Dyslexia cure

12 Replies

There’s been a recent flurry of activity on the Australian Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy (DDOLL) email network about the above article in a local newspaper, entitled “New word order for dyslectics” (sic).

This article promotes a new local business offering the “David Dyslexia Correction program”, which it says gets people with reading difficulties to visualise words and build associations with each one, and aims to cure dyslexia.

The DDOLL Network includes lots of Professors and people with PhDs in language and literacy, I am about the most ornery person on it, so usually keep quiet. Today they were first wondering whether this “dyslexia cure” is actually the Davis “Gift of Dyslexia” program, made up by a person called Ron Davis. Davis claims to have overcome dyslexia as well as autism, and his program reportedly involves, among other things, modelling letters and other symbols in clay, hopping on a balance beam and throwing a Nerf ball.

Once it had been established that these were one and the same program, there were some witty remarks about journalist literacy levels, modelling with clay, and making letters out of dough (but chocolate dough? spelt “chocrit”?) to be fed with Alphabetti Spaghetti to the grandchildren, thus inoculating them against dyslexia (even academics need a laugh now and then).

Shared intel on the Davis Dyslexia Correction program

Then someone circulated an account of a student who had been on the Davis program for three years and still couldn’t read, but managed to start reading using the program Corrective Reading, which teaches sounding out of words, something the Davis program actively discouraged.

Someone else circulated a link to some testimonials (often the first indication that there’s no proper evidence for a program’s effectiveness) which include the extraordinary statement, “After the Davis Dyslexia Program I didn’t need my walking stick any more” (it’s a miracle cure for everything!).

Then came some links to skeptical blog posts about the Davis “dyslexia cure”. Don’t spend any money on it without reading them:

  • Davis goes on tour (link no longer available as of 2020) by US learning disabilities expert Dr John Wills Lloyd.
  • Visual differences are a consequence, not a cause of dyslexia (2018 update: link no longer available), also by John Wills Lloyd about new research evidence that some struggling readers’ visual systems behave atypically because they haven’t learnt to read (not vice versa). There is a fairly technical but interesting video about this research here.
  • A civilised disagreement on the efficacy of the Davis Dyslexia method, by US blogger Liz Ditz, who has an interest in exposing fads in education and treatments that aren’t based on good evidence.
  • The Gift of Dyslexia (a critique) by the Tenessee Center for Dyslexia (Dec 2013 update: unfortunately this article seems to be no longer available).

Anyway the gist of the conversation was that nobody thought this method was very credible.

Intel on other supposed dyslexia cures

You can find a MUSEC Briefing for the Davis Dyslexia Correction program here.

Lots of other programs, many with questionable supporting evidence, are also listed in the MUSEC Briefings, in case you hear of another supposed dyslexia cure.

Sorry, there’s no single dyslexia cure

The final contribution to the dyslexia cure conversation for today was a reminder not to confuse correlation with causation, or rule out visual difficulties as one of multiple possible contributing factors to one or more subtypes of dyslexia, on the basis of one study.

Plus a reminder that there is no such thing as a single dyslexia cure (despite what people with expensive programs to sell might tell you).

Who really needed to overhear this “dyslexia cure” conversation?

I was about to turn off my computer tonight when it occurred to me that the people who really need to know about today’s interesting DDOLL network conversation are parents of struggling readers who might be considering spending a whole lot of money and time on the Davis program.

So I thought I’d summarise the conversation. Any participants who want credit for their comments, up to and including the stuff about the chocolate dough, just let me know and I will amend as appropriate.


12 thoughts on “Dyslexia cure

  1. Shelley McMeeken

    Neither The Davis Dyslexia Assn, nor Ms Buchauer professes to 'cure' dyslexia – that is something the reporter has written.  We do not view dyslexia as an illness and therefore do not see that it needs a cure. We provide a correction program for the negative aspects of dyslexia which include tools and techniques which help a visual learner make sense of the 2 D aspects of language.

    One thing that you will definitely NOT receive in a Davis program, is the people who are claiming to help you, laughing at your 'mistakes.'  Interesting that you consider ridiculing someone's spelling ability (there are several indicators of dyslexia in that article – or careless mistakes – however, I wouldn't be so quick to judge) as being 'witty remarks.'

    Where you have been able to pull up some blogs written mostly by critics and some rather old and tired, there are many, many articles written on the success of the Davis program.  I, for one, am just so very grateful to Ron and his work – his program worked where all others had failed with our child, who unable to read at age 14 has now graduated University and leading a successful professional life.  There is now quite a body of research into Ron's work, which can be seen at: http://www.dyslexia.com/science/  His work was, in fact, groundbreaking and much current research is now catching up to what Ron Davis was saying 30 + years ago. 

    I am also interested in a research study that shows that phonics is the answer… not that there is a phonological deficit, we all know that – but that phonics training actually works.  Because in my 10 years of working with Ron's programme, I am yet to work with a dyslexic person who has not told me, that phonics made no sense to them at all.  I think you and your esteemed academic friends will find that the leap has been made from proving the  phonological deficit to recommending phonics to bridge that gap.  Just doing something over and over (drilling) does not work in nearly any task. It is a recommendation only.  

    Perhaps, you and your academic friends would find this video of value:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPhV9SyVmwA#at=1423

    Look at that – interviewing dyslexic people for their opinions,  

    Shelley McMeeken

    Director; Davis Dyslexia Association – Pacific


    1. alison Post author

      Dear Shelley, Thanks so much for your comment, I think we owe it to clients to have public discussions about methodologies.

      Perhaps you can’t read the text in the newspaper article at the top of this post but it says “A Kew woman has started up a business aimed at curing a condition that affects people of all ages”. So perhaps Ms Buchaer didn’t make herself entirely clear, or perhaps this was journalistic licence, but in any case the people reading this newspaper were led to believe that the Davis Dyslexia method cures dyslexia. If you look at the subject-verb relationships in my blog you’ll see that it says this is the claim of the article, not the claim of the centre.

      I’m not sure what you mean by your second paragraph, I do tend to use a fairly informal style in my blog, and that includes using words like “ornery”. The journalist misspelled “dyslexics” in the headline, and the subeditor didn’t pick it up, and since newspapers are in the business of professional writing, I think that’s funny and so did my colleagues.

      As I said in the blog, a lot of methodologically poor research gets published, and I am not aware of any randomised controlled design research which shows that the Davis Dyslexia method works. If you are, please tell me and everyone else about it. I am always at a personal level interested in the opinions of people with dyslexia but as a clinician I have to base my work on the scientific evidence, and I do find that people with a dyslexia diagnosis make good progress using a systematic synthetic phonics approach. Best wishes, Alison C


      1. Fionna Pilgrim

        My issue when people talk about randomised controlled research and suggest that the lack of it means there is no scientific basis to support the Davis programme is that they then fall back on suggesting a phonic approach is the answer, as if there is any randomised controlled research to support this theory.
        In the research cited in the Rose Report in 2009, both US and UK based research, their had been no pre-screening for dyslexia and evidence from the North Yorks study actually demonstrated that in some 25% of the cohort their reading became worse after they were exposed to the synthetic phonics that were delivered to them and, what’s more, this 25% of “non-responders” did not return to the level of ability they had at the start throughout their primary school career.
        However, based on all this research, none of which was into how dyslexics respond to synthetic phonics, it was decided that, despite the fact that for some, “reading
        problems are severe and persistent and response even to effective, well-implemented intervention is poor”, dyslexics should be subjected to this approach, when/if they don’t respond, it should be done ore intensively; then, when they don’t respond it can be said that everything that could be done had been done and the blame has to be theirs.
        My daughter was 15 when she became a reader after her Davis programme. We love Ron Davis. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Yes it costs, but so does going to school: we just pay for that through our taxes and don’t notice.

  2. Coralie Leong

    Just a comment on your (sic) above:
    I suppose you are too young to have come across the term “dyslectic,” which is still in the Oxford dictionary, labelled “adj.” MacDonald Critchley used the term, as in the phrase “dyslectic father.”
    I don’t know whether or not you have come across Critchley’s book: “Dyslexia Defined.” (1978). It’s a fascinating read, full of interesting historical facts. He was a recognised authority in the days before fMRI and other inventions/research yielded us more “scientific” information.

    1. alison Post author

      Hello Coralie, I’m not that young, I have come across “dyslectic” I just think of it as a variant of “dyslexic” but maybe that’s wrong. Haven’t read “dyslexia defined”, I must add it to my list. Are you the Coralie who used to be at Fitzroy Uniting Church? Your name rings a bell and I can’t work out why. All the best, Alison C

  3. Coralie Leong

    Just checked on “dyslectic:” it was once used as an adj. (a dyslectic pupil) or a noun (She’s a dyslectic).
    Re Fitzroy Uniting Church: Not me; I lived in Malaysia 1967 – 2012, and haven’t joined any church since I returned. However, one of my friends named her daughter after me. That same daughter actually worked as a missionary, so that Fitzroy church connection is possible.

    I enjoy reading your writings! Cheers,

  4. Fionna Pilgrim

    Hi Alison, thanks for the link. Have you read it yourself? The authors don’t actually appear to come to any definite conclusion, beyond saying that more research is needed. Significantly, the majority of the studies they include say nothing about comprehension-which I always considered the point of reading. For example, I can take a piece of text in French or Italian and de-code it so that my listeners think I speak those languages, but I will have no understanding of what it says. This is the case with many dyslexics, for whom English is the language they speak, when reading text in English.
    The background for intervention in cases of dyslexia is grounded many decades back in the work of Orton and Gillingham. Then in the UK some 30 years ago, people like Beve Hornsby recognised that dyslexic kids were not stupid or lazy but reading disabled and made much noise to get this recognised. But, not being dyslexic themselves, they all saw the issue as being with phonological awareness and endeavoured to ‘treat’ it in this way. Those children who became able to, so to speak, bark at print and decode it to produce the right sounds for the word shapes in front of them, with just the occasional error, were regarded as successful. Particularly as they could, almost invariably, recognise large, seemingly complex, words like television, helicopter or tyrannosaurus. This ability makes it seem as if many of them understand what they have read –only in closer questioning does it become clear that the subtleties of meaning imparted by ‘high frequency words’ are not grasped.
    To get back to the research, as I said above, this does not appear to support a phonic approach. It has been difficult to check because, as ever, following the link gets you to the abstract for some of the references and then you need academic credentials, or to pay, to read the full paper, and in some cases the link does not find the work cited. I keep looking and asking but nobody, as yet, has directed me to any research that supports a phonic approach. Some purport to but when you read the text you discover that, as in the North Yorks study I’ve already mentioned, 25% of the cohort did not improve or, as in the Clackmananshire study, “only 5.6% were more than 2 years behind in word recognition and only 14% were more than 2 years behind in comprehension”
    I am aware that these studies are nearly 10 years old now, so perhaps would not be considered as relevant. Certainly it is no longer possible to access the North Yorks report, though it was here: http://www.york.ac.uk/media/psychology/crl/documents/TheNorthYorksReadingInterventionProjectReport.pdf
    The Clackmananshire study can be found here:
    What they suggest, however, is that when you expect success… that is what you see. Many non-dyslexic folk can’t grasp how it can be possible to learn to recognise words other than phonetically, so they have an innate assumption that the intervention will work. In fact, it seems likely that the children who did not improve or were left behind were those who were dyslexic.
    I realise that my involvement with Davis could be expected to lead me into the same position, but I am approaching it from a different perspective. Dyslexia is not a disability but a difference and you wouldn’t want to be cured. You will never find anyone involved with Davis, anywhere in the world, advocating a cure for dyslexia. However, dyslexics can be disabled by those around them in the way a person with their legs tied to a chair is disabled from walking. Dyslexia is one label attached to the deficits created when someone with a dyslexic thinking style is taught in a way that doesn’t work for them. These are specific teaching difficulties, not specific learning difficulties.
    Warm regards,

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Fionna, maybe you’re not familiar with reading scientific research. It either supports or does not support a hypothesis, so it doesn’t provide definite conclusions, it talks about statistical significance and probability. If you talk to a climate scientist in an ordinary conversation at a party, they say dangerous anthropogenic climate change is definitely happening and we must reduce carbon pollution urgently, but if you read their journal articles this definite conclusion is expressed in terms of statistical significance and probability, and they never say things like “we are 100% certain”. That’s simply not how science works.

      Dyslexia is a decoding problem, not a comprehension problem. People do have comprehension problems, yes, because of things like developmental language disorder or aphasia. But dyslexia means problems getting words off (and usually also onto) the page. There are also some people who are hyperlexic (“barking at print” or “word calling”) but this is extremely rare, it’s really just kids on the autism spectrum who have a decoding splinter skill, plus kids with language impairments who have had very good phonics teaching, taking their decoding skills above the level of their comprehension. Many of them will narrow this gap over time as their comprehension improves, but some will always be better at decoding than comprehension because decoding is a more teachable skill, though of course listening/reading comprehension is something we speech pathologists still work to improve.

      I have many, many links to information about scientific research supporting explicit, systematic synthetic phonics on my website, and much of it is summarised in a recent book by David Kilpatrick called Essentials of assessing, preventing and overcoming reading difficulties, which I highly recommend, having just read it. You can see him talk on YouTube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBx3zBzrL5I. There is also a book called Reading Development and Teaching by Stuart and Stainthorp, and another called Language at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg, which I recommend and which go into great detail about the scientific research showing that structured, explicit teaching about how sounds in words are represented by letters and spellings is essential for some, helpful for all and harmful for none.

      Since you say you are involved with Davis I guess you’ve decided what to believe. I don’t imagine that I’m going to be able to persuade you otherwise.

  5. Brian

    I’m one bit confused. Is it you’re suggesting that Ron Davis is a scam artist? Or ignorant?
    A guy, is 38 yrs old he’s very smart but can’t read, he finally figures out a way how to use his creativity in order to help himself and he succeeds! Could be its good luck, could be just the power of will (if there’s a will there’s a way, also not scientifically proven) so out of the goodness of his heart, or because he saw an opportunity to make money, who cares, he decided to share it with people and wallah! ppl are being helped! (As you have two witnesses here alone) BTW it doesn’t cost money, it’s totally a self help program, you buy the book (less than 3 bucks used on eBay) follow the steps and you see results ( if you don’t, there went your 3 dollars).
    Is it possible, just maybe, that biology allows for two methods to succeed in teach ing dyslexics to read? I know that one is clinically proven and one is not but its not disproven either, and to me, there’s proof outside of the for walls of a lab too, I mean, many things weren’t ‘proven’ but they exist we just didn’t ‘know’ them, and it even looks like from the studies that the clinically proven method kinda is disproven by the study itself (See Fiona’s comments) sometimes doctors feel invested in a study that drags on forever they just need to release a report and they well know that the summary is all that anybody is gonna read.
    Anyways if I were a dyslexic or need to treat one I’d start with a clinically proven program, why not, but if doesn’t work why not try something different? It’s not like one of those holistic healing hoaxes that aren’t worth nothing, it’s just another method in learning.
    Live Life and Learn.
    All the best,

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Brian, as a professional I am promoting interventions that are supported by available scientific evidence, and encouraging people to avoid interventions that are not. If people are aware of methods that are not scientifically validated and want to try them, they may of course do so. When adults make this decision for the children in their care, and thus deprive these children of effective intervention, I am very concerned, and will always do my best to persuade them to try something that science has shown is more likely to work. Many people don’t realise how hard it is to teach some kids to read and spell, and don’t stick at phonics long enough, but in my experience it’s the approach that works with beginners and strugglers because our writing system is a sound-spelling code, and to read and spell you must first crack the code. Alison

  6. Berys Dixon

    Here are the scientific findings of someone who has devoted his life to understanding the process of reading… If you want to know how your car works look under the bonnet. If you want to know how humans manage to read, look inside the brain… Berys


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