Memorandum submitted by Ruth Allen (LI
1. Statement of Interest. I work for The
Dyslexia Association, a charity serving a large area of the East
Midlands. We give free advice to parents about dyslexia identification
and support for children at school, and we also offer private
screening, assessment and tuition for children. I submit a personal
opinion because the early deadline has not given me the time I
would normally take to discuss the subject with my colleagues.
2. Summary. I am concerned that we encounter
many enquiries from parents whose children are repeatedly denied
any proper diagnostic investigation through school of their potential
dyslexic difficulties. These children are at severe risk of lifetime
problems because of the lack of a timely intervention to meet
their needs. They would be helped by a government policy based
on a clear description of dyslexia that signposts the neurological
difficulties involved and links dyslexia to learning need.
3. There is no single, universally accepted
definition of dyslexia. Many different statements have been formulated.
Most are not strictly definitions, but attempts to describe dyslexia.
This does not mean that the condition is non-existent or trivial.
Rather, it indicates that dyslexia is complex and multi-faceted.
Dyslexic individuals are all different, though all show facets
of a common pattern.
4. The British Psychological Society (1999)
proposed a superficially clear "definition": "Dyslexia
is evident when accurate and fluent word reading and/or spelling
develops very incompletely or with great difficulty."
However, the BPS report acknowledges (DECP 6.2)
that this "definition" was made purely for narrow academic
research purposes. Crucially, the BPS also acknowledge that "formulation
in the matter of learning difficulty is essentially a separate
and more extensive endeavour". In other words, the BPS researchers
never intended their "definition" to be used to influence
SEN provision, and do not consider it suitable for that purpose.
Sadly, their caveat has been widely overlooked
amongst local authorities and teachers making day-to-day provision
in schools. To an authority struggling with a tight budget, the
restrictiveness of the BPS definition may be attractive in providing
criteria to "justify" arbitrary restrictions on where
funding should be placed. However, the "definition"
is not at all helpful to teachers or parents looking for ways
to help a child who is failing to progress.
5. An extension which looks at causation,
such as "Dyslexia is a difficulty in the acquisition of accurate
and/or fluent word reading, spelling and writing that is neurological
in origin" (I Smythe) is rather more helpful, particularly
when it is fleshed out with a list of difficulties, such as phonological
perception, auditory and visual memory and speed of information
processing, which are all factors which may be relevant. This
leads towards tools for identifying and making provision for the
learning needs of children with difficulties in acquiring literacy.
Dyslexia screens based on investigation of typically dyslexic
neurological difficulty (eg Lucid or NfER) provide an accessible
means for the non-specialist teacher to sketch out an individual
profile of strengths and difficulties. More detailed assessment
may follow as necessary.
6. Longer and more descriptive "definitions"
tend to include causal hypotheses and/or lists of "indicator"
characteristics that are commonly present alongside the core literacy
difficulty. An example is the British Dyslexia Association "definition".
Such "definitions" are inherently imprecise and full
of "maybe"s, but they match the multi-dimensional nature
of dyslexia and provide the pointers for identifying individual
needs and learning patterns.
7. The Scottish Parliament has recently
(2009) developed a descriptive "working definition"
of dyslexia, which lists a range of difficulties commonly associated
with dyslexia, and highlights the specific nature of the difficulty.
In a rider, it encourages early identification and well targeted
teaching, and contrasts the frustration and underachievement associated
with unaddressed dyslexia with the desirable educational and social
outcomes that can be achieved with appropriate teaching. I feel
that this is a helpful basis for an educational policy.
8. Dyslexic pupils have needs which go beyond
learning to read and write at the word level. There is good evidence
to show that most dyslexic children can acquire literacy with
the right support (see Singleton and the No to Failure
report), but many will never reach the degree of competence and
automaticity expected for their overall ability. Well targeted
early intervention pays huge dividends, but there is also a need
for ongoing vigilance, for example when supporting older students
in structuring information or working with complex text. This
should be noted in any official description of dyslexia.
9. Government policy on dyslexia should
obviously be based on a clear understanding of what is meant by
dyslexia, but this does not necessarily mean that there is a need
for a definition in a precise logical sense. The term "definition"
may suggest that we are looking for a precise "yes or no"
test to determine whether or not an individual has dyslexia. Such
a simplistic test would be profoundly unhelpful and indeed damaging.
Teachers will be better guided by a descriptive statement which
enables children to be identified with a range of different neurological
profiles that may pose barriers to their acquisition of literacy.
British Psychological Society: Report by a Working
Party of DECP (1999). Dyslexia, Literacy and Psychological
"The working definition adopted in this
report has implications for educational provision. There is, however,
no ready formula to link a particular pattern or level of dyslexic
difficulty to a particular formulation of learning difficulty
or provision. The Code of Practice does not specify definitional
features of dyslexia, but catalogues possible causal factors,
aspects of curriculum difficulty, and emotional/motivation al
consequences, all under the umbrella of `the child's learning
difficulty'. Formulation on the matter of a learning difficulty,
then, is essentially a separate, and more extensive, endeavour
than formulation in the matter of dyslexia."
British Dyslexia Association definition of dyslexia:
"Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty
which mainly affects the development of literacy and language
It is likely to be present at birth and to be
lifelong in its effects. It is characterised by difficulties with
phonological processing, rapid naming, working memory, processing
speed, and the automatic development of skills that may not match
up to an individual's other cognitive abilities.
It tends to be resistant to conventional teaching
methods, but its effects can be mitigated by appropriately specific
intervention, including the application of information technology
and supportive counselling."
Scottish Parliament working definition of dyslexia:
"Dyslexia can be described as a continuum
of difficulties in learning to read, write and/or spell, which
persist despite the provision of appropriate learning opportunities.
These difficulties often do not reflect an individual's cognitive
abilities and may not be typical of performance in other areas.
The impact of dyslexia as a barrier to learning
varies in degree according to the learning and teaching environment,
as there are often associated difficulties such as:
auditory and/or visual processing of
oral language skills and reading fluency;
short-term and working memory;
sequencing and directionality;
Motor skills and co-ordination may also be affected.
Dyslexia exists in all cultures and across the
range of abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. It is a hereditary,
life-long, neurodevelopmental condition. Unidentified, dyslexia
is likely to result in low self esteem, high stress, atypical
behaviour, and low achievement.
Learners with dyslexia will benefit from early
identification, appropriate intervention and targeted effective
teaching, enabling them to become successful learners, confident
individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens."