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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: April 2014

1 - What is dyslexia?



In January 2009, a British Member of Parliament, Graham Stringer, caused something of an international storm by questioning the validity of the concept of dyslexia. Unlike the majority of critiques that have questioned the conceptual and diagnostic utility of this construct (e.g., Elliott & Gibbs, 2008; Stanovich, 1994), his criticisms, written on his website ( [retrieved October 5, 2013]), were far more direct and accusatory. Describing dyslexia as “a cruel fiction…no more real than the 19th century scientific construction of ‘the æther’ to explain how light travels through a vacuum,” he argued that the reason why so many children struggled with literacy was because they had been failed by the education “establishment.” Rather than admitting that poor instruction was at fault, he argued, a brain disorder called dyslexia had been invented. For Stringer, “to label children as dyslexic because they're confused by poor teaching methods is wicked.…The sooner it is consigned to the same dustbin of history, the better” (ibid.). In response, the Chief Executive of the British Dyslexia Association stated on the association's website: “Once again dyslexia seems to be making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It is frustrating that the focus should be on whether dyslexia exists or not, when there is so much evidence to support that it does” ( [retrieved October 5, 2013]).

As this response acknowledges, questions about the existence or otherwise of dyslexia have raged periodically for many years. At first glance, this seems rather puzzling, as fascination with unexpected reading difficulties in individuals with high levels of intelligence and sound eyesight has been expressed for centuries (Shaywitz, 2005), and the topic has been extensively researched across a variety of disciplines.

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