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.

Assessing language skills in young children

Language and communication skills are essential to children’s ability to engage in social relationships and access learning experiences. Children with autism/asperger’s syndrome as well as Dyslexia may have difficulties with language development. Hence, it is a skill that is often an important part of assessments by Educational Psychologists in Hong Kong in order to determine the developmental progress of a child.


In a recent article in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health. It is found that current screening measures do not meet psychometric pre-requisites (psychometrics = design, administration, and interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, aptitude, and personality traits)  to identify language problems. A range of articles is reviewed to identify issues which practitioners and researchers should consider when assessing language skills. There are significant challenges in the interpretation of language assessments, where socioeconomic status, language status and dialect, hearing impairment and test characteristics impact results. The range of articles shows that psychometrically sound assessments of language are an essential component of developing effective and efficient interventions. Regular monitoring of language is preferable, as one- off screening has limited power to predict later performance because children’s developmental paths vary. Hence, a combination of language performance measures is a better indicator of language problems and disorders than single measures of component skills.


To conclude, the language system is complex, it composed of a number of subcomponents and the language paths of preschool children vary substantially. As such, the development of reliable and valid assessments is challenging, but they are of central importance for studying typical and atypical development. Research studies continue to enhance our understanding of the language development process and aid our identification of children who experience persistent language disorders and the factors that are associated with these. The assessment of narrative skills and dynamic assessment were highlighted as new developments. The current review has aimed to provide the necessary information to make informed decisions about assessing the language competencies of preschool children.

6 Tips to Help Young Children with Anger Control Problems

1. Provide Consistency
Children who have behavioural difficulties generally function better in a calm, structured, consistent environment. If things are predictable and clearly understood by the child upfront, this may serve to prevent future behaviour problems from happening. Try to have meals and going to sleep at fixed times and keep to a reasonably set routine as much as possible.

2. Communicate Clearly
Be sure that you speak clearly, directly and address children by name. Ask them to look at your eyes or hold their hands out in front of you and make sure they are facing you, Once you have established eye contact, give instructions clearly, simply and step-by-step. Do not mumble, nag, shout or use too many words. Don’t try talking over the television or music that is playing. Ask for feedback from the child to ensure that the message has been taken on board.

3. Be Proactive
Try to understand what may trigger problem behaviour. If there are any events, certain places or activities in which the child participates that cause problems, be sure and talk to them beforehand about what behaviours are expected and how happy you will be that they are compliant with directions and displaying appropriate behaviour. Establish a set of rules at home which are drawn up and agreed upon in advance. Make sure that you speak to the child and talk about these rules when everyone is calm. Rules should be simple, fair and understood by all parties. “There will be no throwing toys in the house”, “There will be no yelling at mum or dad when they ask you to do something”, “There will be no hitting other children”. When a child breaks a rule, it must be clearly restated what that rule is and then some discipline is enforced. Don’t let the child argue or nag their way out of changing your decision about a rule. Once a rule is made, a child is reminded and an action follows. Do not engage in long-winded reasoning or lecturing. State what the rule is, label the inappropriate behaviour and stand your ground.

4. Focus on Positive Behaviour
Be sure to try and turn your behaviour around so you are focusing on positives. Catch the child being good as often as you can and praise appropriate behavior (especially when the child controls his or her self appropriately). Express your gratitude to the child for controlling his/herself in situations that might have produced an angry response. Be sure to communicate to the child that you are confident that they can learn to control themselves better.

5. Keep Yourself Under Control
If you have to reprimand or provide consequences to the child for inappropriate behaviour try to stay calm and use an even voice when reacting. Nagging, shouting or getting upset yourself will usually not address the problem appropriately. Be conscious of the behaviour that you are modeling in response to a situation that makes you frustrated. Try to demonstrate the appropriate reaction that you would like to see the child demonstrate.

6. Point Out The Perspective of Others
If your child engages in behavior that is viewed by others as aggressive or disruptive, point out to them how the other person feels as a result of their behavior. Ask them to look at the other persons face and describe how they feel.


5 Important Things to Remember When Talking to Children About Terrorism and War

Hong Kong is a relatively safe place and one of the advantages of living here is the low level of violent crime and almost non-existent presence of terrorism. However, as an Educational Psychologist, I sometimes receive questions from parents sometimes regarding how they should speak to their children about war and terrorism in the news. Here are five important things to remember:

Keep Lines of Communication Open
Let your children know that this is a topic that they can talk about. Keep it open-ended so that you can assess what is on their mind. This will help you clarify any confusion or comfort any worries.

Provide Reassurance
Explain that one of your roles as a parent is to keep your child safe. Talk about what you do as well as the role of the police and military in helping protect us. Keep a normal routine and avoid over exposure to media that may be covering a particular terror incident or war.

Avoid Racial or Ethnic Stereotyping
Try to avoid any specific references to religious, ethnic or racial groups as being responsible for acts of terror or war. It may be more appropriate to talk about “bad or harmful actions” as this may help children understand that people are making choices about their behaviour and it is not necessarily due to their racial, ethnic or religious background.

Provide a Good Example
Talk to your children about what you think and how you cope with your feelings about terrorism or armed conflict. Providing an appropriate example of maturity and caring will help children as they respond and think about events. Acknowledge their concerns and encourage caring for others.

Seek Help if Your Child’s Anxiety Level Seems “Over the Top”
In some cases children that have more serious difficulties with generalised anxiety will become over-focused on natural disasters, or acts of terror or war. If a child seems to be worrying too much and is seeking frequent reassurance, having disturbed sleep, difficulty separating or is irritable, it may be time to seek consultation with a mental health professional.