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Section 3: Research background

Dyslexia was first reported in a journal article in 1896. See the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) website for the full story of Percy, the first reported person with dyslexia.
Since then, many researchers have followed different avenues of research including biological (genetics and neurology), cognitive (information-processing) and behavioural (primary characteristics such as reading and spelling) routes. Research is an active, interesting and continually developing area. New discoveries about dyslexia may be made in the future. 

Health warning: all research findings need to be considered with care as some findings can be more reliable than others, some may appear contradictory and all are dependent on many factors.

The information on recent research and theories about dyslexia (A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia) gives more detail about the different avenues of research that have given rise to theories about dyslexia with some of the key developments in each area that can inform the way you develop provision for learners with dyslexia:

  1. Biological – includes heritability of reading sub-skills / gene markers for dyslexia; 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 Framework also gives a helpful summary of resources for teachers, offering details of each theory known up until 2004, the underpinning research and researchers involved, and the implications for teaching practice.

This information can help you to think about different ways of structuring support for learners with dyslexia within your organisation, training staff and ensuring quality of teaching and learning.

A recent independent report to the Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools, Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties (2009) led by Dr Jim Rose, consulted widely to produce findings and suggestions about the teaching, learning and support of those with dyslexia.

Ofsted research includes surveys such as Progression post-16 (2011) which evaluates provision in post-16 settings for learners with learning difficulties, including dyslexia, up to the age of 25 and supplies detailed case studies. 
Findings from Ofsted and other research indicate that, although there are examples of good teaching and learning for people with dyslexia, there are also gaps that providers and all those involved in delivering teaching, learning and training need to address. Find out more information about research and theories.

Research into dyslexia and other learning difficulties and / or disabilities is ongoing and if you are interested in keeping abreast of new findings, a search engine query on ‘dyslexia research’ will provide more recent findings. Ofsted is a good source of reviews and surveys of practice and the BDA has an informative section on its website about sources of research, which includes online links, journals, reports and publications about dyslexia research.