BOOK REVIEW: The Dyslexia Debate

Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. It has been the subject of scientific for more than 100 years but its nature and treatments remain debated for educational psychologists all over the world, including Hong Kong. To understand dyslexia, I recommend reading The Dyslexia Debate, 2014 J.G. Elliott & E.L Grigorenko.  


Elliott and Grigorenko take on the task of reviewing the field and conclude that ‘the term (dyslexia) has surely outgrown its conceptual and diagnostic usefulness’. Writing the foreword, Vellutino, one of the pioneers of dyslexia research, concurs and prefers to use terms like ‘poor’ or ‘struggling’ readers. The argument that the authors present is that there are no clear cut criteria for dyslexia, there is no cognitive, genetic or neutral evidence that sets those with dyslexia apart form ‘poor readers’, and there is nothing special about the treatments that follow ‘diagnosis’. On the other hand, the authors are clear that there are many children who struggle significantly with learning to read and write and require educational support to prevent a downward spiral of low achievement and poor self esteem. So why not embrace the concept of dyslexia as validated by empirical research, and retain a term that opens the door to intervention for many children and young people?


The book continues with the authors presenting their arguments on dyslexia, such as researchers do not agree about the features of dyslexia. However, this begs the question of which researchers and what is the quality of the research they refer to? Unfortunately, too many published studies are not cast within an appropriate developmental perspective, include participants who do not fulfill rigorous criteria for reading disability, which do not report the reliability of their measures. The arguments put forward different perspectives of dyslexia which enables readers to gain an in depth knowledge of the subject.


So how can the dyslexia debate be advanced? First we must start by acknowledging where we want to be. Professionals need to be arguing for clarity surrounding the criteria for what dyslexia is and what it is not. Scientists also need to be talking to policy makers about evidence- based approaches to the teaching of literacy, and the characteristics of those who are at high risk of reading difficulties. This will help all children who struggle to respond to quality teaching of reading to be identified and appropriate arrangements made to enable them to succeed.