Is Dyslexia A Myth?


I have a very good optometric colleague who steadfastly maintains that “dyslexia” does not exist.  We agree on just about everything else, so I let David express his opinion and this is the first time I’ve indicated that I disagree.  He is not alone in his opinion, and there are many educators who believe that dyslexia is a myth of sorts.  Yet the term dyslexia is entrenched in the public lexicon, and I see no utility in disputing its validity.  As we’ve noted before, dyslexia is a term not only used to describe someone who is at the far end of the spectrum of reading disabilities, but has spawned a cottage industry of professionals who consider it to be a gift.  In these matters I tend to side with another David – David Crystal – one of the world’s foremost authorities on language, who hails from North Wales, and whose Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language is now in its third edition.

I was immediately drawn to chapter 34 of his opus, entitled The process of reading and writing.  What drew me in was the picture that accompanied the chapter heading.  It was an eye.  That’s right – an eye, not an ear or a vocal chord or a language center in the brain, but an eye!  How strange.  A non-optometrist advocating that the eye was intimately connected to he reading process.  And not just any non-optometrist, but a leading authority on language.  This becomes important when you consider that the International Dyslexia Association still cites the flawed Joint Organizational Policy Statement discounting the role of vision in the reading process.

After reviewing the evidence for whether reading occurs mostly by ear or by eye, Crystal concludes that it is evident that neither approach explains all aspects of reading behavior.  It is likely that people make use of both strategies at various stages in learning and in handling different kinds of reading problems.  He proposes a compromise position that can be summarized in its most simplistic form as follows:

Lady Bird Johnson was married to 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and by some reports was the better educated of the two – a shrewd investor who was a strong force in their family life as well as in the Presidency.  She is another non-optometrist who has something powerful to say about the role of vision in dyslexia.  The University of Texas maintains the Lyndon Baines Johnson Oral History Collection, and part of that is the transcript of an interview with Lady Bird regarding their daughter, Luci, about whom she notes (p. 32):

“She had long had an eye condition, now the well-known name for it is dyslexia. But there are many, many forms of that, where what you see doesn’t get translated to the brain in quite the way it should. It used to be a puzzle to her
teachers and to us, that this child that we thought was so bright would not make good grades. And the teachers would talk to me about it and I would take her to the best eye doctors that I could, according to what my peers, the wives of other congressmen and senators, told me was the best eye doctor they’d found. And they’d say, “Nothing the matter.” Finally–no, this was even after this time–she fell into the hands of the doctor who finally discovered her ailment, was maybe after Lyndon became vice president. So it may have been still a year in the future. But it’s something that I want to tell a little bit about, because that lady doctor who took care of Kennedy — Janet Travail directed her, I think, as I recall, to a doctor, and his name I will too remember in a few minutes, because he has remained our lifelong friend. [He] figured out what it was, gave her a series of eye exercises that changed her whole life and personality, because she became an achiever up to her mental capacity, her very remarkable mental capacity, whereas before, because of this eye problem, she had just kind of been stunted, and frustrated, and angry. It changed her personality, her rate of performance; it was a wonderful blessing.”

Next comes something that should be plastered on the wall of every eye doctor, pediatrician, educator, and dyslexia researcher in this country and around the world.  The interviewer asks: Was it eye exercises only that changed it?  Then the name of the optometrist comes back to Lady Bird and she continues: “Dr. [Robert] Kraskin. I do not know what. It was treatments; a large part of it were eye exercises, I think. And whatever he did, it was a boon, principally to Luci, but just as much, almost, to her mother and the rest of the family.  And that is a digression. But — “The interviewer interjects: Well, it’s a good one.  And Lady Bird concludes: ” — in our life it was an important one.”

Take a look at the exchange among mothers on this Gifted Issues Discussion Forum involving dyslexia and vision therapy and tell me, what do you think a First Lady would think of how enlightened we are today?

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