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Research and theories about dyslexia

Summaries of research and theories


A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia

The Framework for Understanding Dyslexia contains a comprehensive overview of theories of dyslexia current in 2004, as well as a list of approaches and programmes used by specialists.

  1. Biological – includes heritability of reading sub-skills / gene markers for dyslexia, and the use of new technologies, such as. PET and MRI scans to study areas of the brain including the cerebellum;
  2. Cognitive – includes phonological processing, visual difficulties, automaticity, working memory and the ‘difference’ model, which focuses on cognitive differences rather than deficits; and
  3. The social interactive theory - focuses on society’s reactions to dyslexia.

The central section of the Framework offers teachers background information and understanding about approaches and programmes used by dyslexia specialists (up to 2004) in post-16 education and training, intended mainly for reference. They are not meant to equip teachers to use them but to help them identify ways to use the approaches to support learners. The approaches are grouped under the following headings:

  • Structured cumulative approaches,  e.g. Alpha to Omega, Units of Sound
  • Person-centred approaches,  e.g. mind maps
  • Physiological approaches, e.g. Meares-Irlen, A.R.R.O.W.
  • Approaches using technology, e.g.
    • mainstream ICT (electronic diaries, scanners, digital cameras); and
    • assistive technologies (voice recognition software that recognises continuous speech, mind-mapping software).

The final section contains useful information about resources that may be helpful to non-specialists teaching adults with dyslexia. It comprises:

  • Theory tables: more detailed information on theories of dyslexia;
  • Further reading: where to find out more about dyslexia and dyscalculia; and
  • Glossary

British Dyslexia Association (BDA)

The BDA website provides a useful history of dyslexia and a summary of current research and theories with recommendations for sourcing further research information from sources such as journals and libraries.

There is an example on the BDA site of research findings about gender:

Early research (1984) suggested that in the Western world, dyslexia was thought to be four times more common in males than females, regardless of socio-economic status, race or level of intelligence. However, a more recent study suggests that the gender ratio is more equal."

(Zabell C and Everatt J, 2000)

Academic research

Research in all areas of dyslexia is ongoing and care must be taken when considering different findings as researchers may be using different parameters and starting points as a basis for their research.

The studies here are just one or two examples of well-known and respected researchers’ findings in different key areas of dyslexia research. You can find many more if you look for them. Some recent research findings are available from the links below.

Sheffield University

Biological – balance/movement/cerebellum, Professor Rod Nicholson /Angela Fawcett

Recent publications on dyslexia and brain function (cerebellum):

  • Nicolson, R. I. and Fawcett, A. J. (2006). Do cerebellar deficits underlie phonological problems in dyslexia? Developmental Science, 9(3), 259-262.
  • Nicolson, R. I. and Fawcett, A. J. (2005). Developmental Dyslexia, Learning and the Cerebellum. Journal of Neural Transmission Suppl. 69, 19-36.

Oxford University

Visual – biological, for example Professor John Stein has been particularly interested in the auditory and visual perceptual impairments suffered by dyslexic children.

  • Stoodley, C. J., & Stein, J. F. (2011) ‘The cerebellum and dyslexia.’ Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior, 47(1), pp.101-116.
  • Koyama, M. S., Stein, J. F., Stoodley, C. J., & Hansen, P. C. (2011) ‘Functional MRI evidence for the importance of visual short-term memory in logographic reading.’ The European journal of neuroscience, 33(3), pp.539-548.

Academic journals

Journals can also be a useful source of research findings. Overall, the present data in this research supports the phonological theory of dyslexia, while acknowledging the presence of additional sensory and motor disorders in certain individuals:

Other research and analysis

Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties (2009)

This independent review of dyslexia, carried out by Sir Jim Rose, examined research and practice in order to give clear advice to teachers and planners. Its focus was very much on children and young people up to the age of 19 but there are important messages for teachers and planners in the further education (FE) and skills sector.

Progression post-16 for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities

This Ofsted survey evaluates the arrangements for transition from school and the provision in post-16 settings for learners with learning difficulties and / or disabilities up to the age of 25. Through visits to 32 providers and the completion of 111 detailed case studies, inspectors assessed the effectiveness of provision in enabling learners to develop greater independence, and progress to further learning or open or supported employment.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

The government department with responsibility for the FE and skills sector – see regular news updates, as well as documents such as New Challenges, New Chances (2011).

Learning for living and work: improving education and training opportunities for people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities

Whilst the Learning and Skills Council has been replaced by the Skills Funding Agency, this document sets out a clear vision for provision for learners with learning difficulties and / or disabilities, and how the FE and skills sector should respond to meet that vision. It is useful background to the development of provision for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Inclusive learning: the report of the committee of enquiry into the post-school education of those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities in England

The core of the report is the notion of ‘inclusive learning’, which places the responsibility for providing appropriate education with the teachers, the managers and the system (ultimately, with society), rather than problematising the student as one with a deficit. A good education system is not merely about offering access to what is available, but also the making of what needs to be available accessible: the moulding of opportunity. Although written more than 15 years ago, this was a seminal document and continues to inform best practice in the sector.