Trivializing dyslexia

The dyslexia diagnosis is applied too broadly, writes James Panton, an Oxford instructor, in Spiked. While some students really are disabled, others just don’t want to do the hard work of reading and writing.

In secondary education and at many universities, we place decreasing emphasis on reading books or writing essays, so perhaps we should not be surprised that a number of even the brightest students display weak literacy skills. But the tendency to label these students ‘dyslexic’ trivialises the experience of those who really suffer from a serious learning disability, and leads to excessive demands on special recourses.

However, the expansive use of the dyslexic label has a far more serious impact upon the educational climate within the university. Our preparedness to define a broad range of students as having special needs encourages a climate of special pleading, and lowers students’ expectations of themselves. The hours spent reading books in the library, and the effort required to organise thoughts and ideas into a written argument, can be difficult, but struggling with these difficulties is an essential part of higher education. By labelling students who find such challenges particularly onerous as ‘dyslexic’, we encourage them to understand these challenges as beyond them. Rather than learning from their mistakes, and being encouraged to overcome their weaknesses, the label ‘dyslexia’ provides a readymade excuse for poor work.

Liz Ditz points out that some American children labeled dyslexic are the victims of “whole language” reading instruction in early elementary school. Schools that improve the reading curriculum often see a sharp drop in the number of students labeled “learning disabled.”

About Joanne


  1. I was diagnosed as dyslexic when I was 6. My mother chose not to tell me that I was dyslexic. I learned to read and write without any issues. I never knew that some people didn’t have to work as hard as I did to learn the same things. My mother and my stepfather took in one of my nieces. She was in special education the first year that she lived with them. She was in honors English within two years. She had been told that since it was hard, she couldn’t learn. When she was told that she could learn, she did. Just because it is hard, doesn’t make it impossible. Sometimes, diagnosing something creates an excuse to be lazy.