Commercial Dyslexia Centres & Treatments, Dyslexia, Franchised Dyslexia Treatments, Television

The Dyslexia Myth: Key Points and Transcript

I’ve summerised the key points that the Channel 4 Dispatches program The Dyslexia Myth was trying to make. I will responded to those points in another post.

  • Dyslexia is believed by most lay people to be a reading problem affecting bright children however research tells us that dyslexia is not related to intelligence in way, hence the ‘myth’ in the title.
  • Reading problems / dyslexia cannot be solved by coloured or tinted lens nor by excercise problems such as Dore.
  • Reading problems / dyslexia is caused by a neurological problem in the area of the brain that detects subtle changes in the spoken word.
  • This neurological problem can be caused by genetics.
  • This neurological problem can be caused by the child’s environment.
  • This neurological problem can occur in girls just as often as in boys.
  • Parents who talk to infants, sing nursery rhymes and read to them reduce the chance of the neurological problem occurring.
  • The neurological problem can be fixed if addressed by the right training whilst the brain is still young and plastic.
  • Having reading problems / dyslexia can cause a downward spiral of IQ as the child does not have the same opportunities to improve their vocabulary and knowledge as good readers.
  • The best way to treat reading problems / dyslexia in schools is an intensive reading programme pioneered in Cumbria, UK.
  • UK Government’s school literacy program is a waste of money and they need to implement the Cumbrian program.
  • The Dyslexia Myth rough transcript. Please be aware that this represents my notes on the program and is incomplete, reflecting only the parts that were of interest of me. Where quoting people I’ve tried to ensure the text is accurate but errors will exist.

    0:00 [Narrator] “Tonight on Dispatches, new evidence that suggests that dyslexia, as it is commonly understood, is a myth. A myth that hides the scale and scandal of true reading disability.”

    0:01 Pascal Wrigley takes seven year old Tina for an assessment at the British Dyslexia Institute

    [Narrator] “… The test enables many who are diagnosed as dyslexic to get special help that costs many millions but new evidence suggests that this is a waste of public money.”

    [Professor Stanovic] “This tremendous effort spent diagnosing children to hive off one special group of poor readers from the others is a waste of effort misguided”

    [Professor Snowlin] of York University “… with that money we could give one-to-one support to a child very early on in their education … if we did that we would circumvent all the problems that we have to pick-up later.”

    0:02 Tina gets her results from the dyslexia assessment. She and her parents talk about the problems.

    0:04 [Narrator] “Today, children diagnoses as dyslexic like Tina are seen as very different from other poor readers. They are perceived as bright, even gifted children who see letters differently and often reverses them. This makes reading much more difficult and justifies giving them extra help.”

    0:05 Shots a education conference / trade fair.

    [Narrator] “Research now suggests that the common view of dyslexia is a myth”

    Conference at Durham University run by [Professor Julian Elliot]

    [Professor Elliot] “… this is an extremely emotive topic and people because very anxious or upset very easily if one suggests that things such as dyslexia might not exist or might not be a useful term.”

    [Narrator] “…Teachers … here Professor Elliot begin with the most commonly held view of all.”
    [Professor Elliot] “The letters are hoping around all over the page”

    “The suggestions that they see words differently which explains why they make mistakes like reversing letters has led parents to buy special glasses and other aids to help overcome the problem. Yet researchers now believe that dyslexics can see just as well or badly as the rest of us.”

    0:06 Shots of NY State University, Albany

    [Narrator] “Professor Valitino found whilst dyslexics do make more mistakes than their peers they do not make more mistakes than younger children reading at the same level.”

    [Professor Frank Valitino NY State University] “All children have a tendency to make errors when they are learning to read. Poor readers keep making the same errors, they are not getting the practice and the reason they are not getting the practice is that they are not learning to read and they are stuck at an earlier level”

    Examples of English speaking children copying down Hebrew letters

    [Professor Frank Valitino NY State University] ” … absolutely not difference between the two groups. If anything the normal readers made more mistakes than the poor readers. The poor readers could see the material as well as the normal readers”.

    [Narrator] “Despite such evidence, 30 years on, colour overlays and glass are being promoted as a way to help dyslexic children. Although they can relieve eye strain and migraine in a small number of children there is no evidence that they help the most fundamental problem of learning to read in the first place”.

    [Professor Frank Valitino NY State University] “… there are a lot of abnormalities of the eyes that normal readers have as well so tinted lens and overlays have no foundation as a bona-fined treatment of reading problems that I am aware off.”

    0:10 [Professor Elliot] talking at a conference “… who saw a program with Trevor McDonald talking about a wonder treatment for youngster with dyslexia. Did you know that the response to that was 275,000 people ringing the switch board of [the Dore Centres]”.

    Clips from Tonight with Trevor McDonald

    [Narrator] ” … another popular theory that it is causally linked with poor physical coordination. … The treatment consists largely of balance and hand-to-eye exercises yet most leading researches are convinced that you won’t solve reading difficulties in this way. That exercises in physical coordination will not help children to learn to read.”

    [Professor Bishop] “Children with reading difficulties often do have other problems in some children its difficulties with attention or clumsiness but it doesn’t seem to be the case that these are the cause of the reading problem and that means it not going to help the reading problem if you fix these things. They is really no evidence that improving coordination is going to help you to read. …. [DDAT / Dore is] very much unproven and I’m quite concerned that this very expensive treatment is being promoted in the media when its really not coming up to the normal standard of evidence for an effective Treatment. If some sort of problem with physical coordination is causally linked to dyslexia then you shouldn’t be able to find children with coordination problems who can read perfectly well.”

    [Narrator] ” … Dore scientific support for the exercise program has been greeted by scepticism.”

    [Professor Elliott] “There was a study published that made a lot of claims about this and that study has been absolutely hammed by the scientific community”

    Narrator reading a written statement from the Dore Centres.

    0:13 [Narrator] “… academics say there is no way of distinguishing dyslexics from any other poor readers.”

    [Professor Elliott] “I’ve been in clinical practice for twenty years and if someone brought a kid into me and asked me if they were dyslexic I would not have a faintest idea how to do it.”

    [Narrator] “… Kieth Stanovic in Toronnto … used think there was a big difference between poor readers with a high IQ and poor readers with a low IQ”.

    [Professor Keith Stanovic] “… When we ran studies comparing dyslexic with [low / moderate IQ] poor readers we were startled to find these two groups where almost identical.”

    [Narrator] “After a decade of research, Stanovic decided that there was no point trying to divide poor readers into dyslexics from other poor readers because their problems are the same.”

    0:15 [ Professor Marget Snowlin] “… it seemed to me that it was inconceivable that you could have the same kind of difficultly in someone with good language compared to some with very poor language. The evidence is very good, there is a huge consensus and the evidence is also converging.”

    [Voice over] “Even more startling … poor readers with low IQs are just as likely to benefit from help with their reading as [children with dyslexia]”

    [Professor Marget Snowlin] ” … Children of high IQ do not respond [to treatment] any fast than those with a low IQ … as long as you target the core problem both groups move and improve at the same rate.”

    [Professor Keith Stanovic] “The underlying difficultly appears to the be same, the way the children respond to treatment is the same. There appears to be no justification whatsoever to carve out a special group of poor readers …”

    0:16 [Professor Elliot] “… We can’t afford to ignore the evidence … We can’t allow ourselves to come up with pseudo terms that are meaningless”

    [Narrator] “What it boils down to is that either all children with a serious reading problem are dyslexic or none of them is”.

    0:17 [Teachers talking to Professor Elliott] “Would you say that dyslexia doesn’t exist?”

    [Professor Elliott] “What I would say is that I can’t define it…”

    [Teachers talking to Professor Elliott] “Isn’t this going to cause massive anxiety for parents who watch this program … who have fought for years to [help for their child]”

    [Professor Elliott] “What do think? Should we keep quite about this topic, we hush it and write it up in scientific journals?”

    0:20 Shots of Tina at school getting help with her reading.

    [Narrator] “The mystery as to why children like Tina find reading so difficult is heighten by another recent discovery. Reading is not a high-level intellectual skill. “

    [Snowlin] “Reading is a very basic process and it turns out that children with quite severe reading difficulties can learn to read and by that I mean by learn to read well is that they can learn to decode well, they can deal with print …. but may have difficult understanding what the words mean.”

    Shots of a child with down-syndrome reading.

    0:23 [Narrator] “So why do some children like Tina find reading so difficult … Over six hundred separate research studies have converged on one answer. This is that in children who cannot read, a bit of the brain is not working properly. It is a part of the brain that makes no contribution to intellect. It is not measured in intelligence tests nor do researchers know where it is but what they do know is that it is an area of the brain that allows the child to distinguish the tiniest sounds in words. If it is working properly children will learn to read regardless of how they are taught… “

    [Professor Snowlin] “… core problem in child who have difficulties in reading is manipulating and analysing speech sounds.

    Children being asked about sounds in words.

    [Professor Stanovic] “These questions target the specific area of the brain that researchers found are the underlying difficulty of all poor readers regardless of IQ … That’s why these questions that can be done in five or ten minutes are a better predictor [of reading ability] than cognitive tests that take an hour or more. … “

    Tina’s parents talking about Tina struggling with sounds.

    [Narrator] “So children like Tina have a minor neurological weakness that makes it difficult to comprehend the different sounds in words. Its comparable to being a little bit colour blind… It has nothing to do with intelligence but what causes it.”

    0:26 Colorado Twin Study

    [Professor Richard Olsen] Uni of Colorado. “… We find that identical twins are much more likely to share reading difficulties than paternal twins. “

    [Narrator] “They found that a half of all reading problems are inherited. If they have a parent with a problem they are twice as likely to have one two. Girls they found are just as likely to have reading problems as boys. … Inheritance is only part of the story. Something is happening after they are born.”

    0:27 Houston, Texas medical centre

    [Narrator] “The breakthrough came when they scanned the brains of children before and after they were given help with their reading problems. After as little as eight weeks of one-to-one tuition they found the brains of the children had changed dramatically.”

    Before & after MRI images

    Narrator] “… [these images mean] that the neurological strengths and weakness children are born with is only part of the story”

    [ Professor Jack Fletcher] “Effective instructions alters brain functions. These neural systems are plastic, they are malleable, they are sensitive to the environment.”

    [Narrator] “… What happens to us after birth can have a big effect. It can cancel a potential problem or it can make it much worse. … It can even cause the neurological problem which other children have inherited.

    [ Professor Jack Fletcher] “In some children the environment can lead to mal-development of the same neural system that produce reading failure… We know environmental factors all by themselves can cause reading problems.”

    0:30 Discussion of babies and language, e.g. Japanese inability to hear the ‘r’ sound, and Mothers using baby talk.

    [Narrator] “… Stressed or depressed mothers tend not [talk to their babies as much]. Television doesn’t replace this. Children hear little aural language, they don’t sit at a dinning table. Their parent to bust or stress to talk or sing with them”

    Vox pops with teachers about the decline in children’s abilities when entering infant schools.

    [Narrator] “In some areas as much as 40% of children have reading problems”

    Vox pop with parent about talking to infants

    [Narrator] “Tina was lucky, her parents flooded her with spoken language. This minimised the problem but did not prevent it.”

    0:33 [Narrator] “[Tina’s] Reading problems have nothing to do with IQ … [but] her IQ will begin to fall because her reading is disrupted.”

    [Professor Stanovic] talking about how children with reading problem don’t read so are not exposed to the ideas and stimuli that can be found in books ” an avid reader may read in two days what a struggling reader might read in a year.”

    [Narrator] “Children who enjoy reading can easily read 500 times more those who do not. The result on interlectal development is dramatic”

    [Professor Stanovic] talking about vocabulary

    0:36 [Professor Snowlin] “What is terriibly sad is that you see this terrible discrepancy between potential and achievement and the child is acutely aware of that. They know they could be doing better. They know they could be doing as well as their peers but they are not. Very quickly they begin to wonder if their perception of self is wrong and that they are not that bright after all. Maybe it is just that I’m thick and everyone else is smart. Once they start to think like that they give up on the school system and the school system gives up on them.”

    Tina’s parents talking about frustration.

    [Professor Snowlin] “What makes me mad … science has known for many years what the core problem is that prevent children from learning to read and yet there is such a gap between scientific knowledge and educational practice.”

    0:40 [Peter Hatcher] Educational Psychologist in Cumbria.

    [Narrator] “…. New Zealand Reading Recovery Program …. he added activities to help children over difficulties in distinguishing the tiniest sounds in words, and he further sharpened the emphasis on not just teaching children to read but getting them reading. Peter Hatcher also worked hard to find out how his help for children could be best delivered.”

    [Peter Hatcher] “You can have a really good reading intervention program but unless it delivered well all kind of things go wrong and its becomes not very effective at all”.

    [Narrator] “It was found that those delivering the intervention in Cumbria … needed a minimum of a GCSE in English, 12 weeks intensive training and follow up observation every 18 months.”

    [Prof Charles Hume] “We were determined to do the must scientifically rigours evaluation [of Peter Hatcher’s program] …. “

    [Narrator] “The evaluation showed that the results of the Cumbria intervention aimed at those with the very worse reading problems were spectacular.”

    [Prof Charles Hume] “We produced gains in reading scores that were as large as any that have every been obtained in any intervention program”

    0:44 Demonstration of a lesson using the program.

    [Narrator] “… in just twelve weeks the reading age can improve by eight or nine months. This is up to 12 times faster than traditional reading programs for dyslexics. For some months afterwards … continue catching up”.

    Kevin Collins, Director of Primary National Strategy

    Example of how the program could be rolled out nationally

    [Narrator] “It is believed [the intervention program] would only leave one or two children in 100 neading long term reading support”

    0:49 [Peter Tymms???] University of Durham. “As far as we can tell we have exactly the same proportion of children with severe reading problems as we have ever had. That’s a national problem … [its the transfer of the national reading strategy] into the classroom that has been missing and that is a very hard nut to crack.”

    Comments on the government’s infant school strategy.

    [Narrator] “There is one other reason why help is not reaching those children who need it most. That’s the Dyslexia Myth itself. Although it is not possible to distinguish dyslexics from other poor readers they can still get extra help, more time in exams, laptops, even coloured glasses. …”

    [Shirley Cramer] CEO of the Dyslexia Institute ” … in the last five years we have been incorporating the new evidence into our teaching … Parents are really in a very difficult position because if their child not receiving the support they need at school, and many of them are not, then what does a parent do. They seek out help and come to the Dyslexia Institute and they provide the kind of treatment that they should be getting in the classroom …”

    Closing comments


    1. Graham Stanley

      How can I, as a Chair of Governors of a local Primary School, get to know the unbiased research results, and comments from those without a vested commercial or personal intertest? (I exclude those whom are paid by LEAs etc. from this filter, as they should have an interest in the children in their LEA etc.)

    2. Graham, The sort of information you are after is what Myomancy was set up for but of course it will naturally have bias in it, reflecting my own experiences and opinions.
      As you suggest, companies such DDAT / Dore have thier own therapies to promote cannot be trusted. In essance nor can the TV program because it was a vehicle promoting the Cumbrian Modified Reading Intervention (MRI) programme.
      I would suggest the British Dyslexia Association or the Dyslexia Institute but they tend to be quite conservative in their approach so newer treatments can be looked down-on despite good evidence for them.
      I would recommend that you read all the science articles but 1) there is a huge amount of research; 2) in mostly very technical; 3) Much of it will be wrong according a recent paper suggesting the 50% of all scientific papers are fundementally flawed.
      There are no easy answers to dyslexia because no one truly understands it. If you want further information then email me [ Chris AT ]. If its practical I would be delighted to come and talk to you, your teachers and your parents about the issues raised by The Dyslexia Myth.

    3. Ben

      0:13 [Narrator] “… academics say there is no way of distinguishing dyslexics from any other poor readers.”

      The dyslexics say that there is no way of distinguishing between the so called academics and idioits.

    4. Ben
      Its odd how every dyslexic I spoken to knows that dyslexia isn’t just not being able to read. Dyslexics have have problems just about everything they do but academics don’t seem to grasp this.

    5. Thanks so much for creating this brief outline of the C4 Dispatches show. Now that I see the quality of people they talked to, I’ll definitely look into getting the show on DVD.

      Two quick corrections for those googling:
      “[Narrator] … Kieth Stanovic in Toronnto ”
      Should really be:
      Keith Stanovich in Toronto

      and “Professor Frank Valitino NY State University” should really be
      Frank Vellutino of the State University of New York, at Albany.

      Maybe that will help someone. Thanks again!

    6. Geraldine Jones

      I was recently in London and seen a replay of your channel four documentary.
      I am the mother of eight year old fraternal twins the Girl who has progressed at school positively. However her twin brother has struggled learning to read and write.
      We arranged for an educational assessment to be completed on our son to find the underlying problem. The results of which were interesting but nevertheless, of no practical use to us (the results were he was 99 percentile “Gifted child”) I was then advised their was no reason for him to not be reading/writing “it was just a matter of readiness”. The school did try to support him when he was 6 but the programme was short just 12 weeks…

      It has taken over two years to teach him key words which hold the English language together. And now even though he can read these words, writing and spelling them still presents a problem.
      This also means his will simplify his verbal language ability in writing because his losses the theme of his story,when writing and spelling comes into play.
      Ask him to dictate a story it will be interesting and exciting with full use of his verbal language skills.
      Reading Questions:
      Also when he is asked to read questions for example on a Math/English Sheet he has trouble understanding the meaning of the question. It seems the effort he puts into decoding each word separately has the effect that the sentence/question losses its meaning.
      If you read him the question he will answer it with full comprehension.
      Unable to distinguish sounds in words:
      The core problem seems to be he is unable to hear little sounds in words or distinguish them from others although he has perfect hearing (He has been assets)
      An example of spelling problems and reversed letters and numbers:
      Wot for what, he knows it is spelt incorrectly but seems unable to correct it, for People the word pepill. Also he will reverse 9 5 b d z q.
      His memory is outstanding for general knowledge but his memory for spelling words minimal.

      The reason for this email is to request help for a young boy to meet his potential before it is too late we can already see the effect it is having on his confidence and slowly but surely he is falling behind his peers. We would be willing to fund any support offered, we are currently based in New Zealand and willing to travel.

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