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Durham University

Collingwood College

The Dyslexia Debate

Julian G. Elliott, Durham University

Elena L. Grigorenko, Yale University


The Dyslexia Debate examines how we use the term “dyslexia” and questions its efficacy as a diagnosis. While many believe that a diagnosis of dyslexia will shed light on a reader's struggles and help identify the best form of intervention, Julian G. Elliott and Elena L. Grigorenko show that it adds little value. In fact, our problematic interpretation of the term could prove to be a major disservice to many children with difficulties learning to read. This book outlines in detail the diverse ways in which reading problems have been conceptualized and operationalized. Elliott and Grigorenko consider the latest research in cognitive science, genetics, and neuroscience, and the limitations of these fields in terms of professional action. They then provide a more helpful, scientifically rigorous way to describe the various types of reading difficulties and discuss empirically supported forms of intervention.


Preface: Foreword by Frank Vellutino

1. What is dyslexia?

2. Explanations at the cognitive level

3. The neurobiological bases of reading disability

4. Assessment and intervention

5. Conclusions and recommendations

Key Features:

  • Taps into a topic of significant interest to a very large number of people across the world
  • Draws upon a complex scientific literature that has often proven to be inaccessible to non-specialists 
  • Is unique in drawing upon expertise in genetics, neuroscience, cognitive science and education to demonstrate the limitations of the dyslexia construct

Advance Praise:

“Every decade or two, a book will emerge that is able to synthesize the past and present research on dyslexia in such a way that the future of where we need to go next is illumined and propelled. The Dyslexia Debate is such a book. Elliott and Grigorenko have provided a breadth of topics and a depth of coverage to the complex issues surrounding dyslexia that should be read by researcher, practitioner, and parent. After reading their book, I feel enriched in all three categories.”

Maryanne Wolf, John DiBiaggio Professor of Citizenship and Public Service, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, Director, Center for Reading and Language Research Miller Hall Tufts University

“No term has so impeded the scientific study of reading, as well as the public’s understanding of reading disability, as the term dyslexia. The retiring of the word is long overdue. Elliott and Grigorenko provide an impressive review of the evidence on why this is the case. I highly recommend the book for reading practitioners.”

Keith E. Stanovich, Professor of Applied Psychology and Human Development, University of Toronto

“Difficulties in acquiring fluent reading skill are seen in large numbers of children in all languages and reading disability constitutes a significant educational and societal challenge. Over the last several decades there has been an explosion in multi-disciplinary research on the genetic, neurobiological, and cognitive bases of reading disability, and while there has been much progress in each domain, definitional (and theoretical) consensus remains elusive. In this beautifully crafted book, Elliott and Grigorenko, provide a sober and scholarly introduction to definitional debates and the ways in which emerging research on gene-brain-behavior pathways in reading disability might inform these debates. In my view, it is a must read for researchers, clinicians and educators looking to gain access to the current state of the art.”

Ken Pugh President and Director of Research, Senior Scientist, Haskins Laboratories, CT,Professor, Dept. of Psychology, University of Connecticut - Associate Professor, Dept. of Linguistics, Yale University Associate Professor, Dept. of Diagnostic Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine Director, Yale Reading Center

“This is a thought-provoking book that rigorously examines the scientific evidence and ends up challenging many assumptions about the concept of dyslexia. Elliott and Grigorenko do not wish to deny the reality of children’s reading difficulties, but they do cast doubt on the usefulness and validity of our current diagnostic constructs. Essential reading for anyone interested in neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology, University of Oxford

“This book provides a comprehensive and insightful analysis of all aspects of dyslexia. The assessment and intervention chapter is particularly important for parents, educators, and policy makers. A tour de force!”

Gordon F. Sherman, Executive Director, The Newgrange and Laurel Schools, Princeton, NJ

“This book represents a significant contribution in the field towards addressing key issues that underlie dyslexia. Expert insights are provided on issues related to assessment and intervention. Particularly insightful is the authors’ examination of the role of cognition in the classification and intervention process. In general, the book more than succeeds in a quest to address several complexities related to the construct of dyslexia.”

H. Lee Swanson, Distinguished Professor & Peloy Chair, University of California-Riverside.

Events and Information:

The Dyslexia Debate: Research Briefing (Briefing)

The Dyslexia Debate: Book Launch Conferences April 22/23/24, 2014 (Conferences)

Conference: The End of Dyslexia in Higher Education? May 7, 2014 (Advert)

Media Coverage:

Times Education Supplement:

Scrap the term "dyslexia" says educational psychologist 

Is dyslexia a middle class badge for illiteracy

 Times Higher Education

Is it time to rethink dyslexia? (article written by Profession Elliott) and quoted in a THE report on Dyslexia

Daily Mail

Dyslexia is a 'meaningless label used by middle-class parents who fear their children are being branded stupid', professor claims

Dyslexia is NOT a disease. It is an excuse for bad teachers – opinion piece by Peter Hitchens

Daily Telegraph

Dyslexia may not exist, warn academics

The Independent

Dyslexia a “meaningless label”

Dyslexic students get extra support but what about those without the label who struggle with reading-9156970.html

 The Metro

Ban Dyslexia – it’s a meaningless label


 BBC Breakfast

Professor Elliott appeared on BBC Breakfast with Dr Kate Saunders, Chief Executive of the British Dyslexia Association.

ITV Daybreak

Lorraine Kelly discussed Professor Elliott’s research with Andrew Pierce from the Daily Mail as part of their review of the papers. Professor Elliott appeared at 0735 – link to the dyslexia debate on ITV Daybreak.

BBC News at Six

Professor Elliott was interviewed by Danny Savage 

BBC News 24

The Dyslexia Debate – includes an interview with Professor Elliott

 BBC World Service

Dyslexia term should be dropped new book argues

ITV News

Dyslexia terms should be scrapped say experts

Sky News

Toyah Wilcox and Eamonn Holmes discuss Durham University’s research


BBC Radio 4 PM Programme

Reporter Andrew Bomford reports on his visit to a school in Middlesborough with Professor Elliott

BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast

Dyslexia : helpful diagnosis or unhelpful label

BBC Radio Scotland Morning Call

Professor Elliott appeared on a live phone-in debate to discuss dyslexia

Capital FM

Education experts query dyslexia diagnosis


The Northern Echo

Durham academics say the term dyslexia should be abandoned

Students slam calls for dyslexia to be scrapped

 Durham Times

Debate over use of term ‘dyslexia’

 Western Daily Press

The term “dyslexia” should be ditched say educational experts

Express and Star

Debate over use of term 'dyslexia' 

The Courier

Debate over use of term 'dyslexia' 

 The Sunday Post

Debate over use of term ‘dyslexia’

Hampshire Chronicle

Debate over use of term 'dyslexia'

Sheffield Star

Debate over use of term dyslexia

Wiltshire Times

Debate over use of term dyslexia

Yorkshire Post

Time to ditch term dyslexia

The Journal

Durham book authors say the term 'dyslexia' should be abandoned

Palatinate (Durham University student newspaper)

Durham academic holds launch for groundbreaking book on Dyslexia


ITV Tyne Tees News

Professor Elliott was interviewed about the Dyslexia Debate, and his book was discussed during a studio panel discussion. 


BBC Radio Newcastle

BBC Berkshire

BBC Radio Suffolk

BBC Radio London

BBC Merseyside

BBC Radio Surrey

BBC Radio Cornwall

BBC Radio Coventry

BBC Radio Cumbria

BBC Radio York

BBC Radio Guernsey

BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester

BBC Radio Newcastle

BBC Radio Sheffield

BBC Radio Tees

City Talk FM Liverpool

Real Radio North East  

Lincolnshire FM

TFM Teesside

Real Radio Scotland

Free Radio Birmingham

Key 103 Manchester


Wave 105.2

CFM Radio Carlisle

BBC Radio Humberside

BBC Wiltshire

BBC Radio Lincolnshire




Academics say dyslexia “may not exist”

The Daily Telegraph (Australia)

Dyslexia – or just going through a bad spell?


Goed Gevoel

"Dyslexie is een banaal label dat geschrapt moet worden"

"Dyslexie is een banaal label dat geschrapt moet worden"


"Dyslexie is een banaal label dat geschrapt moet worden"


CTV News

Children shouldn't be labelled 'dyslexic,' researchers argue in controversial new book

CBC News

Dyslexia diagnosis 'meaningless', according to new book

The Netherlands

De Telegraaf

'Dyslexie is zinloos label'


Fakty - 

Naukowcy: Dysleksja to wygodna etykietka. Takie schorzenie nie istnieje


Brytyjczycy spierajÄ… siÄ™ o dysleksjÄ™


Voice of Russia

War of Words Over Existence of Dyslexia

VoR Debate: Dyslexia – a meaningless term?

South Africa

Dyslexia is a useless term, says professor

United States

CBS (Denver) News

Experts from Yale and Durham say the term Dyslexia is unscientific

Fox News

Dyslexia is a meaningless term


'Dyslexia' Is A Meaningless Label And Should Be Ditched


Dyslexia May Not Exist, Says Researchers At Yale And Durham Universities

GA Daily News

Dyslexia is a 'meaningless label used by middle-class parents' claims Professor Julian Elliot

Catholic Online (based in Los Angeles)

Is Dyslexia a meaningless label

Opposing Views (based in Los Angeles)

Dyslexia Is A ‘Meaningless Label Used By Middle-Class Parents’ Says Durham Professor Julian Elliot


'Dyslexia' Is a Meaningless Term, New Book Argues

Highlight Press

Professor: Dyslexia is a Meaningless Label Used by Middle-Class Parents Who Fear Their Children Are Being Branded Stupid’


Learning Disability Today

Dyslexia organisations refute claim that diagnosis is without value


The Blog - Huffington Post

A Quiet Word... by Amanda Prowse

Huff Post Students

Does Dyslexia Exist?

The Guardian Teacher Network

Dyslexia is a meaningless label

Mail online

Dyslexia is a 'meaningless label used by middle-class parents who fear their children are being branded stupid', professor claims by Fiona Macrae

The Daily Beast

Why it's time to retire the dyslexic label

 Telegraph blog

Why the pessimism over dyslexia?

The Student Room

Dyslexia 'is just a middle-class way to hide stupidity'

Made for Mums

Is dyslexia a ‘meaningless label’? by Jessica Gibb

The Information

The term 'dyslexia' should be changed, as it is 'misleading' by Information Daily Staff Writer

Education Echo Chamber (blog)

Dyslexia: Does it really exist?

Against Labelling Children Dyslexic

Talk Talk

Debate over use of term Dyslexia

Yahoo! News

Education Experts Query Dyslexia Diagnosis

The Learning Spy (blog)

The dyslexia debate – is the label ‘meaningless’?

Bishop Blog

Thoughts on dyslexia debate