Saturday, 10 September 2005

Disleksia doezn’t eggsist

I watched a fascinating programme the other night – about poor readers. I don’t know why I’m so interested in such topics since I don’t have children and I managed to escape being a teacher, but I am. (I know lots about autism too, for instance: there’s this Open University programme that’s on at 3am from time to time; I keep catching it – I must have seen at least three times; it’s from the ‘70s and everything's brown.)

Anyway, it’s been known for several years that there is no such thing as dyslexia: all poor readers – low-IQ ones as well as high-IQ ones – suffer from the same minor neurological defect. They said it was like being a bit colour-blind.

Children who’ve been diagnosed as dyslexic are currently given coloured spectacles to wear or put through exercises to improve their coordination, or whatever. But poor reading has nothing to do with poor eyesight or poor coordination, therefore improving those can’t help in any way.

Contrary to what most people think, they said, reading is not a high-level intellectual skill (lots of otherwise mentally handicapped people can read perfectly well). It’s just a question of decoding tiny speech sounds. The bit of the brain that doesn’t work properly is not involved in anything else and has nothing to do with intelligence. We know about that now, thanks to brain scans.

The causes of poor reading can be genetic or environmental: these days, a lot of kids don’t hear spoken language around them. Parents stick them in from of the TV and don’t sing them nursery rhymes, for instance – probably because they don’t have the time or have themselves poor language skills.

At a young age poor reading has no effect on the IQ, but it very rapidly does, because reading, and therefore the learning of new vocabulary, increases the IQ, since vocabulary is an indispensable learning tool. Poor reading leads to poor spelling to poor writing to poor thinking, etc. (What puzzles me, by the way, is how apparently avid readers can be such diabolical spellers and whether that impairs their thought-processes. But that's beside the point.)

Ultimately, those poor spellers/so-called dyslexics give up on the school system and the system gives up on them.

Even the Dyslexia Society in this country acknowledges the scientists' findings. Yet school authorities are resisting the advice of those scientists and continue to do nothing about the problem except sending children to be diagnosed with something that doesn’t exist. Parents are, of course, a big obstacle: they don’t want their kids to be labelled “poor readers” – “dyslexic” sounds so much better. It makes the kids feel “special” too.

I want to slap them all because it only takes eight weeks of intensive tuition to produce amazing results. All they have to do is to follow a pioneering Recovery Programme developed by New Zealand. Only two local authorities in the UK have introduced it – with great success. Shame on the others!


  1. If you want to persuade people to give up a label that currently is the only way they can get some understanding and some help, I think you would need to stress two things: 1) that the disorder is minor and not related to stupidity, and 2) that the children can and will still be helped, without it.

    I agree that ALL children with reading difficulties should be helped. It's a sure way to isolate and alienate them later, to leave them behind like that. We have no right not to pass on our knowledge to the next generation.

  2. I think that you are so right, there is not nearly enough emphasis put on reading today. Children spend entirely too much time on computers playing games or in chat rooms where words like, you are, are replaced with UR.
    I never understood it as a child when my father would say that studying took good training habits.
    I believe that reading does as well, even to this day when I haven't read a book in a few weeks it is sometimes difficult to get in to my reading groove. I stop and start before I am finally able to delve into the material.
    bela, if you enjoy reading information on autism, there was a great book called Dibs In Search Of Self.

  3. I'm glad that Lulu and Still Life took the deep, thoughtful approach to response. I, however, am a simple person with simple thoughts. I managed to skim quickly through this *shows off acute verbal skills* for the nugget that made it so worthwhile. For me. "What puzzles me, by the way, is how apparently avid readers can be such diabolical spellers and whether that impairs their thought-processes." Oh my. I have recently devoted a great deal of thought to this premise and would be glad to share my findings with you. Just send me a stamped, self-addressed email and I will provide you the answer to this puzzle. Evilly yours, c'est chic.

    ortbitu: latin paragraph extolling virtues of recently deceased

  4. Forgive my typing/spelling, as I'm on the laptop, and I find it's an exercise in frustration sometimes.

    My kids had to go to therapists because of autism spectrum disorder. One of the techinques used was physical activity, to force my kids to work and cross their right and left limbs. There is significant evidence that this criss-crossing of left and right sides does stimulate the brain to strenghten the weird little connections between the different hemispheres of the brain. The doctor they saw indicated that there seemed to be an excellent correlation between kids who did these exercises and those who saw an improvement in their ability to read. It wasn't a cure all, but she said it looked like one promising technique to use. Sorry, I find that so interesting, I thought I ought to share. The brain is weird and complex, and still mysterious to doctors and scientists.

    I wonder if the label dyslexia is used primarily as a guide for educators? It gives them a way to encourage parents to use certain techniques for help, rather than letting the parents and children linger in frustration and helplessness. My cousin has terrible reading and math difficulties, and were it not for the diagnosis of dyslexia, he would have been abandoned as being "retarded" in the school system. By recognizing that he had a specific problem, he was able to receive help specific to that, rather than having to be removed from the rest of his classmates. Perhpas it's not the diagnosis of dyslexia that is exactly the problem, but how it is dealt with. I think the label does help single out those who have reading difficulty to an extreme degree, and that is not necessarilly a bad thing. It's all in the handling.

    There's also the issue of the correlation between dyslexia-type problems, and attention deficit disorder. I wonder if sometimes if sometimes having more than one difficulty doesn't obscure how to work withh the problem for teachers and parents.

    wywaei - Maori word for a diet that is too hard to follow.

  5. Katie, not to ignore the rest of your post, but we have a TV celebrity chef here in the UK who started a campaign for wholesome school dinners (we serve high fat rubbish here these days), and you should have seen the difference having an entirely natural home cooked diet made to attention deficit disorder. The improvement in concentration and reduction also in conditions such as asthma was remarkable.

  6. add-on to Lulu's comment: apparently there's research demonstrating utility of dietary omega-3 fatty acids in helping symptoms of neuropsychiatric disorders?

  7. Yes, M, and also that they delay the disintegration of brain cells in the normal ageing process.

  8. Huh! I didn't know this. Very interesting.

    Reading is so wonderful. I wish that all could easily do it and enjoy it.

  9. Hmmm...I hear what you're saying, but I don't believe it.

    Both my husband and my son have a reading disorder. The problem seems to lie in the way they process the visual message of written language. They transpose letters and numbers. This means that when they read any new material, they get many words wrong, causing them to have to go back and re-read. It's not that they don't understand content - in fact, it's the content/context that makes them realize they must have misread a word. These are two very bright men, mind you - gifted, i would even say, especially in math ability. My husband is an engineer, and my son is currently a pre-med college student.

    In terms of environmental influences on reading ability, all I can say is that I raised both of my children with books, constant reading-to and reading-with, and my daughter does not have this problem. In my husband's family, he and one of his sisters have this reading problem; the other two sisters do not.

    If your analogy to color-blindness is accurate, then I don't see how eight weeks of intensive tuition could make any difference. You cannot teach a person who is color-blind to see color better; it's a neurological defect. I believe the same is true of dyslexia - some people really are just wired differently.

    'nfuer' - a French verb meaning 'to smoke out'

  10. Thanks for all your comments! It’s such an interesting subject, isn’t it?

    Still Life: when I'm working I can't read books, mostly because if I start reading an interesting book I know I won't be able to tear myself away from it - just like when I was a little child. I've nearly finished all my work for a while and I'm looking forward to attacking the pile of books that's on my bedside table. :-)

    M: all I can say is that we deserve each other. LOL!

    TLP: I can't even imagine how awful it would be not to be able to read.

    K, I would like to stress I (and the programme) was only talking about poor reading skills, not about any other difficulties, like autism, dyspraxia, etc. – just about kids who connect with other people and are able to do everything children are able to do, except learn to read. All the others might be helped by the techniques you mention, but not the poor readers. A lot of doctors are not au fait with the latest research and therefore will not suggest other approaches. It’s up to parents to keep themselves informed, really. The Dyslexia Society was extremely resistant and reluctant to accept the findings of those New Zealand researchers; the fact that it’s now come around means that it is valid and useful.

    Yes, the term dyslexic is a useful label, but it’s the wrong one. What kids need now is open-minded parents and educators, and governments that are prepared to invest in those new remedial techniques.

    The children in question show no sign of attention deficit disorder. Again, their only problem is that they can’t learn to read.

    D, what you describe with your husband and son is what is supposed to be dyslexia (transposing letters, etc.); it was thought to be caused by what you say – “the way they process the visual message of written language” – but it’s now believed to be wrong, and I think one should accept that researchers come up with new explanations all the time. As I mentioned “It’s just a question of decoding tiny speech sounds” . We saw kids being asked questions like this: “What sound is in ‘neat’ that isn’t in ‘eat’?” The good readers all answered ‘nuh’; the poor ones sometimes said ‘tuh’, sometimes ‘ee’. They couldn’t tell the difference. (Not all children have problems with the same sounds and diagnosis involves masses of tests to determine which sounds a particular child cannot hear.) It’s amazingly simple and a very good indicator of future problems when applied to kids before they start learning to read.

    Were your husband and son asked those specific kinds of questions about speech sounds? Probably not, because, until now, poor reading skills were thought to be only related to sight or coordination.

    The analogy to colour-blindness is not mine; it was only mentioned to give an idea of how minor the problem was; it wasn’t trying to say that it was the same. They showed scans of poor readers’ brains before and after they had had tuition: the differences were incredible. They didn’t say eight weeks were enough to “cure” the problem completely; they said improvements were seen after only eight weeks of intensive specific tuition that didn’t exist until recently and the educators have to be trained in. The problem is neurological, but very minor and reversible, which is why it’s such a shame that nothing is done effectively for so many children. I hear the resistance in what you write, D. I really wish you could have seen that programme. Here are two useful links if you want to investigate further:

  11. D, the second link works, but not the first one (don't know why Blogger won't publish it properly), but you can get more info about the programme by logging on to: and entering The Myth of Dyslexia in the search box (the link is the second one that comes up). :-)

  12. Thanks, J - I followed the link & read all about the program. The "resistance" you hear on my part comes not from being unwilling to accept new research, but from disagreement with how the problem was framed. As I understand it (and your program said nothing to contradict this, I believe) dyslexia occurs in nearly every person who attempts to learn to read. It consists of miscues that appear to be a normal part of the learning-to-read process; but for some reason some people manage to correct themselves, while others persist in the same errors. In the presence of otherwise normal intelligence, this has traditionally been explained as a neurological dysfunction. Your program agrees that it *is* a neurological dysfunction, but suggests it is one that will respond to a new teaching method. I guess the proof of their theory will come in about 10-15 years, when, if they are right, reading problems should be virtually eradicated in the school systems that employ the new method.

    By the way - typing in the correct word verification below will be a significant challenge to dyslexic persons!

    'gnucui' - a small pasta stuffed with exotic meat :>)

  13. I mentioned my kids' therapists words because we had discussions on that one part of the brain dyslexia seems to involve. Some of the same exercises they did also seems to help with these folks, and it also stimulated that part of the brain in the scan studies the doctor mentioned. They didn't help everyone, but it was enough to suggest a strong link.

    I do think part of the problem may well still prove to be visual - my cousin's wife is also dyslexic, and she transposes numbers/letters, but she has also done it with things like pictures and rememberances of location(left is right, and vice versa, north side and south side of a street get switched, etc.) Math dyslexia is really tricky for some educators to spot especially. She never made it past basic math, really. I think looking into sounds, and how the brain processes them is invaluable for research and treatment of the problem, but I wonder if the problem may not be more complex than even that.

    God, you bring up the best topics. And I do seem to be provoked to ramble, so they are indeed thought-provoking subjects you keep picking.

  14. Red-Queen, I am sure you are absolutely right when you say the miscues happen in everyone who is learning to read, and that some people manage to correct themselves and some people don't. The programme - which I had taped and have now watched - indeed said exactly that, but put it another way - it said, more or less, that 'the problem that has been labelled dyslexia - the way letters are reversed and letters put in the wrong order - is common to all people learning to read, at the beginning, it's not different or special at that stage.'

    In the therapy, as far as I could make out, once the auditory tests had been carried out, there was endless practising with the problem letters, e.g. b and p, w and m - games suitable for the child of that age and so on. I saw them moving cut-out letters to make patterns, finding a 'p' shape in a more complex drawing, that kind of thing. As I understand, therefore, the treatment itself is not auditory, it is mainly visual - the only auditory bit is the initial analysis of which parts of words and letters are a problem for each specific child. So the thing is, they were saying it's an auditory problem that has a visual consequence, and that, principally, was the new explanation from the research. It doesn't at all nullify or reject the experience of those describing their reading difficulties.

    The little girl in the programme also had devoted and concerned educated parents who spoke to her, sang to her, read with her, so she was one of the ones in whom it was purely a genetic issue. She also had been getting by by doing what your husband and son do - using their intelligence to see that the word they are reading can't be right, and using a mixture of guesswork and experience to find the right word. But unlike them she was only 6 or 7, so her valiant attempts were failing her more often than not - she just didn't know enough words to make a better choice - and she was getting so discouraged. It seemed to work for her, the new therapy - not a miraculous cure, but after 8 weeks she had improved her reading age by 14 months, and, crucially, was actually enjoying it, motivating her to persist longer, which must also have helped. And her brain scan definitely showed a change - a much bigger, unified area lighting up when she tried to read. The flexibility of the brain, at that age, is something I find miraculous.

  15. PS Of course, the thing about making new brain connections is that it's really important to try to catch the problem early in life, as well, when new brain patterns can easily be made. The idea that, as well as the group of people who suffer genetically and no amount of careful parenting can help, you could actually create the problem in a child who wouldn't have had it by not stimulating them, and the brain scan looks exactly the same, is a new phenomenon - in the last 10 years, the teacher said, that children come to school not knowing any nursery rhymes - and is really a shame.

    Katie - BTW, I can read OK and I can't tell east from west. Ever. Nor can I memorise a map and then transfer it to directions in the real world. I am aware of a real mental effort when I try to hold the visual image and then reverse it or flatten it. As I'm a travel guide editor, this presents something of a problem...

  16. Sorry for deserting you all like that: I've been very busy in the past two days.

    Thanks for your kind words, K.

    D, I hope you got some answers to your questions. :-)

    xlfad: what I'm convinced that new technique isn't. LOL!

  17. oh, that was so on point what red-queen stated about the word verification posing problems for the dyslexic. my voice activated program isn't that excited about it either...i usually have to type it in the letters manually.

  18. I'm very sorry, still life. I'm going to remove it and see what happens. It might be possible to keep the spammers at bay. We'll see.

  19. bela! don't be silly... put your word verification back on, it's not difficult for me. i just dictate everything and then type the code and to be quite honest it's almost better because it prevents me from posting prematurely, for some reason it confuses certain words with "login" and will post in the middle of a sentence! *sigh*

  20. I believe I am a poor reader/disleksik what ever you want to call me. Where can one go on the "Pioneering recovery program developed in New Zealand" hopefully I don't have to travel to the other side of the world?

  21. I'm afraid I don't know, Anonymous. I would Google it and read about it, or try and get in touch with the Dislexia Association in your country (I don't know where you're based) and ask them.

  22. You really made me laugh a lot, Anonymous. It looks like you're right and dyslexia does exist since you cannot read. It says very clearly NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS, PLEASE, yet you wanted to post an anonymous comment. As for the rest of your ungrammatical, badly spelt, thoroughly illiterate comment, the less said the better. LOL! Save your energy: don't come back here.