IDA Responds to the “Dyslexia Debate”

IDA Responds to the “Dyslexia Debate”

By Hal Malchow, IDA President-Elect

The dyslexia debate is, at first glance, a small one. Julian Elliott and Elena Grigorenko, in their new book, The Dyslexia Debate, argue that the term “dyslexia” describes too many conditions, is too broad for diagnosis, and should be replaced by “reading disorders,” a term that is, oddly, even broader and less scientific than the word they seek to replace.

In 2002 the International Dyslexia Association adopted the following definition for dyslexia: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” This language is echoed by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) in its own definition.

The International Dyslexia Association recognizes that the term dyslexia often is used inaccurately to describe other conditions associated with reading difficulties. That usage adds confusion and a lack of specificity to the diagnosis of dyslexia. The more we learn about dyslexia and related disorders, the more complex these conditions appear. But in their pursuit of a more perfect definition, Drs. Elliott and Grigirenko overlook real world consequences for people who actually live with the condition they would rename.

The word “dyslexia” serves many purposes. It is written into the laws of our nation and many states to afford remediation, accommodations, and other services to help people with dyslexia succeed. It is a word woven into decades of research and groundbreaking approaches that alleviate the condition it describes. It offers a common understanding in classrooms across America that reading difficulties are not easily explained by laziness or low intelligence. Instead they may lie in a neurodevelopmental condition that effective teaching methods can address. To avoid confusion about the term “dyslexia,” many states have incorporated the IDA definition into their laws.

Today, we live in a world where complex issues often are reduced to sound bites empty of real content. And in this world, those who tamper with commonly understood language do so at their peril. As Drs. Elliott and Grikorenko have acknowledged, the debate they launched has reached far beyond their own simple question. The dyslexia debate, in some places, has degenerated into a debate about whether dyslexia, as we currently understand it, is real at all. As a result, Drs. Elliot’s and Grigorenko’s own position has been characterized in ways remote from anything they have written or proposed. By tampering with the language, Drs. Elliott and Grigorenko have themselves become misunderstood.

“We believe that ‘dyslexia’ is a beautiful word. True, it describes a category of learning disorders. But it also describes a community, a body of knowledge, a category of law, a more positive sense of self, and a belief about the progress we can achieve together.”

We in this field, whether we be scientists, educators, or advocates, should understand, more than anyone else, the importance of words. Language and limitations in mastering it are the focus of our work. Changing the accepted language of our field may be appropriate for academic speculation. But changing words has no positive consequence for those who live with this condition. 

In her eloquent defense of the word “dyslexia,” Maryanne Wolf, a leading reading scientist at Tufts University, stated that what is most important about this word is that it tells a child who struggles to read, “It is not your fault.” My own story speaks to that point.

I came to the International Dyslexia Association not as a professional but as a parent. After my son was diagnosed with learning disorders, he entered The Lab School of Washington as a fourth grader unable to read at all. More than a year later, in preparation for a parent conference, I received a twenty-page document describing testing and detailing deficiencies in a number of mental processes, some of which I never imagined existed at all. It was excruciating to read, but finally I reached the last page where his standardized test scores appeared. After learning about all of the things he could not do well, I saw his reading score. He was reading at the fifth grade level.

I don’t recall that the word “dyslexia” ever appeared in that report. Yet this word guided us to a school that could teach him to read. It brought to that school teachers and staff who were inspired by the challenge of teaching children for whom reading acquisition would be a very difficult task. Finally, it told my son that he was not stupid, but simply had a condition that meant he would have to work harder to master some skills.

The word “dyslexia” may not satisfy Drs. Elliott’s and Grikorenko’s standards as a scientific definition. At the International Dyslexia Association we understand the science behind reading disorders. We also understand the power of common language and the mission and purpose it can provide. We believe that “dyslexia” is a beautiful word. True, it describes a category of learning disorders. But it also describes a community, a body of knowledge, a category of law, a more positive sense of self, and a belief about the progress we can achieve together. We will continue to use the word “dyslexia” now and in the future.

Hal Malchow is a successful businessman and political consultant who has provided fundraising services for groups like the American Red Cross, the Democratic National Committee, the US Olympic committee and many others. He has worked for six presidential candidates. Hal co-authored of The Sword of Darrow, a young adult fantasy novel, with his them eight-year old dyslexic son, Alex. Through that association Hal joined the IDA Board in 2011 and is now the president-elect. 

Copyright © 2014 International Dyslexia Association (IDA). We encourage sharing of Examiner articles. If portions are cited, please make appropriate reference. Articles may not be reprinted for the purpose of resale.

ELLIOTT: The term “Dyslexia” has no value; STEIN: Yes it does!

The Daily Beast headline is a tad over the top:Your Kid’s Dyslexia Diagnosis Is B.S.

According to Professor Elliott: “Dyslexia” has become a catch-all term for everything from poor reading skills to complex speech disorders. It’s poorly understood and largely over-diagnosed. Is it time to retire the word “dyslexic”?

For more on Elliott’s viewpoints on dyslexia, be sure to read his book, published this month: The Dyslexia Debate by the Cambridge University Press. It is exceptionally well supported with research (if you don’t agree with the article, at least read the References section… its about 75 pages!) and the actual premise (not the one the press is making up so they an start a brawl) is sound. All learning disorders are not “Dyslexia.” That’s simple enough. And it is a true statement. The solution to the problem is lose the term. That’s a little crazy, but lets go with that anyway. Gary’s definition: Dyslexia is a phonological processing disorder that disrupts the ability to understand sound-symbol relationships and this affects reading comprehension, rate and fluency. If everyone agreed with this, there would be no problem

Dr. Stein says it does exist:

About this talk: Professor John Stein refutes the argument put forward by Professor Julian Elliot that dyslexia does not exist. He also considers how the definition of dyslexia could be tightened. About the speaker: John Stein is a professor of neuroscience in Oxford University Medical School. He is particularly interested in the auditory and visual perceptual impairments suffered by dyslexic children.

Doctor: ADHD Does Not Exist

Originally posted on TIME:

This Wednesday, an article in the New York Times reported that from 2008 to 2012 the number of adults taking medications for ADHD increased by 53% and that among young American adults, it nearly doubled. While this is a staggering statistic and points to younger generations becoming frequently reliant on stimulants, frankly, I’m not too surprised. Over my 50-year career in behavioral neurology and treating patients with ADHD, it has been in the past decade that I have seen these diagnoses truly skyrocket. Every day my colleagues and I see more and more people coming in claiming they have trouble paying attention at school or work and diagnosing themselves with ADHD.

And why shouldn’t they?

If someone finds it difficult to pay attention or feels somewhat hyperactive, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder has those symptoms right there in its name. It’s an easy catchall phrase that saves time for doctors to boot. But…

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ReBlog: The Myth That “ADHD Doesn’t Exist”


Friday, March 7, 2014

The Myth That “ADHD Doesn’t Exist”

guest post by Mary V. Solanto, PhD
Recently, there has been much attention paid to an article entitled “ADHD Doesn’t Exist” that appeared in a number of major U.S. publications, based on a book of the same name just published by Richard Saul, MD. Dr. Saul, who describes himself as a behavioral neurologist, makes his point by describing cases of children who came to him exhibiting signs suggestive of ADHD (difficulty concentrating, poor academic work etc), but who turned out upon closer examination to instead have a learning disorder, anxiety, impaired vision, or even bipolar disorder. His implication is that all children who are referred for attention or behavior problems will be found instead to have another condition that accounts for their symptoms. Abundant evidence indicates otherwise.
Any reputable, knowledgeable mental health practitioner will take care to rule out these alternative conditions as the exclusive or primary cause of a child’s attention or behavior problems before diagnosing ADHD. But after other possible disorders are ruled out, a significant number of children meet the formal criteria for ADHD, as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. These are: (1) symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that are extreme for the child’s age; (2) that occur both at home and at school; (3) with clear evidence that the symptoms reduce the quality of the child’s social, academic, or occupational functioning; (4) that are chronic, starting before age 12 and lasting at least 6 months; and (5) are not explained by another disorder.
Evidence that ADHD is a real disorder—and specifically a brain disorder—comes from several major sources. Neuroimaging has demonstrated that children with ADHD show (a) structural size differences in relevant brain areas and (b) less activation of brain regions that control attention, impulses and motor activity, organization, and planning, and that many of these differences persist to adulthood as well. Finally, family studies indicate that the condition is highly heritable and point to a genetic predisposition in the great majority of cases.
The unfortunate impact of this and other publications that are not fact-based is that they add to the stigma of ADHD and hinder the diagnosis and treatment of thousands of people who do have ADHD, and whose lives would be significantly improved with treatment.

GED changes, controversy, competition


According to the New York Times, the new GED test coming in 2014 will be harder for young adults to pass. Teachers seem more afraid of the new test than their students, as they need to consider how to teach new content rather than continue using the tried and true curricula of the past. Change is good. Raising the bar and modernizing a test to match new and modern educational standards and delivery technologies cannot help but raise instructional quality among adult educators, many of whom have no required standards, certification or licenses for teaching. As to the competition of new equivalency tests with the publishers of the GED, market competition leads to higher quality products and lower prices overall. The content will be pretty much the same… These are normed, criterion referenced tests… What a high school graduate is supposed to be able to do academically does not change much from school to school, and will be similar across tests. Here’s the NYT article.

Raising the G.E.D. Bar Stirs Concern for Students


Educators worry that new standards in January will make it harder for young adults to pass the high school equivalency exam.

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deep within myself


An exceptional site for all to get an idea of what it is like to be female and have Asperger’s.

Originally posted on Everyday Asperger's:

I want to please you. I want to be ‘normal.’ I want to come out of my shell and fit in. I want you to see me in all my glory and love me in my completion. I want to be all you ever wanted and needed.

I hear, from deep within myself.

I want to dance like no one is watching. Believe no one is watching, and spin and spin without a care in the world. I want to be free. Open to all without fear of over-exposure.

I cry, from deep within myself.

Why is it that my existence seems so different and locked up? A prisoner without a key? Why must I continue to pace, one corner to the next, chiseling away at invisible barriers?

I pound, from deep within myself.

I am tired of waking up to me. This sameness unaltered in every way—still tired. Still…

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Keys to Academic Success for ADHD College Students

Keys to Academic Success for ADHD College Students

Learning how to get organized, study hard, and stay ahead academically is as essential as reading Shakespeare for ADHD college students.

By Michael Sandler

College Is a Whole New World

Even if you sailed smoothly through high school, don’t be surprised to encounter choppy seas at college. Now it’s up to you to impose the structure, discipline, accountability, and organization needed for academic success.  At the same time, you’re nose-to-nose with an ADDer’s biggest challenges: term papers and final exams.  Follow these tips to help you stay the course.  MORE…

Video games a hot topic!

1Video game addiction increases with ADHD, autism? Poppycock.