The Dyslexia Debate

“If you struggle to learn to read, it’s a massive threat to your identity,” says Professor Joe Elliot of Durham University, UK. In this presentation, Professor Elliot calls for an end to the use of the dyslexia label and provides an alternative proposition.

“If you struggle to learn to read, it’s a massive threat to your identity,” says Professor Joe Elliot, Durham University, UK. “It’s absolutely soul destroying, not only for the child, but for the family as well. The dyslexia label serves a powerful psychological function. For many people, they don’t want to be told that it’s scientifically fraught because this function is so meaningful to them.”

This presentation will outline the nature of the dyslexia debate and propose a more scientific solution. In so doing, it will draw upon the content of The Dyslexia Debate (Elliott & Grigorenko, 2014, Cambridge University Press). This text, four years in the production, represents a detailed analysis and synthesis of research in dyslexia across the domains of genetics, neuroscience, cognitive science, and educational policy and intervention.

There are a number of reasons why scientific understandings are often confused, and occasionally misrepresented, by researchers, practitioners and lay public.

  1. Researchers in genetics and neuroscience are primarily involved in examining the biological underpinnings of reading disability rather than a) that of a definable condition that is manifest within a subgroup of poor readers identified by educational psychologists as dyslexia or b) a condition much beyond literacy that often involves a wide range of cognitive and behavioral difficulties;
  2. The desire for a label is often satisfied by the use by diagnosticians of lengthy lists of indicative symptoms with none proving necessary or sufficient. Some of these are tangentially related to literacy skills leading to tension between researchers and clinicians;
  3. Studies of a number of key underlying psychological processes deemed to be indicative of dyslexia (e.g. working memory, rapid naming) have often provided contrasting findings that have limited value in informing effective forms of reading intervention;
  4. There is a misplaced belief that, in line with the medical model, a diagnosis of dyslexia will point to appropriate forms of intervention that would otherwise fail to be identified.

The presentation will call for an end to the use of the dyslexia label. An alternative proposition will be proposed.

Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott

Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott joined Durham University in 2004 from the University of Sunderland where he was Acting Dean of the School of Education and Lifelong Learning. Professor Elliott taught in mainstream and special schools prior to practicing as an LEA educational psychologist. A Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, he is registered to engage in clinical practice as an educational psychologist by the Health Professions Council. He is an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences and a member of the REF 2014 Education Panel.

Professor Elliott’s research and teaching interests include dyslexia, achievement motivation, working memory difficulties, SEN, behavior management, cognitive education and psychological assessment, and he is widely published in this field. His most recent work is The Dyslexia Debate, published by Cambridge University Press (2014).

Professor Elliot was a Keynote Speaker at The European Conference of Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences 2014 (ECP2014) in Brighton, England.

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