The 2018 Dyslexia Drive from www.dyslexia.com.au

You might have seen recent marketing about a “Dyslexia Drive” now under way in towns across Victoria and NSW. The website on which this is promoted says their sessions are about “How You Can Help Your Child Read”, so the target market seems to be parents of struggling readers.

I was chatting to one of the excellent Dyslexia Victoria Support people, who thought this might be the latest incarnation of the Davis Dyslexia program, for which neither of us are aware of any credible evidence.

I once went to a rather underwhelming information night about this program, and wrote a blog post about it here. There is a MUSEC Briefing which concludes there is no scientific evidence to support its efficacy, the AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties for Parents website concurs, and it’s on the “no convincing evidence” list in the 2017 book Making Sense of Interventions for Children with Developmental Disorders by Caroline Bowen and Pamela Snow (p339).

So I decided to find out from the horse’s mouth. I rang the phone number on www.dyslexia.com.au this afternoon, and asked if they use the Davis Dyslexia program.

The person who answered said that she used to be a Davis Dyslexia program facilitator, but is now no longer licensed as one, so can’t mention the Davis program on her website.

However, she agreed that her program is the same kind of thing as the Davis program, as it was developed after many years as a Davis facilitator. She also confirmed that she uses a non-phonics-based approach (though scientific research has repeatedly confirmed that phonics is the most effective way to teach children how to read).

She explained that the Davis program is an intensive, face-to-face program, whereas her online courses (which cost $395) are done with parent supervision at home. However, I note that the website also advertises face-to-face courses in helping your child read and write, which cost $5,495 each, as does a maths course, and a course for the “mini picture thinker”.

The website also offers a two-hour face-to-face assessment using the 30-minute Dyslexia Screening Test – Junior. I can’t find an explanation of what happens in the other 90 minutes of this $400 assessment session.

I was unable to locate the professional qualifications of those behind the programs on www.dyslexia.com.au. Perhaps you can.

Rather than information about the supporting evidence for their approach, the website includes multiple “Success Stories”, or testimonials. As Bowen and Snow point out in their abovementioned book, credible health professionals avoid putting testimonials on their websites, but they often appear on websites for programs which lack proper evidence. If a program has proper evidence, the evidence is usually on the website, not testimonials.

There is some true, useful information on the www.dyslexia.com.au website. There is also stuff that has been comprehensively debunked, for example their information on learning styles (here’s one explanation of why it’s incorrect).

Regarding phonics, the site says that eminent literacy researcher Dr Joe Torgeson has concluded that “if children have not learnt to decode phonemes and use phonics by the end of year two, or at latest, year three – they will probably never understand phonics. They might learn all the rules and you might think they know how to put the words together, but they don’t use those rules when they are reading.

Hmm. I’d be very, very interested to hear Dr Torgeson’s response to this statement. I’m pretty sure he’d say he is being misquoted, and that he was describing a widespread problem, not talking about what’s possible with good, systematic, explicit, intensive phonics intervention.

Anyway, I know enough about www.dyslexia.com.au to know that I don’t need to find out any more. Children’s precious learning time, and parents’ often-scarce money, should focus on approaches that are based on sound scientific evidence.

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