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There is a brave man in Durham. He is called Professor Elliot and he has suggested the term dyslexia is a waste of time:

There is always a howl of protest when someone says this, from dyslexics and dyslexia specialists!

I think there is actually an important question lying in what he is saying, which is “what does the word dyslexia really mean?”

What is undeniable is that the answer varies, depending on who you talk to. That is bad news for any word! The whole point of our vocabulary is to give shortcuts for lengthy definitions.

Personally I believe dyslexia is a very useful term if it refers to any situation where someone is reading and writing less well than one would expect for their intelligence and education. It is then an umbrella term for all sorts of patterns that can cause this situation.

Some people now refer to it as a “thing”, like a medical condition, that can be diagnosed. I have been teaching children to read for 12 years and have never come across this “thing” dyslexia. We just see bright children with lots of potential who, for a variety of neurological reasons, are not reading and spelling well.

It is the 8 Causes of Reading Difficulty that interest us. Once we know what the problem is, fixing it gets a lot easier. You will not find anything listed there as dyslexia, but the patterns we describe for each cause will resonate with some of the “signs of dyslexia” that you will find on long lists elsewhere on the Internet.

The danger of thinking of dyslexia as a medical condition is that people become defeatist and lose hope of reading and writing normally. That is a tragedy every time. In our experience, almost everyone can learn to read and write with the right help and some Guided Phonetic Reading.

David Morgan is CEO of Oxford Learning Solutions and founder of the Easyread System, an innovative online program for struggling readers and spellers.