TES: Is dyslexia a middle-class badge for illiteracy?

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MonaMMcNee
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Dyslexia, activated or not.

Post by MonaMMcNee » Sat Sep 26, 2009 8:07 am

I am no brain scientist. But I can report on what I see. Diet is not a crucial factor in “dyslexia”. If it were, all siblings in a family would suffer. But some are dyslexic, some not, and a parent can say, “I could see there was something different.” Siblings fed together have similarities and differences. You do not cure dyslexia: you are born and die dyslexic.
We are told that the infant brain is flexible. Babies have no habits. Some babies become children who can learn to read no matter what kind of teaching or lack of teaching goes on. But there is a large group, a good 10%, born and die dyslexic.
I can only try to describe in non-scientific terms, what seems to happen. It is as if we have strings in our brain, fastened at one end. If all are taught good systematic phonics, they all learn, and the loose end gets fastened down securely. But if the reading lessons are two things: (1) based on storybooks, sentences, guessing, look-say, “learning words”, and (2) LACK systematic phonics, lack paying attention to letters one or two at a time left to right, such deprived children flounder about. They go to school with only one fairly understood idea, that they are going to learn to read. They do not learn and see others that DO learn, and the dismay sets in... disruption, humiliation, frustration ... all unhelpful to discipline etc.
I do not try to identify one skill for each child. That is why the term “multi-sensory” came in. But these unhelpful experts say we should “teach to the strengths” ! The government “Identifying... dyslexics...” goes against all I do! Keep it simple, surely? I really do not wish to fund the latest government mess, “Identifying... dyslexia..”. The training stipulated by the BDA, “the pattern of training is complex and difficult to unravel”. Will you help me to challenge that?
Going back to the strings idea, perhaps enough bad “teaching” will yank even the fixed end until the person just does not want to expose himself to any more frustration and opts out of the written word completely. Some who do learn end up writing always in capital letters. (This solves the b/d confusion for them.)
But if the day ever comes when all schools UNDERSTAND systematic phonics and teach letters>sounds, IMO the dyslexia epidemic will shrink. Even the “Letters and Sounds” version is better than look-say, so literacy will improve. We just need that final step to excellence - especially for dyslexics. A mix of methods keeps far too much poison in the mental diet!

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Sat Sep 26, 2009 8:39 am

Mona wrote:You do not cure dyslexia: you are born and die dyslexic.
This is a catchy one-liner but I think it may actually hinder rather than help your cause, Mona.

If 'dyslexia' means 'serious problems with reading and spelling', which it does in the minds of most people, then your one-liner means that people are born and die with reading and spelling problems' - the problems can't be cured. That is a very depressing message.

The message we surely want to convey, however, is not this depressing one, but rather that serious reading and spelling problems need never arise in the first place if the teaching is right, and that if children have been given wrong teaching to start with, a switch to good teaching can cure the problems. In other words, people don't have to 'die dyslexic' in the sense of having serious reading and spelling problems until they draw their last breath.

Jenny C.

MonaMMcNee
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Dyslexia: terminology

Post by MonaMMcNee » Sat Sep 26, 2009 9:29 am

Jenny (Chew) has a strong background of Latin and is very
aware of the bits that make up a word. “Dyslexia” is by now in
common parlance a condition.
I say it is “a latent potential to muddlement, “ where reading is
concerned. It remains dormant, powerless, with the right systematic
phonics start. It becomes troublesome if started with look-say etc.

If Jennie would like to battle the whole population, with its
general idea that “dyslexia” is a condition somehow DIFFERENT
from just illiteracy, she will work with the Latin experts. She
could invent a new word – but there already is one, “illiteracy”.
Using the common meaning, I see dyslexia as a kind of mental allergy
where the brain works fine if properly fed bottom-up from letters,
but gets in a tangle if started with storybooks, sentences, top-down, and the pupil left to work out for himself how letters work.

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Sat Sep 26, 2009 11:36 am

I agree with you, Mona, that there's a widespread perception that '“dyslexia” is a condition somehow DIFFERENT from just illiteracy' - I am not trying to 'battle the whole population' on that.

What I'm saying is that in my experience, people don't start using the label 'dyslexic' until literacy problems start manifesting themselves, and they stop using the label if the literacy problems are remediated. So my experience is of people equating 'dyslexia' with 'literacy problems', even if they think that the problems are in a special category. I'm basing this on 17 years of having responsibility for college students aged 16+ who were labelled 'dyslexic'. I dealt with over 500 of them during that period, and never once did students, their parents or my colleagues who taught them make comments suggesting that they were 'dyslexic' but had no problems with reading and/or spelling - it was always problems with reading and/or spelling that caused people to start thinking in terms of 'dyslexia'.

There are really two points at issue about the man-in-the-street's perception of 'dyslexia': 1. does he think that '"dyslexia' is a condition somehow DIFFERENT from just illiteracy'?, and 2. does he use the term 'dyslexic' of people who don't manifest actual literacy problems? I think you and I agree, Mona, that the answer to 1. is 'yes'. On the basis of my experience, however, I have to say that my answer to 2. is 'no', whereas your answer must be 'yes' if you think that the general population agrees that people are born and die dyslexic. You are saying, in effect, that even if you yourself have completely remediated someone's reading and spelling problems, that person will still die 'dyslexic' - I am just saying that I think that most people will find this very puzzling, because they stop thinking of someone as 'dyslexic' once that person stops having reading and spelling problems. 'I used to be dyslexic but I'm not any longer' was something I heard quite often from my students.

I'd really like to hear from others on this, however.

Jenny C.

Rod Everson
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Re: Dyslexia, activated or not.

Post by Rod Everson » Sat Sep 26, 2009 4:31 pm

MonaMMcNee wrote:I am no brain scientist. But I can report on what I see. Diet is not a crucial factor in “dyslexia”. If it were, all siblings in a family would suffer. But some are dyslexic, some not, and a parent can say, “I could see there was something different.” Siblings fed together have similarities and differences.
Mona, just because the are siblings does not mean they have exactly the same genetic makeup. If that were the case, all siblings would be identical. If diet proves to be a factor, as I suspect will be the case, it is likely that the presence or absence of a particular nutrient "activates" (to use your terminology, which is quite appropriate here) a genetic predisposition possessed by one sibling but absent in another.

Beyond that, the mother's diet clearly matters to individual siblings, as the children born with fetal alcohol syndrome illustrate. And I'm perfectly willing to concede the possibility that it's the mother's diet that turns out to matter in the end. But I do suspect that nutrition plays a role given the significant dietary changes that have occurred over the past several decades. I also realize this isn't the only possible explanation, or that there might be nothing to it at all, but it's possible.

Rod Everson

Rod Everson
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Post by Rod Everson » Sat Sep 26, 2009 6:26 pm

chew8 wrote:
What I'm saying is that in my experience, people don't start using the label 'dyslexic' until literacy problems start manifesting themselves, and they stop using the label if the literacy problems are remediated.

I'd really like to hear from others on this, however.

Jenny C.
I agree with your perception, Jenny. Dyslexia is obviously viewed as a problem with reading because that is how it was originally defined essentially. When people began looking for causes of the reading problem (the dyslexia) things began to get confusing.

Those holding opinions like your own tend to view dyslexia as "dysteachia" and therefore not a malady at all, just the logical outcome of poor choices of curricula and/or presentation of the curricula. In that case, dyslexia disappears, essentially.

Those holding opinions that an underlying physical cause is responsible, such as vision or and auditory processing issue, for example, continue to assert that dyslexia exists beyond "dysteachia" and that a search for root causes should continue. Furthermore, if any such root causes are found, it would likely make sense to address them before forging ahead too far with reading instruction, if possible.

While I actually don't like the label "dyslexia," preferring to focus on the root causes themselves, we never seem to get past the argument whether a condition exists that needs root causes to explain. As Mona said, she's certain dyslexia exists, as am I and as are many parents who've watched younger siblings fly by an otherwise normal older child in reading ability for no apparent reason.

As for dyslexia disappearing once remediated, that depends on your point of view. If, like you, it's viewed as "dysteachia" then of course it disappears. However, from your point of view, it is unlikely that you will recognize that many of those students whose dyslexia "disappeared" still do not read for extended periods because of the discomfort the task generates. Others are unwittingly reading using the input to only one eye, while their brain ignores all input from the other eye. And others just finally got their visual skills developed to the point where reading became comfortable, and where learning to read became easier.

A better outcome, given an underlying vision skills issue as a cause, is to fix the underlying problem using one of your orthoptists and then fill in any gaps in the reading instruction. Once done, is that child dyslexic? I maintain he is, because he carries the genetic predisposition to being so and is quite likely to pass it on if he has a few children. Does it make sense to think of a child as being dyslexic before he encounters difficulty with reading instruction? Again, I maintain the answer is yes because it's at least possible that we will find that dyslexia is triggered by some factor in the diet or environment, or the maternal environment, that, if addressed, puts the child on the right course before reading instruction ever begins.

Taking this argument one step further, suppose via this search for causation a dietary trigger were found to be at work in virtually all cases of dyslexia (no, I don't believe that, but for argument's sake, I'm stating it) and that the dietary change was easy, essentially costless and believed by all. Presumably all would make the adjustment and then, yes, dyslexia would disappear. Would it still exist though? Of course, just as smallpox still exists, but is only rarely found in the population anymore.

Before one will even consider the nature of root causes, however, one has to convince oneself that more than just "dysteachia" explains dyslexia.

Rod Everson

JIM CURRAN
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Subject

Post by JIM CURRAN » Sat Sep 26, 2009 8:18 pm

"Dyslexia is an interesting example of the intersection between an individual behavior ( language ) and a cultural invention ( literacy). While there cannot be genes for reading or other recent cultural inventions ( consider agriculture, banking and football ) there can be genetic influences on evolved cognitive and behavioral traits necessary for proficiency in such cultural inventions.

Because there is now extensive evidence of genetic influences on individual differences on most domains of cognition and behavior it is not surprising that there are genetic influences on reading and spelling skills."

( Genetics of Dyslexia: Pennington & Olson page 453 )

Hugo
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TES: Is dyslexia a middle class badge for illiteracy?

Post by Hugo » Sun Sep 27, 2009 12:33 pm

Rod says: Of course I made your point, as I agree with your position that there is not likely to be a "literacy gene" that goes awry, thereby causing "dyslexia." You are wrong, however, to then claim that it has nothing to do with literacy (reading) at all.

and:

If a subset of students have difficulty learning to read, and manifest many of the same symptoms, it's perfectly logical to put a name to it. We've chosen "dyslexia" for the purpose, just as we've chosen ADHD to describe another set of symptoms. All "dyslexia" is then is a name we've chosen to acknowledge the existence of an issue. Your claim that by naming it we've stopped looking for underlying causation is a stretch.


“Putting a name to it” is diagnosing a condition. In this case a neurological condition so apparently subtle that after about 100 years of research we have nothing but competitive muddle and wild assertions to show for it. We still have no agreed diagnostic criteria! This does not prevent any and everyone diagnosing it. As a vet, this brings me to the brink of despair. ‘Diagnose’ is a grown-up word for a grown-up activity. It demands knowledge but it also demands humility. The dyslexia world is breathtakingly short on that.

An issue is not the same as a syndrome. The ‘symptoms’ (why do we medicalise?) are so variable, so intermittent, often so easily explicable by other means.


Rod says: It seems to me that you're saying that even though evidence exists for the existence of an anomalous pattern of behavior regarding reading acquisition, you want to resist putting a name to that pattern just because we don't know why it occurs. Using that logic, early man would not have named the seasons until they understood their relationship to the earth's rotation around the sun. Did they name the seasons to cover their embarrassment at not understanding their causation? And did man stop looking for said causation. I don't think so.


I don’t say that there is a consistent anomalous pattern of behaviour – quite the opposite. A couple of decades of dogged reading of the literature has shown that almost any behaviour you care to mention has been used by someone, somewhere, as ‘diagnostic’. There is no group of people who show a consistent, repeatable set of signs enabling an agreed diagnosis. His ‘dyslexics’ are almost never the same as hers, or his.

It’s nothing like the seasons! These are consistent, reliable, repeatable (and repeated) ‘behaviours’ upon which we all agree. Summer has absolutely set characteristics which absolutely reliably differ from summer’s etc etc. ‘Dyslexia’ is nothing like this.


Jenny Chew says: If 'dyslexia' means 'serious problems with reading and spelling', which it does in the minds of most people, then your one-liner means that people are born and die with reading and spelling problems' - the problems can't be cured. That is a very depressing message.


Thanks again, Jenny, for wisdom. My anti-dyslexia message is positive and intended to move us forward precisely because the “born and die dyslexic” one is so profoundly depressing. It is a maladaptive attribution writ large – industrial grade learned helplessness.


Mona says: Jenny (Chew) has a strong background of Latin and is very
aware of the bits that make up a word. “Dyslexia” is by now in
common parlance a condition.


(Just for the record, for Latin read Greek, I think.) Whether something is in common parlance or not has nothing much to do with its likely truth. “Possession” used to be common parlance for a plethora of mental conditions, including epilepsy.


Mona says: I see dyslexia as a kind of mental allergy


This is a perfect example of sciency talk – now we’re invoking the immune system! (Back to Galaburda?)


Jim says: "Dyslexia is an interesting example of the intersection between an individual behavior ( language ) and a cultural invention ( literacy). While there cannot be genes for reading or other recent cultural inventions ( consider agriculture, banking and football ) there can be genetic influences on evolved cognitive and behavioral traits necessary for proficiency in such cultural inventions.


This is more like it! “Genes” (rather loosely invoked) interact with and affect (sometimes variably) every aspect of us. So there will be genetic effects on literacy. It is not helpful, though, to imagine a genetic defect specific to literacy – as Jim points out. This will inevitably take us away from studying what we should be studying. (And genetics is horrendously complicated, the field itself being very cautious indeed about extrapolating into broad and multi-influenced areas like, say, literacy, which is an activity embedded in so much more than simple cognition.

IMO ‘dyslexia’ will one day fairly soon be shown not to have been a single syndrome. It will be shown that there is no single, simple, specific deficit which disables only literacy acquisition. Much of the problem will be shown to be far more mundane and related to excruciatingly everyday social or affective issues (and some ‘dysteachia’). Some will relate to a natural spectrum of traits and attitudes, under some genetic influence, as suggested by Jim. A small number of perceptual problems, probably of low morbidity (related probably to fine eye control, perhaps to auditory issues), will have been identified. Taking the ‘lexia’ away from the debate around these problems which only tangentially relate to literacy will have enabled us to move forward against them more effectively.

I am married to a woman, and father to a son, profoundly uninterested in spelling. They greet the news that, say, there are two ‘m’s in accommodation with calm and indifference. They will write ‘accomodation’ again tomorrow without feeling the need to worry, and certainly not to check. My daughter, on the other hand, will get it right and (and this is the point) she will feel that she should get it right. Sometimes I wonder if this is a trait on a spectrum and whether there are other traits on other spectrums (or –a) which might affect literacy. I wonder sometimes whether, if we all relaxed about spelling a bit, most of the problem (which is, IMO, largely an affective one) will go away? People take different aspects of literacy differently seriously according to their character traits, perhaps. Literacy itself perhaps ought to be allowed to run about on a spectrum. This I really would like to hear about!
www.hugokerr.info

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:46 pm

Thanks for the agreement with me which you express above, Hugo. The statement of mine which you quote encapsulates the basic points that I've been trying to make, which are that most people are likely to find the idea that 'you are born and die dyslexic' extremely depressing and that I think Mona would help rather than hinder her own cause by dropping it.

The likelihood that people will find this idea depressing is independent of whether or not they know the etymological roots of the word 'dyslexia' (Greek, as you say, rather than Latin), whether or not they think that 'dyslexics' are born with a 'brain glitch', whether or not they regard vision problems as likely to cause literacy problems, whether or not they see 'dyslexia' as a distinct category of literacy problem etc. What will be at the forefront of their minds will not be these things but the actual literacy problems experienced by themselves or family members, and they will find it pretty devastating to be told something that they interpret as meaning that these literacy problems are incurable.

I don't agree 100% with what you say in your last paragraph about spelling, but will not comment on that now.

Jenny C.

Rod Everson
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Re: TES: Is dyslexia a middle class badge for illiteracy?

Post by Rod Everson » Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:38 pm

Hugo wrote:

IMO ‘dyslexia’ will one day fairly soon be shown not to have been a single syndrome. It will be shown that there is no single, simple, specific deficit which disables only literacy acquisition. Much of the problem will be shown to be far more mundane and related to excruciatingly everyday social or affective issues (and some ‘dysteachia’). Some will relate to a natural spectrum of traits and attitudes, under some genetic influence, as suggested by Jim. A small number of perceptual problems, probably of low morbidity (related probably to fine eye control, perhaps to auditory issues), will have been identified.
Hugo,

I don't disagree with this, but I think that we will find that the number of "perceptual problems" related to "fine eye control" and associated vision issues will be significantly larger than you might expect.

Kids don't read for lots of reasons, but there is clearly a subset of these who struggle for reasons that are poorly understood and who do not all present in the same way. Yet, there are enough similarities that is is only natural to tack a name to their "condition." I don't disagree that the label is misleading in many ways, but good luck on getting the English world to stop using it.

For my part, as long as there are parents who are concerned that their child is "dyslexic" because they struggle with reading, I will continue to use the term to communicate with them, in the hopes of eventually convincing them that they need to dig deeper for the root causes. I will also continue to warn them that those root causes are very likely to be genetic, so they will be alert to future problems in the hope of avoiding some of the pain they or their children have suffered as a result of our poor understanding of those root causes.

And Jim, I completely agree with the quote you posted.

Rod Everson

yvonne meyer
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Post by yvonne meyer » Sun Sep 27, 2009 10:24 pm

One of our Australian politicians, Steve Fielding, has been in the news lately.

"... The Family First Senator made the admission after an embarrassing gaffe when he referred to fiscal policy as physical policy.

He then tried to spell what he meant, offering F-I-S-K-A-L..."

The news article then goes on to say that Senator Fielding had met Prof Max Coltheart who, "... said the technical terms for what affects Senator Fielding were developmental apraxia of speech and developmental surface dyspraxia, along with dyslexia."

Prof Coltheart makes some important points when he explains that Fielding has seperate porblems which feed into each other.

"People with developmental dyspraxia find it very hard to say words with adjacent consonants, like the word fiscal," Prof Coltheart said.

"So what a person with this disorder would often do is insert a vowel between two consonants. That is why "fiscal" came out as "physical".

Prof Coltheart then goes on to point out that Fielding also suffered from a lack of teaching in school which is why he spelt fiscal with a 'k' which Coltheart describes differently, (using the term 'surface').

Prof Coltheart also says that while Fielding has genetic problems, if they had been picked up by his teachers, he could have been treated. What the article does not say but I know from previous discussions with Prof Coltheart is that the treatment for both surface and genetic dyslexia and/or dyspraxia is direct, explicit, intensive and systematic instruction in synthetic phonics.

What the scientific research has established beyond a doubt is that a small percentage of our population find it significantly harder to master decoding/recoding. They need the same synthetic phonic instruction as everyone else - but they need more of it. With even with the most effective instruction, some will continue to find it harder than most of us.

What the scientific research has established is that these people have difficulty in hearing, remembering and saying the seperate phonemes that make up words.

The scientific research has proven that it has absolutely nothing to do with their vision.

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/fun ... 5779989337

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maizie
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Post by maizie » Sun Sep 27, 2009 10:49 pm

Prof Coltheart said Senator Fielding was not taught that in primary school and was forced to read aloud in class.

"That is just cruel," he said.

The fact he spelt fiscal with a 'k' confirmed Senator Fielding also suffered developmental surface dyspraxia.

"People with this problem spell as the word sounds, so yacht would become yot, fiscal becomes fiskal," Prof Coltheart said.
Oh dear me, Yvonne. This is either very garbled reporting or Prof. Coltheart is seriously confused.

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Sun Sep 27, 2009 11:09 pm

Rod wrote:For my part, as long as there are parents who are concerned that their child is "dyslexic" because they struggle with reading, I will continue to use the term to communicate with them...
I took this to mean that Rod is comfortable using the term 'dyslexic' in the interests of communicating with parents who use that term in expressing concern about their children to him. That strikes me as quite reasonable, even if it means that he is sometimes using the term of types of problems that others (e.g. Coltheart) might not classify as 'dyslexia'. Coltheart might define 'dyslexia' in such a way as to rule out vision problems as a possible cause, but this wouldn't necessarily mean that vision problems were never a cause of any reading problems.

Jenny C.

Judy
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Post by Judy » Sun Sep 27, 2009 11:40 pm

Coltheart might define 'dyslexia' in such a way as to rule out vision problems as a possible cause, but this wouldn't necessarily mean that vision problems were never a cause of any reading problems.
No matter what Coltheart or 'research' may say, vision problems are clearly a cause of some reading problems - I've seen it enough times in practice! But thankfully it seems to be relatively easy to correct if only it is identified and addressed.

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Post by Katrina » Mon Sep 28, 2009 3:22 am

For those of you interested in the work of Professor Coltheart I found this conference presentation from 2006:

http://www.cheri.com.au/PDF_Files/CHERI ... artMax.pdf
Causes and treatments for children's reading difficulties
Poor phonics (nonword reading) ability –that is, developmental phonological dyslexia.
•This is well understood now.
•Associated with phonological (speech processing) problems before reading, so identifiable before reading begins i.e. in kindergarten.
•Genetic influence -link to chromosome 6
•Treatable in kindergarten by phonemic (sound) training e.g. "I Spy" games, and later by systematic phonics programs, e.g. the SWELL program from Macquarie, or THRASS, or Jolly Phonics, or the Spalding program, or Letterland.

Causes and treatments for children's reading difficulties
Poor sight vocabulary -that is, developmental surface dyslexia.
•Not well understood.
•Cause(s) not known.
•Genetic influence -possibly chromosome 15?
•Various effective ways of treating it by systematic whole-word recognition training (perhaps using visual mnemonics).

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