Dyslexia Is Not Real

Dyslexia Does Not Exist

Dyslexia Is Not Real

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently (2016) released a position paper on dyslexia. The paper is mildly critical of those who tend to attribute reading difficulties to dyslexia. The paper, like many organizational position statements, pitches a few softballs at the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

The IDA fired back with its own critique of the ILA’s position paper. In its response, the IDA criticizes what it perceives as misinterpretations of the research studies regarding dyslexia.The game quickly changed from softball to hardball.

The ILA had its ducks in a row (Was the organization anticipating a response from the IDA?) and tore into the ILA’s critique with an addendum to its original position paper: “Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association.” In the addendum the ILA questions whether dyslexia is, indeed, a diagnosable condition, disputes the IDA’s advocacy of a one-size-fits-all solution to reading problems, i.e., systematic, explicit phonics instruction, and advocates abandoning the term, dyslexia, altogether. Quite a strong position paper from such a venerable reading institution!

As a reading specialist, I whole-heartedly agree with the International Literacy Association, even though I provide a strand of systematic, explicit phonics instruction in my own reading intervention program (among other approaches to reading remediation).

Why dyslexia is not real and why educators should stop using the term.

The International Dyslexia Association offers a variety of definitions regarding dyslexia (bolded terms mine):

“Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. There is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies” (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-at-a-glance/).

“Dyslexia is, above all, a condition that impedes reading acquisition” (https://dyslexiaida.org/ida-urges-ila-to-review-and-clarify-key-points-in-dyslexia-research-advisory/).

Essentially, in these two definitions the IDA uses condition as if dyslexia is an identifiable, measurable reality. It is not. When advocates of dyslexia trot out brain scans of struggling readers purportedly with this condition and compare to different-looking scans of good readers, they beg the question. In other words, they assume what has not yet been proven. We know so little about the brain and to attribute brain abnormalities to dyslexia is simply poor science.

And such a strange use of the term, condition! By way of contrast, sunburn is a good example of a real, identifiable, and measurable condition. It can be diagnosed with reliable and valid measures. It is positively correlated with overexposure to ultra violet rays. It has predictable effects: pain, increased body temperature, and sometimes chills. It can be treated with aloe vera (some claim) and heals over time. It can be prevented by using sunscreen. Sunburn has all the qualities of a real, identifiable, measurable condition; dyslexia does not.

Following is another more detailed definition of dyslexia, adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002 (bolded terms mine):

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological 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 (https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/).

Notice the multiplicity of reading problems purportedly attributed to dyslexia. Any first year grad student knows the unlikelihood of establishing a statistically significant correlation between a single cause and more than one effect. Just as any savvy consumer knows how to spot an invented condition by its wide variety of effects (effects which just so happen to be shared by many of us).

For example,

In 1990, E. Denis Wilson, a medical doctor in Florida invented what he modestly called “Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome” –a new condition he claimed was widespread, and causing a huge array of symptoms: fatigue, headaches, irritability, fatigue, dry skin, asthma, allergies and more. Wilson claimed his condition could be diagnosed by measuring body temperature. A lower than normal temperature confirms the diagnosis. According to Wilson, it was the slight reduction in body temperature that apparently causes the body’s metabolic pathways to function-sub-optimally, causing the vague symptoms reported. Your medical doctor doesn’t diagnose Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome because it’s a fake disease (https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/naturopathy-vs-science-fake-diseases).

To popularize invented conditions, proponents frequently promote simplistic diagnostic tests. Of course, I tested positive (as will most people) on the “Wilson Temperature Syndrome” test. By the way, I also tested border-line positive on the International Dyslexia Association’s “Dyslexia Self-Assessment for Adults” (Fran Levin Bowman, M.Ed. & Vincent Culotta, Ph.D., Copyright, 2010, All Rights Reserved).

Such tests lend credence to the notion that the condition is more prevalent than many would believe. The “you are not in this alone” assurance tends to be a key marketing strategy. The International Dyslexia Association claims that “Dyslexia affects 1 in 10 individuals, many of whom remain undiagnosed and receive little or no intervention services” (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-test).

Wilson recommended the use of thyroid hormone (T3) to treat his syndrome. Note that an invented condition always seems to have a snake-oil cure-all.

Magic Elixir for Reading Problems

Snake Oil Cure-All for Reading Problems

The International Dyslexia Association has systematic, explicit phonics instruction as its treatment and plenty of resources in its website’s bookstore.

But why not simply agree to use the term, dyslexia, as a catch-all word for reading problems? Indeed, many reading teachers and reading specialists have chosen to adopt this definition to make peace with their special education colleagues (who tend to view dyslexia as a learning disability). As an aside, many in the homeschooling movement have also bought into the dyslexic diagnosis as a key reason why some students have not achieved reading or math success in the public schools.

It would be tempting to do so; however, continuing to use this term, dyslexia, is counterproductive. The IDA’s classification of dyslexia as an incurable learning disability precludes using the term as a convenient synonym for reading problems. Although many struggling readers are certainly well-served with the explicit, systematic phonics approach advocated by those in the dyslexic camp, this instructional remedy and others should not be promoted as mere coping mechanisms. Reading specialists and reading intervention teachers know that targeted, assessment-based instruction can cure reading problems, not just provide simple band-aids.

To close, I agree with the conclusion of the International Literacy Association in its position paper addendum responding to the criticisms of the International Dyslexia Association:

“In other words, there is no empirical basis for the use of the term dyslexic to distinguish a group of children who are different from others experiencing difficulty acquiring literacy (“Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association“).

Reading is a complex and multi-faceted process. Let’s abandon the use of dyslexia–an artificial and counterproductive construct with no research base.


The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

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