DfE behaviour tsar: 'Dyslexia and ADHD are over-diagnosed crypto-pathologies'

Tom Bennett says that many children labelled dyslexic have simply not been taught to read properly

Adi Bloom

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The government’s behaviour tsar has claimed that dyslexia and ADHD are over-diagnosed “crypto-pathologies” which can disappear when children are properly taught.

Writing for Tes today, Tom Bennett likened these conditions to delusional parasitosis, in which sufferers feel as though their skin is infested with tiny, invisible parasites that do not exist.

But an experts has dismissed his claims as "nonsense". 


“Schools also have to contend with these crypto-pathologies,” Mr Bennett writes. “Some of these are barely understood, like dyslexia.

“We know that many children struggle with their reading, and we categorise many of these as dyslexics, but in truth there is no clear ‘cause’ of dyslexia.

“In some cases, we find that they simply haven’t been instructed robustly in the foundations of reading, and remedying this makes the dyslexia vanish.

“In other cases there may well be underlying physical or neurological causes. But misdiagnosis in this matter can lead to children feeling they have some insurmountable difficulty in reading, when what it requires is tuition and support.”

He cities ADHD as another example. “Many teachers confidently believe in it, but what is it they believe in? ADHD is, like most pathologies of the mind, a collection of observed symptoms; hyperactivity, lack of focus, etc.

"But some children labelled as having ADHD suddenly demonstrate that they don’t have it when they sit in the lesson of a teacher with whom they have a good relationship, or who runs their room with clear routines.

“I stress: this isn’t to say that for many children this isn’t a very real and debilitating difficulty. But it indicates our diagnostic protocol is often blunt.

“We probably over-diagnose and under-diagnose. Because we’re unsure what it is we’re diagnosing, and it becomes an ontological problem. This matters when we pump children with drugs like Ritalin to stun them still.”


Chris Rossiter, director of the Driver Youth Trust, a charity for children with literacy difficulties, said Mr Bennett was inferring that, because conditions such as dyslexia were not as easy to diagnose as physical problems, they therefore did not exist.

“The suggestion that dyslexia doesn’t exist because you can still teach a child with dyslexia to read is nonsense," he said. "Dyslexia doesn’t prevent them from reading – it just makes it more difficult.”

But Joe Elliott, who researches dyslexia and special educational needs at Durham University, was more sympathetic to Mr Bennett’s point of view. He said that children were born with a biological predisposition to dyslexia, but that this could be worsened by poor teaching.

“It’s not either-or,” he said. “Say you have a child who has a biologically based problem – they aren’t going to pick up reading very easily. If you have poor teaching, then those two things are going to come together. But if you have better teaching, the problem might be smaller.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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