How refreshing to see that the commons science and technology select committee has been blunt in condemning attempts to classify difficulty in learning to read as though it were some sort of illness. This particular bandwagon has been rolling for far too long and it is about time that somebody spoke out against it.
Dyslexia is a word used to describe difficulty in reading or learning to read. Until a few decades ago, it was only used in connection with patients who had suffered brain damage as a result of trauma or a stroke. Such individuals might develop problems in reading or recognising words. Some of them also suffered from dysgraphia. This can result in people being unable to write coherently, their attempts being largely indecipherable gibberish.
Somewhere down the line, the terms started being used to describe those who had trouble reading and writing for other reasons besides brain damage. Chief of these reasons were poor education or inferior teaching.
Most children learn to read and write fairly easily if they are taught properly. Some have difficulties doing so. These can mean that a child has problems spelling or remembering the correct sequence of letters which make up a word. At one time, we would have described such children as poor readers or even as being illiterate. The remedy was always the same; more and better teaching. Gradually, it became quite the fashion to dignify this sort of illiteracy or semi-literacy as a medical condition. Interestingly though, the remedy for this supposed disability remained exactly the same; more and better teaching.
This is the most fascinating aspect of the whole dyslexia racket. Whatever you call it and whether you think it is an illness or a result of poor teaching, it is treated in the very same way. Systematic instruction in phonics, combined with masses of practice at reading and spelling until the child begins to get the hang of the thing. Since this is so, it is worth asking why on earth it was thought necessary to create something of an industry around reading problems. We know how to help children with such problems, we have known for years, why not just get on teaching them and helping them to become fluent readers? There are two main reasons.
Firstly, by pretending that there is something wrong with the child's brain, it lets teachers off the hook. If all the children in the class have normal faculties and sound brains and yet some of them are not learning to read properly, then the teaching is at fault. We need to ask ourselves if there can be a better way to teach reading. If on the other hand some of the kids in the class have brain damage, then it's not the teacher's fault if those children don't learn to read at the same time as everybody else.
The second reason is that being the parent of a slow or illiterate child is not a particularly appealing prospect. Far better if one's child is struggling bravely against a specific learning disability. So it is in the interest of both teachers and parents to go along with this whole thing, it makes both feel better about it all.
As I say, it does not really signify, because even if there really was a disorder of the brain called dyslexia, the treatment will be pretty much the same as it is for the more common problem known as illiteracy. I am on principle opposed to the multiplication of syndromes in this needless way. It violates both Occam's Razor and my own sense of economy!