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British teacher sparks row on dyslexia

September 2, 2005

LONDON (Reuters) – A British professor sparked a row on
Friday by saying that dyslexia – a condition that affects
millions of people worldwide — was overdiagnosed.

Julian Elliott, professor of education at Durham University
in northern England, described dyslexia as a “construct” that
had no scientific basis but had gained wide currency.

“It is hardly surprising that the widespread, yet wholly
erroneous, belief that dyslexics are intellectually bright but
poor readers would create an impassioned demand to be accorded
a dyslexic label,” he wrote in the Times Educational
Supplement.

The article, to publicize a documentary on the emotive
issue to be aired next week, said there was no proof there was
any teaching method more appropriate for children diagnosed as
dyslexic than those simply classified as slow readers.

Elliott declined to discuss the article or its implications
when contacted by Reuters.

Dyslexia has a very broad definition — ranging from
reading to writing and learning difficulties and covering both
literacy and numeracy.

Experts say four percent of people suffer from a severe
form of the condition, with another six percent have a mild
form of the condition — making it quite hard to pinpoint at
times.

Dyslexia specialists rejected Elliot’s claims as baseless
and potentially damaging.

“Dyslexia is an internationally recognized illness. It
affects all races, all religions and, importantly, all ability
levels — not just the intelligent as he suggests,” Laura
Sercombe of the Dyslexic Institute told Reuters.

“For people who come to us seeking help, the first step on
the road to recovery is the recognition that they are dyslexic.
Somebody like this can actually do a lot of damage to their
self confidence. We don’t need people like this,” she said.

Symptoms can include problems with short-term memory,
mathematics, concentration, personal organization and
sequencing. School children diagnosed with dyslexia are given
more time in exams.

The Dyslexia Institute’s Web site www.dyslexia-inst.org.uk
said the condition is biological and tends to run in families.

“We have been working with sufferers for the past 30 years.
Yet parts of this article seem to suggest the condition does
not even exist — and that is just plain wrong,” Sercombe said.




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