to receive direct and discrete, systematic synthetic phonics instruction (i.e. working with sounds and letters at the level of the phoneme) in order to become fully proficient in this area. 'Phoneme analysis sufficient to be able to decode is acquired much more rapidly in the context of print than in isolation' (D.McGuinness. Response to Hulme). As a consequence of normal genetic variation (D.McGuinness WCCR p151), early hearing problems or faulty initial teaching of reading (either of the former in combination with the latter can result in a strongly visual reading reflex) some students find learning to consciously recognise and manipulate individual phonemes rather more difficult than the majority of the population. The opaque English alphabet code exacerbates their difficulties, as does on-going mixed methods teaching. Fortunately, modern synthetic phonics whole-class and intervention programmes have been specially designed to render the English alphabet code transparent for initial teaching. The headteacher of a 1,000 pupil primary school in a deprived area of London wrote, ''No child has been identified as having dyslexia since we adopted the [synthetic phonics] programme in 2004'' (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/44/44we33.htm)

Myth 3: Children who fail to discover how to read from whole class contextualised phonics instruction despite having an average or higher IQ, and continue to struggle despite receiving a non-systematic multi-cueing intervention, have a specific learning difficulty, dyslexia.
Facts: Unless the child is profoundly deaf, mute, or grossly mentally disabled the most likely reason why they can't read is 'ABT (ain't being taught!) (Miskin) or dysdidaxia (a problem with the teaching) (Macmillan p134). 'We know that the intellectual crippling of children is caused overwhelmingly by faulty instruction -not by faulty children' (Engelmann&Carnine 1982.Theory of instruction). '(F)ailure to read is often to do with the nature of the teaching rather than the nature of the child' (Rose 2009 p60) 'The reason that so many children fail to read and write is because the wrong teaching methods are used. The education establishment, rather than admit that their eclectic and incomplete methods for instruction are at fault, have invented a brain disorder called dyslexia' (Stringer). These students need to be taught the Alphabet Code and the skills of segmenting and blending, FAST.

Myth 4: The prevalence of dyslexia is estimated to be somewhere between 4- 8% of the population (Rose 2009 p11) in English-speaking countries.
Facts: 'Any attempt to determine the prevalence of dyslexia should be treated with caution' (Miles p27).''In the absence of a definition that provides unequivocal identification criteria, all statements about prevalence are guesses; they are value judgements, not scientific facts...The British Dyslexia Association's prevalence estimates of either 4 per cent for severe dyslexia or 10 per cent to include mild dyslexia have been described as both theoretically and technically contentious (Rice/Brooks p19-20) All that can be said with any certainty is that in every English-speaking country a significant percentage of the population have reading and spelling difficulties varying from mild through to severe.

Myth 5: Those who have been 'professionally' diagnosed as having 'specific learning difficulties consistent with dyslexia' need a special sort of literacy intervention which is different from that deemed suitable for 'ordinary' poor readers. Furthermore, this special instruction should only be delivered by qualified teachers who have undertaken a long and expensive training course which has been approved and accredited (and often provided) by one of the powerful dyslexia lobby groups **
Facts: Having thoroughly checked the government's use of evidence in policy-making on dyslexia, the UK Parliament's Science &Technology committee concluded that, 'The government should stop talking about specialist dyslexia teaching. Children diagnosed with dyslexia and children who struggle with reading for other reasons, are taught how to read in exactly the same way'. The committee also said that, 'the Government should be more independently minded in the formulation of dyslexia policy: priorities appear to be based on pressures from lobby groups rather than on research' (S&T committee pressnotice 18/12/09) Whatever their age or IQ, struggling readers who have difficulties with word decoding need intensive, one-to-one (preferably), pure synthetic phonics reading instruction see- What NOT to do.

Myth 6: Dyslexics don't just have very inaccurate reading and spelling; other signs are used to identify dyslexia such as poor short-term memory, sequencing problems and rapid naming deficits (RAN). The number and type of difficulties vary from one dyslexic person to another, as does the severity.
Facts: These are 'soft' signs - not based on data that is readily quantifiable or amenable to experimental verification. 'Forget about letter reversals, clumsiness, inconsistent hand preference and poor memory - these are commonly found in people without reading difficulties, and in poor readers not considered to be dyslexic.'(Elliott .TES) '(D)yslexia has been linked erroneously to left-handedness, balance deficits, persistence of infant reflexes, visual perceptual abnormalities and nutritional deficiencies' (Snowling. BDA website news17) 'The fact that RAN (rapid automatic naming tasks) using digits and letters predict reading so much better than RAN colours and objects do, means that naming speed per se is not a factor in learning to read.' (D.McGuinness LDLR p388) 'Naming objects and colours is a truer reflection of natural or biological based ability' (D. McGuinness WCCR p131) Many so-called dyslexia symptoms such as b/d confusion and word reversal are simply the consequence of poor literacy teaching and lack of practice.

Myth 7: Dyslexia is caused by inherited, faulty genes with evidence coming from studies of twins.
Facts: As there is no operational definition or indisputable way of diagnosing dyslexia it is impossible to find 'dyslexics' for a scientifically valid study. This means that the results of all the heritability studies and genetic models of dyslexia are invalid; ‘'The twin studies leave a lot to be desired, starting with the identification of their subject 'dyslexics'. Most such work is done with the University of Colorado and their Prof. Olsen has recently (after the IQ-achievement criterion died) stated that the bottom x% of the bell curve of reading ability can be considered 'dyslexic’ and this is great because 'if we deploy the bell curve of normal distribution we can bring the big guns of statistics to bear'. This is outrageous, of course. The bottom x% are not to be presumed all to have the same neurological deficit (or any at all) with no demonstration of same'' (Kerr. RRF message board 29/09/09). Claims to link a complex, learned behaviour that has to be taught (not part of species specific trait) to a gene complex, can only be bogus. Thus, contrary to what practitioners may sometimes suppose, family relationship (familiarity) alone is not a reliable indicator of genetic heritability' (Rice/Brooks p32) In English-speaking countries where, every year, at least 20% of children leave school functionally illiterate, nearly everyone has a relative (or several) who failed to learn to read.

Myth 8: Dyslexia is a visual problem - dyslexics see words backwards and letters reversed.
Facts: Prof. Vellutino showed this was incorrect when he 'asked dyslexic and non dyslexic American children to re-produce Hebrew letters none of them had seen before... the poor readers performed as well as the normal readers in reproducing Hebrew letters from memory...Absolutely no differences between the two groups. If anything the normal readers made more errors than the poor readers, so the poor readers could see the materials as well as the normal readers' (Mills. The Dyslexia Myth)

Myth 9: fMRI brain scan studies show that dyslexics' brains work differently from those of non-dyslexics.
Facts: In addition to the impossibility of finding true 'dyslexics' for a scientifically valid study, 'The recent studies using fMRI, convincingly show what everybody who knows anything about the brain can tell you, that when someone can't read, images of his brain taken while he is trying to read will look different to someone who can read. Furthermore, when the poor reader is taught to read, the patterns of his brain metabolism will look identical to someone who can!' (D.McGuinness.Response to Hulme) '(T)here is a mistaken belief that current knowledge in [genetics and neuroscience] is sufficient to justify a category of dyslexia as a subset of those who encounter reading difficulties' (Elliott/Gibbs p475) Also, see Room 101

Myth 10: The planum temporale area of the brain is 'abnormally symmetrical' in dyslexics.
Facts: This claim is based on the dissection of just a small number of brains taken from people previously diagnosed as 'dyslexic'. The lack of an infallible definition for dyslexia, along with the tiny number of research subjects, makes this study's conclusions scientifically invalid. '35 percent of the population have symmetrical brains. Symmetry is not pathology'. (D.McGuinness WCCR p118)

Myth 12: Short-term memory deficit is a hallmark of dyslexia (NTF.p6)
Facts: Poor short-term memory ''is the symptom most often quoted as distinguishing dyslexics from other poor readers, and those who have difficulty reading are more likely to suffer from it. Yet, however disabling poor short-term memory may be, evidence suggests it neither causes reading difficulties nor predicts the outcome of intervention. In a highly regarded study conducted by Joseph Torgesen, a psychologist at the University of Florida, out of 60 children with severe reading difficulties, only eight had poor short-term memories, while almost as many – seven – had very good short-term memories'' David Mills.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/children_shealth/3347022/Dyslexia-a-big-expensive-myth.html

Myth 13: Dyslexia is incurable; permanent. It 'will not go away with tuition, practice, hard work etc.' (Klein quoted in Kerr p113)
Facts: 'Shaywitz and others in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study followed children to see if the discrepancy diagnosis of dyslexia was constant from one grade to another. 25 children were diagnosed dyslexic in first grade and 31 in grade 3, but only 7 were classified as dyslexic in both grades. Of the 24 children classified as dyslexic at fifth grade, only 14 were also dyslexic in third grade' (D.McGuinness. OQE. '97). If struggling readers, considered to be on the dyslexia spectrum, are removed from their mixed method reading environment and given expert tuition with an evidence-based intervention such as the Sound Reading System early enough in their education, their 'dyslexia' (very inaccurate reading and spelling) can be made to 'go away'. Sadly, unless an effective intervention is put into place extremely quickly ('large differences in reading practice begin to emerge as early as the middle of the first-grade year'(Stanovich p 162)), the negative side effects of early mal-instruction such as the 'bad habit' of guessing and a dislike of reading are likely to persist and fluency is unlikely to ever be achieved. If newly taught knowledge and skills are not practised extensively they are bound to erode too.

Myth 14: Dyslexics are compensated for their lack of phonological ability by being naturally gifted in the artistic / visual-spatial sphere.
Facts: Comforting though this idea may be, it is simply 'opinion bolstered by anecdote'. The late Martin Turner, formerly head of psychology at Dyslexia Action, thought it was a 'travesty' to talk about dyslexia as a bonus when it caused such suffering; ''It's a myth that there are compensatory gifts. Dyslexics go into the visual arts like sheep head for a gap in the hedge. They aren't more creative, they are more stressed.'' (Jardine) Dr. Rice and Professor Brooks came to the same conclusion. ''On anecdotal evidence, the belief that ‘difficulty in learning to read is not a wholly tragic life sentence but is often accompanied by great talents’ may seem attractive. However, systematic investigation has found little if any support for it.'' (Rice/ Brooks p18) When researchers at the University of Edinburgh tested 'the hypotheses that those with reading disability are compensated with enhanced creativity', they found that, ''Stronger reading was in fact linked to higher creativity, controlling for IQ''http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S104160801300040X More recently, researchers in Chile explored the links between reading skills and creativity. Their findings did ''not support the hypothesis that specific reading disability is associated with better performance on creative tasks'' http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9314276&fileId=S1138741614000596

Myth 15: Dyslexia can be accurately diagnosed by an educational psychologist or a 'specialist dyslexia teacher' using special tests.
Facts: No scientifically valid tests are available that can differentiate dyslexics from other poor readers; 'After three decades as an educationalist, first as a teacher of children with learning difficulties, then as an educational psychologist and, latterly, as an academic who has reviewed the educational literature, I have little confidence in myself (or others') ability to offer a diagnosis of dyslexia.' (Elliott. TES) It is because of their inability to give a legitimate diagnosis (there is no legal definition of dyslexia in this country Singleton p16) that a specialist dyslexia teacher or educational psychologist's written report is very unlikely to include the concrete label of dyslexia. Instead, it will substitute words such as, 'has a specific weakness in phonological development', or it will be hedged about with words that avoid commitment to a definitive diagnosis; 'exhibited a pattern of difficulties characteristic of dyslexia', 'has a dyslexic profile' or, 'is at risk for Dyslexia-SpLD', with the discrete 'dyslexia' label only given to parents verbally. See 'Should I have my Child Assessed?'

Myth 16: Dyslexia can be found world-wide.
Facts: In countries which have a transparent code and synthetic phonic teaching methods (e.g. Austria, Finland, Greece (The Science of Reading. Philip Seymour p299)) it is rare to find people who are very inaccurate readers and spellers i.e. dyslexic in the English-speaking world's sense of the word. English reading tests assess accuracy of word recognition but, because of the high reading accuracy in countries with transparent codes, these tests cannot be used and reading speed is assessed instead i.e. the term dyslexia means something completely different in these countries (RRF49 D.McGuinness. p19 & The Science of Reading. Philip Seymour p297) 'If dyslexia really existed then countries as diverse as Nicaragua and South Korea would not have been able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100%' (Stringer).The number of poor readers in any country will be affected by the teaching methods used. If whole-language methods are imported into a country that has a transparent spelling code then poor readers will become more numerous because, 'Students tend to perceive words in the way they are taught to perceive them. This appears to be the case whether or not they are taught in a transparent orthography (Cardoso-Martens 2001)' (Rice/Brooks p34) A literacy gender-gap will become visible too (Macmillan 2004)

Myth 17: It is possible to properly diagnose dyslexia in countries with transparent codes by testing students' reading speed, because those with this specific brain weakness, despite being accurate word readers, find reading effortful and slow.
Facts: 'Slow reading' is relative. The optimal reading rate varies across ages (reading speed is on a continuum) with individual differences, but MOSTLY across writing systems. ''Slowness'', it seems, is a function of the writing system, not a property of the child...(T)he content of the reading material also determines reading rate. Difficult material is read more slowly' (D.McGuinness ERI p191-2)

Myth 18: Dyslexia can be cured or helped by special balancing exercises, fish-oils, glasses with tinted lenses, vision exercises, listening to modified music, NLP magical spelling, modelling clay letters and words, inner-ear-improving medications, training primitive reflexes, eye occlusion (patching)....
Facts:
Empirical evidence does not support the use of these cures and remedies - see Room 101

SEN Magazine (no.49. Nov/Dec 2010) - scroll down to read Susan's article:
'Six myths about dyslexia' www.rrf.org.uk/docs/SEN49_Dyslexia_myths.pdf

Profs Joe Elliott and Elena Grigorenko: The Dyslexia Debate research briefing paper with 5 major myths discussed: http://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/education/research/DyslexiaDebateResearchBriefing.pdf

Report on British Dyslexia Association Courses for Reading and Spelling -includes comparison with synthetic phonics course content: http://www.rrf.org.uk/pdf/Report%20BDA%20Training%202012.pdf

** BDA: ''Specialist dyslexia teaching: an umbrella term for approaches that are used by teachers who have attained accredited specialist qualifications in the teaching of children and adults with dyslexia. Training courses are accredited by the British Dyslexia Association'' (Rose 2009 p199)
Patoss: The Professional Association of Teachers of Students with SpLD ''(O)nly those who have passed a BDA accredited course can become specialist members of this professional association'' (Rose 2009 p95)
Dyslexia Action: ''provides training for teachers to become specialist dyslexia teachers'' (Rose 2009 p190)
Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre: ''The Centre offers training to professionals who wish to develop their skills in addressing dyslexia -including training to become a specialist dyslexia teacher'' (Rose 2009 p193)

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