Nanette Asimov, the Chronicle education writer (who otherwise has good chops--she investigated Scientology's worming its way into the SF school district) made two serious errors in a recent news article on special education:
In 2001, Juleus Chapman was a Fremont 8th-grader with "scotopic sensitivity syndrome" -- a condition that makes words seem to swim across the page -- and dyslexia, which causes letters to appear in reverse order.
In other words,
- She accepted a quack definition. "Scotopic sensitivity syndrome" exists only in the mind of the people who provide an expensive and useless fix
- She perpetuated two destructive myths about dyslexia: that it has to do with visual perception, and it has something to do with reversal of letters.
So I sent her a rather strong email:
I am surprised that you, as an education writer, were so ill-informed as to perpetuate the antique myth that dyslexia equals letter reversal. Nothing could be further than the truth. Furthermore, there is NO reliable evidence that "scotopic sensitivity" is in fact a real condition.
It is a pity that your ignorance caused the Chronicle to print untruths.
Here some accurate sources of information about dyslexia and that money-making scam, "scotopic sensitivity syndrome"
First, dyslexia. I commend to you the article published at LDonline on reading approaches.
The Center for Dyslexia defines dyslexia as:
A language-based learning disorder that is biological in origin and primarily interferes with the acquisition of print literacy (reading, writing, and spelling). It is characterized by poor decoding and spelling abilities as well as deficits in phonological awareness and/or manipulation. These primary characteristics may co-occur with spoken language difficulties and deficits in short-term memory. Secondary characteristics may include poor reading comprehension (due to decoding and memory difficulties) and poor written expression as well as difficulty organizing information for study and retrieval.
(Sawyer, August 1993)
According to the International Dyslexia Association:
"Dyslexia is a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. Varying in degrees of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing, in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes in arithmetic. Dyslexia is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but may occur together with these conditions. Although dyslexia is lifelong, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to timely and appropriate intervention."
According to Susan Barton,
NIH Results Released in 1994: These research results have been independently replicated and are now considered to be irrefutable.
* Dyslexia is primarily due to linguistic deficits. We now know dyslexia is due to a difficulty processing language. It is not due to visual problems, and people with dyslexia do not see words or letters backwards.
I commend Barton's site to you. She has a wealth of information.
More at these links:
Put more simply, dyslexia is a spectrum disorder, meaning some people are more affected than others. People with dyslexia can speak, hear, and see normally, but have difficulty accurately and quickly matching spoken language to written language, and written language to spoken language.
For the lay person, I think this article is the best:
"Reading disability" or "learning disability": The debate, models of dyslexia, and a review of research-validated reading programs
Reading and reading disabilities are a primary focus of the President's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This signals a major change for children receiving special education services under the category of learning disability as previously implemented under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guidelines. This article reviews the shift in policy focus and concerns about the shift. Four models of reading/learning disabilities, or dyslexia, are presented. It is suggested that teaching strategies for reading need to take into account the nature of a student's reading disability. Five research validated reading programs are then reviewed. Links are provided to the supporting research studies.
Now, onto "scotopic sensitivity syndrome". The weight of the evidence is that it doesn't exist, and is a money-making scheme for those involved in it.
A Joint Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and American Academy of Ophthalmology
Policy Statement: Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Vision
Learning disabilities are common conditions in pediatric patients.....
No scientific evidence supports claims that the academic abilities of children with learning disabilities can be improved with treatments that are based on ...colored lenses.
These more controversial methods of treatment may give parents and teachers a false sense of security that a child's reading difficulties are being addressed, which may delay proper instruction or remediation. The expense of these methods is unwarranted, and they cannot be substituted for appropriate educational measures. Claims of improved reading and learning after visual training, neurological organization training, or use of colored lenses, are almost always based on poorly controlled studies that typically rely on anecdotal information. These methods are without scientific validation. Their reported benefits can be explained by the traditional educational remedial techniques with which they are usually combined....
Revised and Approved by:
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
American Academy of Ophthalmology
I have removed citations -- all may be found at the link above
Articles Critical of Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome
Skeptical Inquirer, July-August, 2004 by Alan D. Bowd, Julia O'Sullivan: Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses: Scotopic Sensitivity/Irlen Syndrome: Helen Irlen and her followers claim that dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism are all associated with "Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome," and each can be effectively treated using colored lenses and overlays. The scientific evidence suggests otherwise.
Author(s): Eugene Helveston M.D. Reprinted with Permission From: International Dyslexia Association Printed Date: Summer 2001 Date Posted on this Website: October 03 2002
The procedure for determining the specific tint has not been divulged and remains a type of "trade secret" Finally, a financially rewarding franchise activity is at the basis of the Irlen Institute activity....
For reading issues of all kinds, I recommend Children of the Code
I do hope you will publish a retraction of your statement, and provide parents and teachers with links to resources that can actually help.
Asimov thought my tone was unjustifiably rude. Perhaps it was.
I suppose being an education writer really means being on top of the politics and economics of public education, more than understanding some of the finer points of educational practice, such as the cause of one of the most common learning disabilities (dyslexia). And of course, the article really was on CAHSEE and accomodations for it.