Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
For All Who Care Deeply About Dyslexia--A Major Step Forward
Dr. Sally Shaywitz Comments
on her Testimony before Congress

We are so very happy to share with you what we believe will go down as a landmark in the history of dyslexia: the hearing on "The Science of Dyslexia" before the full Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Thursday, September 18th, 2014.  The hearing was outstanding in that it not only presented the scientific basis of dyslexia but also left no doubt about the deep impact of dyslexia on children who are dyslexic and their families.  



Click here to read the review the full letter written by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, and watch clips from the hearing. Below are recommendations made to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology during the hearing... 



To bring education together with current scientific knowledge, the following are recommended:
  1. First and foremost, schools must not be allowed to ignore, fail to recognize or deny the reality or diagnosis of dyslexia.

  2. Schools, including teachers, principals and other administrators and parents should make every effort to use the word dyslexia since it has specific, highly relevant and explanatory meaning; science has provided its: definition; epidemiology; cognitive basis; neurobiological basis; developmental progression; long-term outcome. For dyslexia, knowledge of its cognitive basis indicates what symptoms to look for so that symptoms of dyslexia in the classroom (and at home) are noted and acknowledged rather than as currently happens, ignored or overlooked. This greater awareness and understanding of dyslexia and its impact will benefit both the teacher and student, both in the teaching of reading and in the climate and attitudes within the classroom. 
  3. Using the word dyslexia provides a common language facilitating communication among teachers, clinicians, scientists and parents.

  4. For the student, the knowledge that he is dyslexic is empowering, providing the student with self-understanding and self-awareness of what he has and what he needs to do in order to succeed.

  5. For students, knowledge that they are dyslexic also provides a community to join - they know they are not alone.

  6. For the parent and teacher and importantly, the student, knowledge that he or she is dyslexic brings with it the information that the individual is not stupid or lazy.
  7. Critically important is that schools must use evidence-based programs that have proven efficacy; research-based simply indicates that there are theoretical suggestions but does not provide evidence that the program is, indeed, effective. Evidence-based programs are akin to the level of evidence the FDA requires before a medication can be approved for use. Many, many theoretical, research based approaches, when tested in the field, prove to be ineffective. Our children's reading is too important to be left to theoretical, but unproven, practices and methods. We must replace anecdotal and common, but, non-evidence-based practices, with those that are proven, that is, they are evidence-based.

  8. Professional development programs targeted for teachers must provide evidence that the students of the teachers taking these programs actually improve in their reading performance. This is in contrast to some professional development programs which seem to improve teacher's understanding but not in a way that results in improvement in their student's reading performance.

  9. Schools of education must ensure that aspiring teachers are taught evidence-based methods to teach reading and that the aspiring teachers receive monitored, supervised experience and are effective in implementing these evidence-based methods.

A Cautionary Note:
Prior to selecting a reading program, you must always ask:
"Show me the evidence."

We must ensure that programs that are used truly meet the standard of "evidence -based" and that this scientific term is not used indiscriminately, that is, plunked down to describe a program that does not truly meet the high standard and implications of what "evidence-based" implies. This means that if a program promotes itself as "evidence-based," it must be required to produce evidence of a randomized field trial where the program in question is tested against other programs and that this program was demonstrated as effective in improving students' reading.  The model for such evidence-based field trials are those required by the FDA for medications before the medication is approved as effective and ready for use.

It would be a shame to allow the term "evidence-based" to be used to describe a program, indiscriminately, without reliable evidence that the program is actually effective in improving students' reading. It is important to appreciate that anecdotal or received wisdom is insufficient. We have come too far and made too much progress to allow anything less than valid scientific evidence to be used in determining if, indeed, a program is effective in improving students' reading. Thus, there must be a strict criterion of proof emanating from positive field trials - whether used:
  • in a school to teach children to read;
  • by colleges to train future teachers of reading; or
  • in providing professional development to teachers.
The gold standard must be proof (evidence) that the program improves the children's reading. To accept anything less would be a regressive step backwards and a loss for all the parents, educators and children who are eagerly awaiting programs that truly have evidence that they are effective.

Before purchasing a program, you must always ask,

  1. Scientific evidence that reading growth is maximum in the very first few years of school and then plateaus together with new data indicating that the reading gap between typical and dyslexic readers is already present at first grade and persists means that students must receive evidence-based instruction at the start of their school experience and their progress carefully monitored. Waiting is harmful and not acceptable.

  2. Given the rapid growth in reading in the very first years of school and the already present gap by first grade, it seems reasonable to encourage the creation of special charter schools for grades k-3 that focus solely on dyslexia. The goal is to reach children at-risk for dyslexia early on when reading intervention can be maximally effective and before the students fall further and further behind. At such specialized charter schools, such as the one, Louisiana Key Academy, attended by the children of a fellow panel member, the entire educational team from principal to classroom teacher to physical education instructor understand dyslexia, its impact on students in various situations and are on board to support the students throughout their day. Here, students learn and there is no bullying by students or frustration expressed by teachers who may not understand the impact of dyslexia. These schools can also serve as resources where teachers can come, spend time and learn about dyslexia, what it is and how it impacts a student and learn specific evidence-based methods for teaching reading to dyslexic students and how to best implement these methods.

There is so much more to tell; for those who have questions and want to know more, visit the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity website: dyslexia.yale.edu and read my book, Overcoming Dyslexia, which discusses the scientific basis of dyslexia and how to translate this knowledge into practice.


- Sally Shaywitz, M.D. 

The Yale Center for
Dyslexia & Creativity
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Dyslexia is defined by an unexpected difficulty in learning to read. Dyslexia takes away an individual's ability to read quickly and automatically, and to retrieve spoken words easily, but it does not dampen his or her creativity and ingenuity.