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Dyslexia/reading difficulty: reassessing the evidence for a developmental model

Kelly, Barbara (1998) Dyslexia/reading difficulty: reassessing the evidence for a developmental model. Educational Research, 40 (1). pp. 3-16. ISSN 0013-1881

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Abstract

The exploration of the nature of reading difficulty, particularly dyslexia, began with working hypotheses which rested on two assumptions, neither of which were supported by empirical evidence. These assumptions were that cognition and reading are related (and interdependent) processes and that a specific type of reading difficulty ‐‐ dyslexia ‐‐ characterized a distinct group of poor readers ‐ i.e. those with average and better intellectual ability. In this context, the word ‘dyslexia’ refers (more precisely) to specific developmental dyslexia (SDD), as opposed to ‘acquired’ dyslexia, reading difficulty, which arises as a result of illness or injury. A study by Rutter and Yule challenged both (by then long‐standing) assumptions and proposed that reading difficulty might be seen as a developmental outcome of early language related deficit or delay and environmental factors. This notion has not been adequately explored, mainly because of a continued theoretical bias towards reading/IQ discrepancy models. But a review of both language and reading difficulty substantiates the developmental model and suggests that the developmental perspective is not only pertinent to conceptualizing, understanding and predicting all types of reading difficulty, but that it is long overdue and can offer new insights and explanations. Many of the factors and debates relating to reading difficulty are mirrored in language delay. But rather than conceptualizing all forms of language delay as lying within a unitary developmental model (with reading difficulty as an expression of language impairment), the two can be seen as being related within a complex transactional model with specific early language problems viewed as risk factors for later reading difficulty.