Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

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Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Fri Aug 14, 2015 12:21 pm

Professor Julian Elliott continues to cause quite a stir by his suggestion that the term 'dyslexia' is not helpful and has run its course.

I think this topic deserves a thread of its own so that we can link to the various responses to Professor Elliott's observations and suggestions.

Pamela Snow writes a response to Professor Elliott's talks in Australia via her blog and in doing so she provides a helpful synopsis of his main arguments: ... topia.html

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Dyslexia Dystopia

Last weekend I was privileged to hear Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott speak in Melbourne on the topic most strongly associated with his name - the Dyslexia Debate. This was a keenly anticipated event for me, given my interest in the topic and the fact that I share his view that "dyslexia" is a term that has run its course in learning disability circles. Joe's visit to Australia was sponsored by Learning Difficulties Australia and bravo to them for doing so.
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Anne Glennie » Sat Aug 15, 2015 4:51 pm

The Dyslexia Debate is still generating reactions and responses - I have just posted a *brand new* paper by Sir Jim Rose with his response to Professor Julian Elliott's recent presentation at Macquarie University, Australia. Click below to read the full blog post: ... -jim-rose/
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Aug 19, 2015 12:57 pm

Professor Julian Elliott speaking at Massey University, New Zealand: ... 633DB4252D

UK dyslexia expert sheds light on NZ problem

The views of a visiting British co-author of a controversial book on dyslexia highlights how the term ‘dyslexia’ has hindered efforts to help children with reading difficulties in New Zealand.

The views of a visiting British co-author of a controversial book on dyslexia highlights how the term ‘dyslexia’ has hindered efforts to help children with reading difficulties in New Zealand.

Professor Julian Elliott, who says the term ‘dyslexia’ should be abandoned, is in New Zealand to give several public talks at Massey’s Auckland and Manawatū campuses, as well as a debate at the University of Waikato.

The Dyslexia Debate, published last year by Professor Elliott and Professor Elena Grigorenko, examines cognitive, neural, genetic and educational/therapeutic aspects of dyslexia ­– as well as how the term has been used – and questions its efficacy as a diagnosis.

Massey University's Professor Tom Nicholson, a leading literacy expert and member of the American Reading Hall of Fame, says: "The way we treat children with severe reading difficulties is a national tragedy. Professor Elliott, who is touring New Zealand and Australia, is leading the charge to do something about it.”

"Every day across New Zealand there are thousands of parents who are fretting and worrying about their children's reading and spelling progress and feel helpless about what to do,” he says. “Professor Elliott's visit this month will throw a bright light on the fact that there is little or nothing available from the Ministry of Education to help these children.

“The Dyslexia Debate, which Professor Elliott has co-authored with internationally-renowned neuroscientist Professor Elena Grigorenko, is the most important book on reading since Rudolf Flesch's book Why Johnny can't read.”

Professor Nicholson, who is based at the Institute of Education as Massey’s Auckland campus and will join a debate with Professor Elliott next week, says it is “heart-breaking to go out to schools to help 10-year-old children reading at a five-year-old level.”

“At Massey we have run after school clinics and I have done personal tutoring, but this is a drop in the ocean. Professor Elliott's talk will show how big a problem we actually have here.”

He says some parents see “a glimmer of hope” in going to a private psychologist to get a diagnosis of dyslexia. “But as the book [The Dyslexia Debate] shows, this a waste of money as there is nothing schools can do. The Ministry does not recognise dyslexia or any reading disorder as eligible for funding. Teachers try to help out and schools try to use teacher aides but this is a small band aid on a massive problem."

Professor Elliott's solution requires excellent first teaching ­– preferably with a strong phonics emphasis – followed by quick intervention if the child does not respond to teaching in the first few weeks of school.

“This should continue through the whole of school, if necessary, until every child can read and spell. We desperately need this. Every child has the right to read,” Professor Nicholson says.

He says Professor Elliott – whom he describes as “engaging, funny, informative and courageous” – is a “must-see for every parent and teacher.”

Professor Elliott’s visit to New Zealand has been sponsored by the New Zealand Psychological Society. He will be giving a keynote speech at their August 28-31 conference in Hamilton.

The Dyslexia Debate – free public talk:

Massey University Auckland – Tuesday, 18 August: Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatre – 4.15pm

Massey University Manawatū – Tuesday, 25 August: Japanese Lecture Theatre 11am-12pm

University of Waikato – Saturday, 29 August: School of Management – 3pm-4pm

And you can read about Professor Tom Nicholson, an IFERI committee member, here: ... w-zealand/
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Aug 26, 2015 11:17 pm

There is a short video clip available via this piece from New Zealand:

Dyslexia diagnosis harmful university professor says

An education professor says the term dyslexia should no longer be used as there is no difference between a so-called dyslexic child and one who simply reads poorly. ... 06389.html
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Fri Aug 28, 2015 8:52 am

I notice that once people have heard Professor Julian Elliott speak first-hand, some of them at least become persuaded, or more persuaded, that the term 'dyslexia' has run its course, not least because this may disadvantage many (other) learners who struggle with the technical knowledge and skills to decode (read) and/or encode (spell) at word level - the implication being that they are somehow different in their learning needs from those who tend to be labelled, or 'diagnosed' specifically as 'dyslexic'.

In other words, Professor Elliott points out that ANY learners who struggle with decoding and/or encoding at word level are highly likely to need the same intensive phonics provision regardless of any labelling or diagnosing - and that none of the learners are any more special, or in need of excellent teaching, than any others.

He points out that it is more likely that learners professionally labelled as 'dyslexic' (often through the route of needlessly expensive assessment by Educational Psychologists at the parents' expense) will receive greater attention, resources and accommodations than learners who are not 'diagnosed' professionally as 'dyslexic'. Or that parents may be duped into thinking they are more likely to receive special resources and accommodations if their child has been professionally diagnosed/labelled as 'dyslexic' and that this may not necessarily be the case.

He points out how very unfair - and illogical - this is.

Well, I agree with him in this regard. I have witnessed first-hand where schools have provided more resources and specific phonics interventions only for those diagnosed professionally as 'dyslexic' and disregarded the needs of many 'other' learners who equally needed intensive phonics intervention. This is totally unacceptable on any level.

I agree with Professor Elliott that it is unacceptable, for example, on a psychological level for those leaners who struggle and who do not get the correct help they require where the implication for many is that they may be less intelligent than those who are labelled 'dyslexic' - this is neither true nor acceptable.

What is very worrying regarding this debate is that attention is inevitably focused very heavily on 'within child' issues and which learner warrants-which-label and which intervention, but this is in grave danger of detracting from the nature and quality of initial reading instruction itself.

We know from the facts of the historic and current reading debate, from the body of research and from reviews of whole language intervention (notoriously Reading Recovery), that difficulties with reading can be caused or exacerbated by the initial teaching method itself and learners are not guaranteed the most suitable intervention practices if this is required for individuals.

It is too easy to attribute 'within child' issues to learners who struggle with reading and it is essential that we are very focused on evaluating and understanding teaching practices and the need for them to be thoroughly informed by the research findings.

I hope the 'dyslexia debate' gives due serious attention to the role of initial teaching for reading instruction - not only whether or not the term 'dyslexia' has 'run its course'.
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Wed Sep 02, 2015 7:28 pm

This is a very important development indeed to be held at Durham University, UK:

Public Events

Resolving the dyslexia debate

24th September 2015, 17:30 to 19:00, The Arnold Wolfendale Lecture Theatre, Calman Learning Centre, University Science Site, Stockton Road, Durham

Seventeen of the world’s leading experts in the field of reading disability/dyslexia are visiting Durham University in September 2015 to try to reach a consensus on the use and value of the term dyslexia. This event is a response to vigorous (sometime heated) discussions in research, professional, and public circles following the publication of The Dyslexia Debate (Elliott & Grigorenko, 2014). After two days of deliberation, the group will present their views at a public presentation.

Admission to this event is free and all are welcome.


Participants in the group discussions will be:

Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology, Oxford University, UK.

Emerson Dickman, Attorney specialising in the representation of children with disabilities, and former President of the International Dyslexia Association, US.

Julian (Joe) Elliott, Principal of Collingwood College and Professor of Educational Psychology, Durham University, UK.

Jack Fletcher, Departmental Chair and Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of Houston, US.

Elena Grigorenko, Professor of Epidemiology, and of Psychology, Child Study Center, Yale University, US.

Jan Keenan, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Reading and Language Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Denver, US.

Karin Landerl, Professor of Developmental Psychology, University of Graz, Austria.

Heikke Lyytinen, UNESCO Chair on Inclusive Literacy for All, Department of Psychology, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland.

Peggy McCardle, President of Peggy McCardle Consulting; formerly Chief of the Child Development and Behaviour Branch of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, US.

Brett Miller, Director of the Reading, Writing, and Related Disabilities Program, National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, US.

Richard Olson, Professor of Psychology, University of Colorado, US.

Jane Prochnow, Senior Lecturer in Education, Massey University, New Zealand.

Ken Pugh, President and Director of Research, Haskins Laboratories, and Professor of Psychology, University of Connecticut, US.

Gerd Schulte-Koerne, Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Director of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, University of Munich, Germany

Maggie Snowling, President of St. John’s College and Professor of Psychology, Oxford University, UK.

William Tunmer, Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology, Massey University, New Zealand

Aryan van der Leij, Professor, Research Institute for Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Richard Wagner, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Associate Director of the Florida Center for Reading Research, Florida State University, US.

Professor William Tunmer is an IFERI committee member and you can read about his work here: ... w-zealand/

IFERI committee member, Dr Linda Siegel, is now also attending this meeting.
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Sep 03, 2015 10:46 pm

Dr Linda Siegel has asked me on her behalf to post her thoughts on the dyslexia debate:

I would like to share my thoughts on the use of the term dyslexia. As someone who has spoken out and provided logical arguments and evidence against the discrepancy definition (DD) of dyslexia for over 27 years, I am amazed that the DD refuses to die. One of my colleagues called it the vampire definition of dyslexia. Many people on your panel are still advocating the DD. If dyslexia is defined by the DD, then I agree that the term should be retired. But we are all not wearing enough garlic around our necks and the DD persists.

However, substituting the term reading disability will not solve the problems. What we want is early identification of children at risk, early (and later) intervention involving phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, morphological awareness, syntax awareness, and reading strategies, streamlined assessment of people to determine if they have reading problems, and evidence based intervention, preferably within the Response to Intervention (RTI) model.

The fundamental question is whether abandoning the term dyslexia will help us achieve these goals. In North America we did not use the term dyslexia (it was frowned on by the schools) for many years. Only recently has it been “permitted.” We used the term reading disability and we still had to fight for help for these people and against the whole language domination of reading instruction.

Then there are other considerations. What about the people with reading problems? What do they think? Having spoken to many of these people, be they children, adolescents, adults, or parents of children with reading problems, the term dyslexia suits them. Without that term, they describe themselves as stupid and parents and teachers describe them as lazy.

Can we live with the following definition?

Dyslexia is a severe difficulty with accuracy and/or fluency of word and/or pseudoword reading. (One could add) There are usually spelling, writing problems and difficulties with reading comprehension.


1. Assessment becomes simple; one needs to give word and pseudoword reading tests. Writing, spelling, and reading comprehension tests could also be given. Analysis of errors can be very useful.
2. No need for the IQ tests or tests of psychological processing
3. Teachers, speech therapists, school personnel, and others can do the testing.
4. Monitoring of progress can easily occur.


1. Obviously reading is a continuum; it is not clear where we draw the line between problems and typical reading. Note that this is a problem with the term reading disability.
2. What about ADHD, ASD, other conditions, and intellectual handicap? This is still a problem with the term reading disability. Why shouldn’t these other people get help with reading? In regard to intellectual handicap, some common sense is in order. If a person cannot feed or toilet him or herself, then teaching reading is not the issue.


Whatever the term used, dyslexia or reading disability, we still have a long road in front of us. We should turn our attention to constructive ways of solving these issues.

Dr Linda Siegel is an IFERI committee member and you can read about her work here: ... el-canada/
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:22 am

Discussions are taking place via the DDOLL network regarding the 'dyslexia debate' being led by Professor Julian Elliott.

IFERI committee member, Dr Molly de Lemos, gave me permission to copy and paste one of her contributions below - please note that, once again, the main concern is about the focus on a diagnosis of 'dyslexia' detracting from high-quality, evidence-informed teaching for children from the time that they start school.

Molly wrote:

The issue (or at least the main issue) seems to me to be what is the purpose of obtaining a formal diagnosis of dyslexia.

Why would a 60-year-old dyslexic university professor or a solicitor or a doctor want to obtain a formal diagnosis of dyslexia?

The main purpose of getting a formal diagnosis of dyslexia would be to access special services, normally special resources or special provisions in an educational context.

I don’t believe that it should be a requirement for accessing extra help for a reading difficulty within the school system.

In this case, I think that the term dyslexia serves no useful purpose, and distracts from the main issue as to how best to support students with reading difficulties in the school system.

In this case I think that it would be much better to refer simply to reading difficulties, and to focus on the specific reading difficulty or difficulties that the student is experiencing.

If there is a point at which a formal diagnosis is required, maybe at upper secondary or tertiary level, then I think that the DSM5 criteria for identifying a ‘reading impairment’ should be applied.

If people want to use the term ‘dyslexia’ to refer to a ‘reading impairment’, so be it.

But personally I would be quite happy to drop the term altogether.

It has been a source of confusion and I think a barrier to providing support for students with reading difficulties in the school system.

And it distracts attention from the more fundamental issue of providing effective instruction in reading from the time that children start school

You can learn about Dr Molly de Lemos's work here: ... anu-mapss/
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sat Sep 12, 2015 2:07 pm

Here is an article co-written by IFERI committee member, Kevin Wheldall, along with Anne Castles and Mandy Nayton, on the theme of the dyslexia debate:

Should we do away with dyslexia? ... exia-24027

In their recently published book, The Dyslexia Debate, Joe Elliott and Elena Grigorenko controversially call for the term “dyslexia” to be abandoned. They argue it is an imprecise label that does nothing to assist the children to whom it is applied.

So what is wrong with the term “dyslexia”?


Anne Castles
Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University

Kevin Wheldall
Emeritus Professor of Education at Macquarie University

Mandy Nayton
Executive Officer / Educational and Developmental Psychologist; Adjunct Research Fellow at Curtin University

You can read about Professor Kevin Wheldall's work here: ... australia/
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Re: Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott - 'The Dyslexia Debate'

Postby Susan Godsland » Wed Sep 16, 2015 1:46 pm

Here's a thorough review of Joe Elliott's book The Dyslexia Debate

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