The Dyslexia Debate

Dyslexia Debate“There is much debate around dyslexia and whether it is life-long condition that must be diagnosed or a meaningless description used for personal gain that should be discontinued,” says Susan du Plessis, Director of Educational Programmes at Edublox. With these two very extreme views on dyslexia, concerned parents may wonder what to do for their child who struggles to read and write. In the midst of the heated dyslexia debate, Edublox reading and learning clinics provide the middle ground; a hopeful solution to help children overcome learning inabilities and to achieve their highest educational potential.

A new academic year is well under way as school children write their first tests, but for parents of children who struggle to read this could be the start of more worries about their child’s educational potential. “Will my child pass this year?” and “Is my child dyslexic?” and “Is dyslexia curable?” are some of the questions plaguing concerned parents.

Reversing letters, by reading or writing the letter ‘b’ instead of ‘d’, for example, is one of many indicators of dyslexia which is broadly accepted as a type of learning disability that means reading and spelling are difficult. Although no reliable data is available, dyslexia associations estimate that about 10% of the population are dyslexic, assuming every child receives a decent educational foundation. Generally dyslexia is understood to be a discrepancy between IQ and the ability to read and write.

“The extreme viewpoints about dyslexia are what make it so difficult for parents to know how to best help their child,” says du Plessis. “On the one side of the debate there is the group which believe dyslexia is a condition that cannot be cured, but endured and on the other extreme there are those who say diagnosis of dyslexia is a complete waste of time.”

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) states that dyslexia “is likely to be present at birth and to be life-long in its effects.” The association and many others like it recommend taking a dyslexia test ― at a cost ― and provide advice about how to cope with dyslexia and gain access to the special study allowances and benefits available for diagnosed dyslexics.

Professor Julian Elliott, from Durham University in the United Kingdom and Professor Elena Grigorenko from Yale University in the United States of America take the opposing view ― that diagnosis of dyslexia adds little value. In their book, The Dyslexia Debate*, Elliott and Grigorenko write: “Parents are being misled by claims that such [dyslexia] assessments are scientifically rigorous, and that a diagnosis will point to more effective forms of treatment.” Elliott raises concerns about the ever increasing number of people who are diagnosed dyslexic. Dyslexia, according to Elliot, is a term which, “confuses, rather than clarifies, and should be discontinued.” Elliot will present his views at a cognitive education conference in Cape Town in February.

Du Plessis raised concerns about both extreme viewpoints. She cautioned that Elliot’s approach was too radical. “It is unthinkable for parents to be told dyslexia doesn’t exist or that we should stop talking about it. On the other hand paying for a costly diagnosis of dyslexia is not as necessary as sound educational support which should be the first priority for a child with learning problems.”

Edublox do not consider dyslexia to be a life-long condition. “What worries us is that children who are labelled dyslexic are sometimes allowed to give up hope in their potential and this can turn their diagnosis into a crutch or an excuse to stop trying to learn or understand difficult concepts. Sadly, some children have been told that because they are dyslexic they will always struggle to read. This is just not true,” indicates du Plessis.

“We have hundreds of success stories to prove that reading difficulties can be beaten with cognitive training and lots of encouragement. A child should never feel as though they have lost a battle through a dyslexic diagnosis ― it is unhelpful to the child, parents and teachers.”

Du Plessis says that a dyslexia test should be a last resort. “At Edublox we take a middle ground approach to the controversy about dyslexia. A diagnosis should only happen when really necessary and must be a temporary measure to help ensure a child can pass the grade.” A child with severe learning problems who is diagnosed dyslexic may benefit from extra time to write a school exam or to have a reader ask test questions orally. “What is much more important is helping a child to master their learning skills so that they are able to realise their educational potential,” adds du Plessis.

Although the debate centres on dyslexia, the ‘learning disabilities’ label is also problematic. “We shouldn’t talk about children with learning disabilities,” said du Plessis. “At Edublox we see potential in each child as we change learning inabilities into learning abilities. With the correct cognitive training and teaching in reading, writing and mathematics children can realise their full educational potential.”

Edublox reading and learning clinics offer multisensory cognitive training, aimed at developing and automatising the foundational skills of reading, spelling and maths.


*Elliot, J. & Grigorenko, E., The Dyslexia Debate (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2014).

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