Modeling and Developing a Dyslexia Support System

Modeling and Developing a Dyslexia Support System

Tim Deignan (Independent Consultant, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-183-2.ch013

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A report commissioned by the UK government, the Rose (2009) review of dyslexia and literacy difficulties, defines dyslexia as “a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling” (p.30). The Rose Report notes that there is generally wide acceptance of both dyslexia as an identifiable developmental difficulty and of the need to provide learning support for dyslexic students. However, there are some who question the rationale of this argument, holding the view that ‘dyslexia’ as a concept lacks validity. For example, Professor Julian Elliot of Durham University, speaking about dyslexia on a Channel 4 (2005) TV program entitled ‘The Dyslexia Myth’, commented, ‘I can’t define it’. Other academics interviewed on the program have argued that it is not helpful to isolate a special group of poor readers and to identify them as dyslexic. They do not deny the difficulties experienced by individuals classified as dyslexic, but challenge the validity of dyslexia as a construct to explain and remediate these difficulties. In oral evidence to the UK House of Commons, Elliot has argued that

there is no test in neuroscience to identify an individual child who you might want to describe as dyslexic or whatever. These are pipedreams…Then there is a whole range of symptoms and like a horoscope, if you look at a horoscope whichever one you look at you will find you fit…The idea that you can sub-divide the population of people struggling to learn to read into dyslexics and non-dyslexics is untenable…the term itself is conceptually flawed. (Elliot, 2009)

The argument against identifying and supporting dyslexic learners relates to issues of equality and also of cost-effectiveness, that funding should be diverted away from so-called ‘dyslexics’ to instead provide interventions for all learners with poor reading skills. However, dyslexia organizations, such as the Dyslexia Institute and the British Dyslexia Association, have criticized the ‘dyslexia myth’ argument for being too narrowly focused and for not recognising that dyslexia is not associated solely with reading difficulties. These criticisms notwithstanding, similar arguments in relation to validity and cost-effectiveness are played out in the higher education sector. David Lammy (2009), then UK Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, put the annual cost of student support in higher education at £5 billion. Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs) make up a significant part of this support cost. Skill (2009), the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, describe how the DSA was “first introduced by the Department of Education and Employment (DfEE) in 1987, and formalized as DSA in 1991” (p.30). The then UK Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) (2009) [now Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)] stated that, “overall, 49% of students who report a disability are also in receipt of DSA”. According to the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP, 2009a), “the vast majority of DSAs applicants are dyslexic” (p.12).

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