Posts Tagged ‘Dyslexia’

Hitchens: Dyslexia is NOT a Disease. It is an Excuse For Bad Teachers!

March 2, 2014



While I cannot comment on a report that claims there is no easy definition for dyslexia, I do agree that learning difficulties and ADHD labels have been helpful to poor teachers looking for an excuse.

Mr Hitchens has gone a lot further than I would, but the fact that many teachers rely on labels such as dyslexia to avoid full responsibility for a child’s lack of progress is hard to dispute:

I doubt there has ever been a society so easily fooled by pseudo-science and quackery as ours is. Millions of healthy people take happy pills that  do them obvious harm, and are increasingly correlated with inexplicable suicide and worse.

Legions of healthy children are drugged into numbness because they fidget during  boring lessons, and countless people are persuaded that they or their children suffer from  a supposed disease called ‘dyslexia’, even though there is no evidence at all that it exists.

A few weeks ago I rejoiced at the first major cracks in this great towering dam of lies. Dr Richard Saul brought out his courageous and overdue book, ADHD Does Not Exist.

I also urge everyone to read James Davies’s book Cracked, on the inflated claims of psychiatry since it sold its soul to the pill-makers.

Now comes The Dyslexia Debate, published yesterday, a rigorous study of this alleged ailment by two distinguished academics – Professor Julian  Elliott of Durham University, and Professor Elena Grigorenko of Yale University.

Their book makes several points. There is no clear definition of what ‘dyslexia’ is. There is no objective diagnosis of it. Nobody can agree on how many people suffer from it. The widespread belief that it is linked with high intelligence does not stand up to analysis.

And, as Parliament’s Select Committee on Science and Technology said in 2009: ‘There is no convincing evidence  that if a child with dyslexia is not labelled as dyslexic, but receives full support for his or her reading difficulty, that the child will do any worse than a child who is labelled dyslexic and then receives special help.’

 This is because both are given exactly the same treatment. But as the book’s authors say: ‘Being labelled dyslexic can be perceived as desirable for many reasons.’ These include extra resources and extra time in exams. And then there’s the hope that it will ‘reduce the shame and embarrassment that are often the consequence of literacy difficulties. It may help exculpate the child, parents and teachers from any perceived sense of responsibility’.

I think that last point is the decisive one and the reason for the beetroot-faced fury that greets any critic of ‘dyslexia’ (and will probably greet this book and article). If it’s really a disease, it’s nobody’s fault. But it is somebody’s fault. For the book also describes the furious resistance, among teachers,  to proven methods of teaching children to read. Such methods have been advocated by  experts since Rudolf Flesch wrote his devastating book Why Johnny Can’t Read almost 60 years ago.

There may well be a small number of children who have physical problems that stop them learning to read. The invention of ‘dyslexia’ does nothing to help them. It means they are uselessly lumped in with millions of others who have simply been badly taught.

It also does nothing for  that great majority of poor readers. They are robbed of one of life’s great pleasures and essential skills.

What they need, what we all need, is proper old-fashioned teaching, and who cares if the silly teachers think it is ‘authoritarian’? That’s what teaching is.

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Schools Have to Wake Up to Confidence Issues Amongst Students

February 27, 2012

I’m not a medical expert, so excuse me if I show my ignorance, but I am constantly amazed by what looks like a overdiagnosing of kids. From ADHD to autism, from dyslexia to language disorders, our students are being bombarded with medically based names for sometimes seemingly everyday based problems.

Sometimes these diagnoses prove spot on, and ultimately guide the teacher to better understanding their students. At other times however, I feel the diagnosis seems rushed, lazy and counter productive. Not only do such students receive the stigma of their newfound disability, but they also tend to lose more confidence because of it, rather than letting the revelation give them a new lease on life.

What bothers me is that in making these diagnoses, GP’s, occupational therapists and speech pathologists often see a child’s low confidence levels as a sign of a condition that is impeding their learning. Why can’t a child’s learning challenges be caused plainly and simply by their confidence issues? Why does it always have to be a condition? Why don’t they try to improve a child’s self-esteem before prescribing and labelling?

I can’t tell you how many students I have seen over the years that have been diagnosed with some learning disorder that have responded not to the recommended regime, but to a devoted teacher that spends just as much time trying to raise the child’s self-esteem as they do trying to improve the child’s academic skills.

Sometimes I think we fool ourselves into believing that school life is easy and that all children should be able to cope fairly well. School is tough for children. It can potentially damage a child’s sense of self and can be quite detrimental to their feeling of worth.

I’m not surprised kids are reluctant to go to school. I am surprised however, that our psychologists think that only 1-2% of children fall in that category:

… suffering from school refusal, an anxiety condition that affects 1 to 2 per cent of children.

”A certain degree of anxiety or reluctance to go to school is normal,” psychologist Amanda Dudley says.

”But for some, they experience excessive anxiety and it can result in persistent refusal to go to school.”

Children who experience school refusal often complain of stomach aches, headaches, nausea and other physical symptoms and are often extremely distressed when it is time to go to school.

”It can be all of a sudden that the child refuses to attend; it can be after something upsetting at school or after legitimate absence from school,” she says.

School refusal isn’t a condition. It is a natural response to the challenges that children face at school. It is also a sign that educators are blind to the real needs of their students. By overlooking self-esteem issues and instead concentrating on placing seemingly normal children on an ever-growing spectrum, we are labelling children instead of responding to them. We are diagnosing instead of truly connecting with them.

I accept that there are children with special learning needs who require targeted programs and individual support, but I also believe that there are many children who would be better served if their school helped them to adjust to school life instead of bracket them with a condition or disorder.


Too Many Struggling Students Lack Support

June 20, 2011

I read a disturbing article about a young boy who struggles with dyslexia, and the trauma his mother has gone through as his school makes little to no effort to assist him.  It is a difficult article for a teacher to read, but a very important one.  There are too many students that fall between the cracks.  Too many that don’t get the attention and support that they so desperately need.  As teachers, we must fight for the social, emotional and academic wellbeing of all our students, whilst ensuring that they are all, without exception, getting the care and attention they need.

Below is an excerpt of the article.  I truly recommend that you read the whole story,

David is an artistically gifted boy with a photographic memory. The 10-year-old’s dining-room table is full of intricately designed Lego battleships, his art displays such originality that his teacher calls him “the next Picasso”, and he has an extraordinary ability to recall facts from the History Channel documentaries he watches on TV.

“The other day,” his 41-year-old mother Margaret recalled, “we were driving along and he said, ‘mummy, you were born in the year the first man landed on the moon’.”

But there is one big problem with David that overshadows his life. He cannot read. He has been assessed as “severely dyslexic” and “having the reading age of a child aged four years and four months”. His schooling has been a disaster and according to educational psychologist reports seen by the Standard, he has progressed “just one month in five years”.

You might assume that David attends a failing, inner-city school, but you would be wrong. His south London state primary is rated “good” by Ofsted, attended almost exclusively by white British-born pupils, and is located in a street of £3million houses. He is also well behaved.

Yet David, his mother said, has been “catastrophically let down by everyone: by his teachers, by the school and by the council”, all of whom failed to give him the specialised help he needs.

Margaret said: “At school the other kids call him ‘odd’ and ‘weirdo’ and he often comes home crying. He is still reading flashcards and has not progressed beyond words like ‘cat’ and ‘dog’. He has no real friends – how can he? He doesn’t get their jokes or their games. To the other kids, he is a misfit who doesn’t understand anything that’s going on because he can’t read.”

“My son was nine and he still couldn’t read a word,” said Margaret. “What were they waiting for? Why didn’t they do something?” 

Finally the school arranged for David to have some specialist teaching – three hours a week at a nearby literacy centre at a cost to the school of £1,000 a term – as well as 15 hours a week one-on-one with the teacher assistant. For the first time he made a glimmer of progress, improving by “one month in a year”. Margaret says the teacher assistant and the literacy centre are not experts in teaching severely dyslexic children.

There is a growing tendency to allow students to pass the year, regardless of their level of skill or maturity.  The reason for this is quite sensible.  Holding a child back can have strong emotional repercussions.  But because such a system exists, not enough questions are asked of students who are languishing.

I am not suggesting for a second that young David should have been kept down.  I am simply suggesting that since teachers no longer have to explain why a child is ready to be promoted, there is less incentive to put the time and energy into children like David.

It is time that we looked into the issue of students being promoted without the basic skills, and ensure that teachers are made accountable for the progress of their students.  David was allowed to fall into the gaps and starved of the support he needed because there isn’t enough pressure on teachers to reach benchmarks.

The story of David breaks my heart because he is a victim to poor teaching, an inept education system and a misnomer that dyslexia renders one academically incapable.



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