Battles long ago

7th July 1995 at 01:00
OVERCOMING DYSLEXIA by Beve Hornsby. Optima. Pounds 7.99 - 0 356 21104 5

The heroic days of dyslexia were surely the 1970s. The author of this book, Dr Beve Hornsby, was one of the pioneers of that age. Her clinic at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, and subsequently her Clapham Common dyslexia centre, have been landmarks in the lives of countless dyslexic children. While official British educational psychology sustained its stance of irritated negativism, Beve Hornsby was reaching out and communicating through books like this one. The court of public opinion has, of course, now found in favour of the heroic pioneers and against the curmudgeonly council bureaucracies.

Times may have changed and the fast-moving game of research may have clarified the unity-in-diversity of this puzzling learning disorder. But Overcoming Dyslexia, a "straightforward guide for parents and teachers", has changed little in its third edition.

Dyslexia and "specific learning difficulties" are no longer synonymous terms. Dyslexia is now seen as one of a number of specific learning difficulties. The sole concession to 1995 in this book (first published in 1984) is a three-page afterthought on "further investigations into the neurology underlying dyslexia", which mentions attention-deficit disorder, nonverbal learning deficit and transient visual processing. But the field of neurology, in which opposed theories continue to chafe, remains perhaps the least satisfactory area of research; the genetics, the neuropsychology, the cognitive psychology, even the teaching of dyslexia have gravitated into satisfactory alignment.

If a case might have been made for a total rewrite of this book, however, its status as a classic could hardly have permitted it. So references remain to high IQ, to difficulty tying shoelaces, to the (unrevised) WISC, even, in a final list of useful contacts, to Yugoslavia, should any dyslexia missionaries penetrate as far as Zagreb.

In dyslexia terms this is rather like getting about the oceans in pirogues with the cartographic resources available to Vasco da Gama. The calculation must be that most casual readers and newcomers to dyslexia are easily seasick and anyway not much minded to travel anywhere.

For them a brief elevation to the platform where the dyslexia theme is showing will suffice, an experience whose general truth is miraculously sustained by numerous particular untrue statements. For the seriously curious, on the other hand, the worthwhile contemporary account of dyslexia remains, strangely, to be written.

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