2013. Vol.4, No.12, 940-949
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2013.412136
Lay Knowledge of Dyslexia
Research Department o f Clinical, Educational and Health Ps ychology, University College London, London, UK
Received September 23rd, 201 3; revised October 27th, 2013; acce p te d N o v e mber 24th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Adrian Furnham. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
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This study looks at the extent to which lay people believe many myths associated with dyslexia. It exam-
ined attitudes and beliefs about the causes, manifestations and treatments for dyslexia in a British popula-
tion sample. A community sample of 380 participants (158 Male; 212 Female) completed a 62-item ques-
tionnaire on their attitudes to, and beliefs about, dyslexia. The statements were derived from various
“dyslexia facts and myths” websites set up to help people understand dyslexia; academic research papers;
and in-depth exploratory interviews with non-specialist people regarding their understanding of dyslexia.
Item analysis showed participants were poorly informed about many aspects of dyslexia. Factor analysis
returned a structure of latent attitudes in five factors (Characteristics, Biological and Social Causes,
Treatment and Prevention). Regression analysis revealed that participant political orientation and educa-
tion (formal and informal acquaintances with dyslexia sufferers) were the best predictors of attitudes
concerning the behavioural manifestations, aetiology and treatments of dyslexia. Limitations and implica-
tions of this research were considered.
Keywords: Lay Beliefs; Myths; Knowledge; Understanding; Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a term used by professionals to denote significant
and persistent reading difficulties that affect 10% - 15% of
English speaking populations (O’Hare, 2010). It is manifested
in difficulty in attaining normal reading ability despite good
teaching, motivation and intelligence. It has been conceptual-
ized as a specific learning disorder, but there still remains de-
bate out the precise definition and classification of the exact
symptoms and epidemiology to define the syndrome.
Dyslexia is often referred to as developmental dyslexia and it
denotes difficulty in acquiring reading skills, often recognized
during early school years. Acquired dyslexia on the other hand
usually occurs as a result of physical trauma leading to reading
difficulties after the skill was attained. In essence, the primary
problems for a person/reader with dyslexia are word decoding
and spelling, primarily because of their word-sounding or pho-
nological system. Associated difficulties include poor short-
term memory, problems with articulation and co-ordination as
well as great difficulty in naming things (Sno wling, 1987). Ho w-
ever, it is important to ensure the problem is not due to inade-
quate educational opportunities, hearing or visual impairment,
neurological disorders, or major socio-emotional difficulties.
Dyslexia is evident when accurate and fluent word reading
and/or spelling develops slowly, incompetently and with great
difficulty. A person with dyslexia is an intelligent, poor-reader
(Ellis, McDougal, & Monk, 1996) but often a person with low
academic self-esteem and associated emotional symptoms and
difficulties (Terras, Thompson, & Minnis, 2009). Papers aimed
at doctors spelling out simple diagnostic points e.g. “Children
with dyslexia have poor phonological awareness and in their
early years demonstrate difficulties in vocabulary development
and alphabetic knowledge” (O’Hare, 2010: p. 343).
Over the past fifty years the growth of political, social and
academic attention devoted to dyslexia as a specific and identi-
fiable learning disability has spanned numerous disciplines
including medicine, psychology and neurobiology. Today, ex-
perts across all disciplines generally concur that dyslexia is
likely to be, at least in part, neurological in origin (Eden &
Flowers, 2009; Shaywitz, Shaywitz, Pugh, Fulbright, Mencl,
Constable, Skudlarski, Fletcher, Lyon, & Gore, 2001). Yet, in
spite of academic development, myths persist (often fueled by
media sensationalism) regarding its causes and consequences in
a literate society.
This study looks at lay knowledge of dyslexia. This study is
related to the literature on mental health literacy (Jorm, 2000)
and lay theories of mental illness. Studies on adults (Jorm et al.,
2004) and adolescents (Leighton, 2009, 2011) have shown that
lay people confuse dyslexia with learning difficulties such as
ADHD. They seem poorly informed about the nature of dys-
lexia and how it can best be treated.
Whereas experts and researchers are clear about what spe-
cific symptoms are, and are not, associated with dyslexia (poor
reading fluency, poor phonetic awareness, visual processing
deficits) lay people are more likely to think in terms of “word
blindness” spelling difficulties and poor reading skills.
In the early 1960s it was proposed that there were three main
causes for general reading backwardness: environmental factors
such as poor formal education/teaching and home life depriva-
tion; emotional maladjustment; and/or some organic and con-
stitutional factor. Finally, because dyslexia tends to run in fami-
lies (affecting 50% of children with dyslexic parents) and some
research has alluded to boys being more vulnerable than girls, it
suggests that some genetic factors may also be contributory
(Pennington & G i lger, 1996).
The common debate among researchers is whether it is
meaningful to think of a simple bell-shaped curve or continuum
of normal reading ability with those significantly above average
at the top and backward readers at the bottom. Some concur
that reading ability is normally distributed and that reading
difficulties are not a discrete entity but a linguistic cut-off point
on a scale. Others argue for a different and more complex,
multi-faceted cluster or pattern of cognitive skills. As with
nearly all researched psychological phenomena experts point
out that people with the problem are far from a homogeneous
set and frequently fall into recognizable subgroups. This proc-
ess of delineating sub-groups often helps a great deal with pre-
cise diagnosis, prognosis and theory building (Brunswick, Mar-
tin, & Marzano, 2010; Riddick, 1995).
Several influential organizations concerned with dyslexia
(International Dyslexia Association; World Federation of Neu-
rology; UK Government/Rose report) have produced defini-
tions of dyslexia. Further, over the past decade various theories
have been developed and tested such as Magnocellular Deficit
Theory (Stein, 2001).
Periodically, academic papers question the very existence of
dyslexia. For instance in 2009 a British MP (Graham Stringer,
MP for Manchester Blackley) said that there is no such thing as
dyslexia and that it is essentially a myth used to cover up bad
teaching. He described dyslexia as a “fictional malady”, which
hardly exists in other countries. He also reported that over
35,000 British students were receiving disability allowances
costing the British taxpayer over £78 million. This sort of skep-
ticism frequently surfaces. Defenders point out that dyslexics
are different from poor readers because of their peculiar and
specific errors in reading or spelling, despite evidence of nor-
mal, if not high intelligence, and in spite of conventional
teaching. Others point out that dyslexia seems a culture-bound
syndrome (Cooper, 2010; Spencer, 2000). Indeed in Great Brit-
ain there have been numerous programmes on dyslexia over the
Other critics point to dyslexia as a fallacy according to
socio-economic status. Notably, they comment on its preva-
lence among the middle classes wherein affluent parents cannot
or will not face the fact that their child(ren) are (disappointedly)
not very bright and consequently, as a coping strategy, attempt
to manipulate the education system to their advantage. Some
regard this attack as damaging, hurtful, and deeply unjustified
and possibly related to certain parents expecting far too much
of their children. Similar debates and controversies have mani-
fested for other identifiable developmental disorders, often
found in children and adolescents. (e.g. Haworth-Hoeppner,
2000; McClelland & Crisp, 2001).
One consequence of such skepticism is the number of web-
sites and internet-based resources that exist to help confused or
ignorant lay people seek clarification of the facts inherent in
dyslexia. One example is Dyslexics.org.uk which sets out a
number of “myths” followed by facts. Their format starts with
definition, the symptoms and finally the “fact”
(www.learning-inside-out.com). Their mere existence can be
undoubtedly attributed to prevailing public ignorance about
dyslexia which, when compared to other disorders, seems a
topic rather under-researched.
There have been a number of studies on teacher’s and lec-
turer’s knowledge of basic language concepts and dyslexia
showing that many seem poorly equipped to teach reading or
spot dyslexics (Cameron & Nunkoosing, 2012; Cunningham et
al., 2004, McCutcheon et al., 2002; Joshi et al., 2009; Moats,
2009; Regan & Woods, 2000). Wadlington and Wadlngton
(2005) used their Dyslexia Belief Index and found the majority
of the student and lecturer participants believed a number of
misconceptions about dyslexia. Some papers have focused on
the different beliefs of educational psychologists, parents of
dyslexic children and special education needs experts (Paradice,
Washburn et al. (2011) found in their study of 185 American
teachers of elementary-aged children that they seemed to hold
the common misconception that dyslexia is a visual processing
deficit rather than a phonological processing deficit. Bell,
McPhillips and Doveston (2011) noted how teachers had bio-
logical, cognitive and behavioural conceptualisations of dys-
Gwernan-Jones and Burden (2009) who investigated trainee
teachers’ attitudes towards aspects of dyslexia surveyed 404
future British teachers from one university. Results showed that
students accepted/endorsed the construct of dyslexia and be-
lieved they could help and support dyslexic pupils, though how
this was to be accomplished remains unclear. Females were
more positive than males. But there were no differences ac-
cording to the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)
course subject. Moreover, students who took a survey before
and after teaching practice demonstrated some small changes
across time in their attitudes towards dyslexia.
Due to the absence of research literature on lay attitudes and
beliefs about dyslexia the present study aims to unearth these
and to examine whether the British public is in fact ignorant
about dyslexia. The study has three aims: first to look at the
range and endorsement of beliefs about dyslexia; second,
through factor analysis, to look at the structure of these beliefs
and third, to examine the relationships between lay theories and
various demographics. Exploratory in design, no formal hy-
potheses will be tested.
380 participants took part in the present study, 158 of whom
were male and 212 were female. Their mean age was 32.53
years (SD 14.4 years: Range 18 to 69 yrs). The majority of
participants were of Caucasian background (66%) however
other ethnic groups were represented including Asian (16%)
and Afro-Caribbean (3%). In terms of educational attainment,
54% had A-levels, 27% a Bachelors degree and 12% a post
graduate qualification. In all, 39% were single and 52% married.
Their average annual income was £32,000 (National average:
£26,000). The majority of participants described themselves as
having few or no strongly held religious beliefs (as measured
on a 7 point “not at all” to “very” religious scale. When asked
their political orientation the vast majority (80%) ascribed to
having moderately liberal beliefs (again measured on a 7 point
Left-Right wing scale). Lastly, participants were asked if they
had been diagnosed with dyslexia and 345 responded no, 12 yes
Open Access 941
and 10 were unsure. The majority of participants (66%) knew
someone with dyslexia. This was not a cross section of the
population with a bias to better educated, higher social class
Materials and Procedure
Participants completed a 62-item questionnaire. The items
are shown in Table 1. The items were derived from three main
sources and subsequently used as the basis for attitude state-
ments. First, various websites have lists of myths about dys-
lexia and approximately 10 of these were utilized (see Table 1).
The web was interrogated for all cites aimed at parents and the
public concerning dyslexia, reading difficulties and school fail-
ure. Second, the remaining items were derived from academic
journal articles in the area of mental health literacy. Third,
open-ended interviews with 10 non spcialists about dyslexia.
The aim was to get a comprehensive list of statements con-
cerning general beliefs about dyslexia. In total, approximately
80 statements were collated. These were then subjected to an
initial pilot study based on interviewing 20 people who pro-
vided their responses in a structured interview format. They
were asked to respond to each question and then reflect upon it
for its clarity and comprehensibility. They were also asked
about their knowledge of dyslexia. Following the pilot, ap-
proximately 20 items were discarded (as being unclear or lead-
ing to floor or ceiling effects) and a number were then modified.
The final questionnaire contained 62 items, hopefully covering
all aspects of dyslexia. Participants were asked the extent to
which they agreed with the statements, each anchored by Not
sure (1) Strongly disagree (2) and Strongly agree (6). These
were collapsed into three categories (agree, not sure, disagree)
for easier interpretation (see Table 1).
Following completion of the questionnaire items, participants
were asked if they themselves had ever been diagnosed with
dyslexia and whether they knew of anyone with the condition.
Participants further provided some demographic information,
including their highest educational attainment, political orienta-
tion (on a 7 point Left Wing—Right Wing scale), religiousness
(on a 7 point Not at all—Very scale) and current annual income.
Ethical approval was first sought and approved by the de-
partmental committee. Participants were approached by five
research assistants in a number of public settings including
libraries, coffee bars and railway stations. They were instructed
to attempt to get a cross section of the population in terms of
sex, age, race and social class. Approximately one-third of
those approached refused their participation on the basis that
they were too busy, and in a hurry. Of the remainder who gave
their consent, 93% provided complete data, which was used in
the study. The questionnaire was completed anonymously.
Following successful completion of the questionnaire, partici-
pants were thanked for their participation. They were not re-
munerated but debriefed concerning the nature of the study.
Many expressed considerable interest.
Table 1 shows the responses to individual items. Approxi-
mately half the participants considered dyslexia to be a learning
disability characterized by problems with words and language
(items 43, 44, 47, 49) but were unsure whether this was due to
less reading than would be expected for their age or indeed
whether the problem is unique to poor reading (items 34, 48,
50). The majority of participants believed that dyslexia cannot
be solely attributed to a lack of proficiency with dictionaries
(items 2, 4, 6). Participants generally disagreed about the exis-
tence of neurological causes of dyslexia (items 41, 51, 32, 58)
but were unsure about a genetic causal link (items 1, 56, 61).
The majority believed that the education system and workplace
have a duty to provide courses/clubs to detect and help those
with dyslexia (items 15, 22, 18) but not insofar that every dys-
lexic child should receive one-to-one assistance (item 21).
The majori ty of participants believed that individuals can bene-
fit from informal skills learning (items 11, 28) but they were
unsure as to the extended benefits provided with formal spe-
cialist literacy instruction (items 37, 54).
Factor Analy sis
In order to ascertain any factorial structure in the measure,
data were subjected to Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA). The
Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure verified the sampling
adequacy for the analysis (0.822) (Kaiser, 1974). In addition,
all KMO values for individual items were above 0.5, supporting
their retention in the analysis. The satisfactory results therefore
suggest the matrix is appropriate for factor analysis. Using an
orthogonal rotation (Varimax), items that loaded at or above
0.40 were retained (Ferguson & Cox, 1993).
After careful examination of eigenvalues, proportion of vari-
ance explained and scree plot criterion, five distinct factors
were identified and suggested for rotation. Items that loaded
significantly onto more than one factor and where the discrep-
ancy was large (above 0.2), were assumed to load on the factor
with the highest loading. Where the difference was small, the
variable was removed. A final inspection of the commonalities
revealed that all but one (item 30) exceeded 0.5, suggesting the
factor solution accounted for at least half of each item’s vari-
ance. The final matrix contained 26 items across five factors,
accounting for 62.07% of the total variance (details from the
Table 2 shows the mean scores, the alpha coefficient scores
and factor analytic results. The first factor had 7 items
loaded .40 or above (36, 43, 44, 47, 48, 49, 50) and accounted
for 6.30% of the variance. This was labelled Characteristics
because it reflected participant awareness of the constituent
symptoms of dyslexia. Within this factor, all items had mean
scores over 3, suggesting that participants generally agreed on
the symptoms of dyslexia. The second factor had 5 items
loaded 0.50 or above (41, 51, 32, 56, 58) and accounted for
5.97% of the variance. This was labelled Biological Causes
because it reflected participant acknowledgement and endorse-
ment of biological causes of dyslexia. Within this factor all of
the items had mean scores of below 4 suggesting that partici-
pants disagreed or at most unsure of the biological causes of
dyslexia. The third factor had 6 items loaded .40 or above (22,
15, 21, 61, 18, 1) and accounted for 5.00% of the variance. This
was labelled Treatments because items reflected participant
attitudes towards treating dyslexia. Within this factor all but
one of the items had mean scores of over 4 suggesting that par-
ticipants generally agreed that dyslexia could be treated using
different methods. The fourth factor had items loaded .50 or
above (2, 4, 6) and accounted for 3.63% of the variance. This
was labelled Social Causes because it reflected participant atti-
tudes towards the use (or lack of) of dictionaries and other
learning aids as the cause for dyslexia. Within this factor, all
Open Access 943
Mean scores, standard deviation s and frequency (%) of participant responses to individual items.
Dyslexia Myth or Fact Corresponding source Mean
Scores SD Not sure DisagreeAgree
1) People cannot help being dyslexic—it is in their genetic make-up www.dyslexics.org.uk 4.55 1.64 11.3 11.1 67.1
2) Parents should ensure they have learning aids
(e.g. dictiona ries) in the house to prevent dyslexia www.prometheantrust.org 3.34 1.52 11.6 42.8 27.1
3) Once a person is dyslexic, they will al ways be so. www.prometheantrust.org
www.uws.ac.uk 3.62 1.71 18.9 26.9 40.3
4) It is essential that primary school children are taught
how to use a dictionary to pre vent dyslexia. www.dys-add.com 3.31 1.48 10.0 44.4 25.0
5) The escalating prevalence of dyslexia is caused by the
breakdown of the family unit since the 1960s. 2.55 1.18 16.3 62.4 7.4
6) Spending 100 hours with a dictionary and an English
teacher would eradicate dyslexia in every British child. 2.57 1.19 15.0 64.2 8.6
7) Dyslexia comes with too much stigma to ever be completely cured.www.uws.ac.uk 3.06 1.37 14.5 47.4 17.9
8) Dyslexic people are simply of lower intelligence and efforts
to prove otherwise are a waste of the tax payer’s money. www.scolasticred.com 2.36 .97 3.2 86.1 5.5
9) Dyslexia is a myth. www.dys-add.com 2.48 1.06 4.7 80 7.4
10) Many dyslexics are extremely intelligent individuals. www.learning-inside-out.com4.55 1.71 12.6 7.35 59.7
11) Curing dyslexia must start with educating the parents if
it is to have long-term benefits. 4.08 1.64 12.4 16.9 51.8
12) An adult with dyslexia should resign themselves to their fate. www.uws.ac.uk 2.54 1.02 2.6 82.3 6.8
13) The growth of dyslexia is the r esult of ineffective
liberal changes in how we teach children to read. 2.83 1.38 16.8 52.9 15
14) The increase in technology to facilitate our fast paced lifestyle has
made it too easy for people to succeed without good literacy. 4.01 1.54 8.7 25.8 51.5
15) Teachers should receive training to detect
dyslexics symptoms from the offset. 5.28 1.09 2.6 3.9 87.6
16) Dyslexia is a difficulty with language, not being unintelligent. www.scolasticred.com 5.21 1.28 5.3 3.4 85.8
17) Teaching children foreign languages from an early age would
improve literacy in their native language and prevent dyslexia. 2.95 1.60 29.7 24.7 18.9
18) Companie s should provi de free course s for dyslexic
employee s t o i mprove staff lite r acy. 4.24 1.47 8.2 15.6 52.1
19) Today, there is too much emphasis placed on tertiary and
professional occupations making dyslexia more noticeable. 3.35 1.50 20.3 22.6 24.5
20) Lazy, demotivated children are thought of as dyslexic
mainly because they “could not bother to learn to read”. www.dys-add.com 3.29 1.42 10 45.5 23.9
21) Every dyslexic child in the education system should
get a personal c oach. 3.53 1.45 12.1 33.4 28.9
22) Self-help groups/clubs in schools should be established
where dyslexic children can help each other. 4.51
1.50 9.7 9 66.1
23) Those with dy slexia ne ed support and must be taught
survival skills to cope with dyslexia. 4.75 1.28 3.9 9.2 72.9
24) More boys than girls are dyslexic. www.dys-add.com 2.43 1.76 57.1 5.2 18.9
25) Students claim dyslexia simply to get extra exam time. www.metro.co.uk/news 3.31 1.46 12.4 37.9 24.5
26) Few people are perfect spellers—the boundary
between ‘dy s lexia’ and poor English is poorly defined. 3.75 1.57 14.2 23.4 41.5
27) Our multicultural society is making the teaching
of English literacy increasingly difficult. 3.46 1.49 10.8 39.7 30.8
28) Practising grammar and vocabulary in the hom e
every evening would improve dyslexia at any age. www.dys-add.com 3.90 1.71 17.9 16.6 52.9
29) Embryos that do not receive enough intellectual stimulation in the
womb are more likely to develop dyslexia. 2.08 1.20 39.5 43.9 4.2
30) Widely advertised national help lines would help reduce any
stigma at tached to dyslexia, if not reduce some of the symptoms. 3.62 1.56 13.2 27.6 36.8
31) From kindergarten, all dyslexic childre n should be
put into specialised schools. 2.64 1.06 4.5 77.6 8.4
32) Dyslexia is a biological dysfunction present from birth. www.learning-inside-out.com3.29 1.91 33.4 13.43 39.2
33) “ Listenin g to books ” a re a n excellent tool for both learning and leisure.www.dys-add.com 4.69 1.35 6.8 6.6 67.9
34) Dyslexia sufferers should attend regular opticians’
appointments to prevent poor e ye sight being a contributing factor. www.dyslexics.org.uk
www.dys-add.com 3.50 1.58 15 29.5 67.9
35) Dyslexic symptoms r ange from mil d t o s evere. 4.94 1.55 10.3 2.4 81
36) Dyslexics usually have poor self-esteem. www.scolasticred.com
www.uws.ac.uk 3.52 1.62 19.2 22.8 35.3
37) Dyslexia can be cured by intensive and special training. www.dys-add.com 3.28 1.70 26.8 21.1 31.8
38) Middle class parents cannot face the fact a child of theirs
may have low int elligence and prefer to call it dyslexia. Riddick, B. (1995) 3.46 1.56 13.2 33.4 30
39) Therapy for dyslexia should occur in the same environment
in which people learn (e.g. sc ho ols, university, training courses). 4.83 1.28 5 8.1 75
40) Dyslexia is a difficulty w i t h learning in s o me academic
areas but not others. www.learning-inside-out.com3.82 1.85 21.1 16.4 50.6
41) The dyslexic individual is born with dyslexic tendencies
due to differences in brain s tructure and/or function. www.learning-inside-out.com2.94 1.99 46.3 7.6 34.8
42) When reading, dyslexic people often take longer to
recognise a word they know. www.learning-inside-out.com4.74 1.48 10.8 1.9 78.2
43) Dyslexic people have more trouble sounding o ut a
word or automatically remembering what sounds the letters make. www.learning-inside-out.com3.56 1.91 29.5 11.9 46.3
44) Dyslexic pe ople have prob lems related to t he ability to notice,
remember, pronounce, identify and manipulate the sounds of the language .www.learning-inside-out.com3.63 1.84 25.0 14.2 45.5
45) Most dyslexic people show at least average ability and intelligence. www.learning-inside-out.com4.09 1.71 17.4 8.2 51.8
46) Even with learning opportunities, dyslexic people still
struggle more than other s o f the same age, gr ade and ability. www.learning-inside-out.com3.99 1.57 13.4 17.1 49.7
47) When reading is hard, dysle xic people rea d as much as others and this
results in the ir learning ne w words and their meanings more slowly. www.learning-inside-out.com3.99 1.80 21.1 7.9 59.6
48) Dyslexic people often do not read as much as others and this r esults in
their learning new words and their meanings more slowly. www.learning-inside-out.com3.46 1.69 20.3 27.2 36.1
49) Dyslexics d o not easily l earn various aspects of langua ge and they
often have a hard time learning vocabulary a nd un derstanding language
concepts as they go through school. www.learning-inside-out.com3.84 1.74 20.8 11.6 50.5
50) Dyslexics form a special and identifiable category of poor readers.www.dyslexics.org.uk 3.51 1.59 17.4 27.1 33.1
51) Dyslexia is a specific brain weakness; a genetically-based,
neurological difficulty with sound awareness and processing skills. www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.84 1.87 43.9 12.6 29.4
52) All children who fail to learn the alphabet from conventional
education by the age of 7 - 8 years, have a “specific learning
difficulty consistent wit h d yslexia”. www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.44 1.46 38.4 35.6 11.3
53) The prevalence of dyslexia is estimated to be somewhere
between 4% - 8% of the population in English-speaking countries. www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.09 1.69 67.6 3.7 16.1
54) Those wh o h ave bee n “p rofessionally” diagnosed with as having
Dyslexia need a special sort of literacy instruction which is different from
that deemed suitable for “ordinary” poor-education readers. www.dyslexics.org.uk 3.54 1.82 42.4 11.8 30.8
55) Dyslexics do not just have inaccurate reading and spelling;
other signs are used to identify dyslexia such as poor short-term
memory, sequencing pr o bl ems and ra pid naming deficits. www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.95 1.89 42.4 11.8 30.8
56) Dyslexia is caused by inherited, faulty genes with
evidence coming from studies of twins. www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.29 1.70 58.2 10.8 30.8
57) Dyslexia is a visual problem-dyslexics see words
backwards a nd letter reversed. www.dyslexics.org.uk 3.07 1.82 32.6 23.1 31.8
58) Brain scan studies show tha t dyslexics brains work
differently from those of non-dyslexics. www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.78 1.91 48.2 8.9 30.3
59) Dyslexics a r e compensa ted for their lac k of p honologic al and
reading ability by being gifted in the artistic/v i suo-spatial sphere. www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.98 1.76 37.4 13.9 23.4
Open Access 945
60) Dyslexia can be properly dia gnosed by an
educational psychologist using special tests. www.dyslexics.org.uk 4.65 1.58 12.4 3.5 73.7
61) Dyslexia can be found world-wide. www.dyslexics.org.uk 4.80 1.69 12.9 4.8 76.3
62) Dyslexia can be cured or helped by techniques such as special
balancing exercises, fish-oils, glas ses with tinted le n ses, vision
exercises, modeling clay letters, and inner-ear-improving medications.www.dyslexics.org.uk 2.53 1.64 41.6 26.6 18.4
Mean scores, alpha coefficient s , variance accounted for, and number of items within the five factors.
Factor Mean Alpha % of variance N of items
1. 25.83 .79 6.30 7
2. 14.20 .80 5.97 5
3. 18.74 .69 5.00 6
4. 9.23 .69 3.63 3
5. 27.11 .63 3.47 5
items had mean scores of below 4 suggesting that participants
generally disagreed with this as an explanation for dyslexia.
The fifth factor had 5 items loaded 0.40 or above (34, 11, 37,
54, 28) and accounted for 3.47% of the variance. This was la-
belled Prevention as it consisted of items relating to methods
used to prevent dyslexia. All but one of the items within this
factor had mean scores of below 4 suggesting that participants
generally disagreed or at most were unsure, of the methods
used to prevent dyslexia.
Table 3 shows the factor inter-correlations, which are all
positive and significant. One possible interpretation is that in
knowing one aspect of dyslexia (e.g. cause), participants were
likely to have related beliefs regarding another aspect of the
condition (e.g. characteristics).
As participants were not required to have detailed knowledge
of the construct, this study further adopted a Q-Sort methodol-
ogy to thematically classify the data. It is a method widely used
in the social sciences, particularly when investigating subjective
attitudinal development, wherein a structure of latent attitudes
can be identified. Three independent researchers thematically
classified the statements based on their content. Results are
shown in Table 4.
Multiple Re gression Analysis
In an attempt to determine the factors mediating attitudes
towards the different aspects of dyslexia in the UK, five inde-
pendent multiple regression analyses were performed. Various
participant demographic factors served as the predictor vari-
ables as well as responses to the two questions regarding par-
ticipant’s personal history and knowledge of others with dys-
In a model containing educational attainment, political ori-
entation and personal history of dyslexia when predicting atti-
tudes towards characteristics of dyslexia, results showed that
political orientation (β = 0.115, t = 2.06, p < 0.05) was the only
significant predictor in the equation. A significant model
emerged: F (3, 319) = 3.07, p < 0.05 and the model explained
2.8% of the variance (Adjusted R2 = 0.019) in the attitude
scores towards dyslexia characteristics. Results suggest that
individuals with right wing political affiliations were more like-
ly to consider dyslexia a learning problem related to poor read-
ing and phonology.
In the second regression analysis, the model contained edu-
cational attainment, political orientation, previous history of
dyslexia and knowledge of an acquaintance with dyslexia and
attitude scores concerning the biological causes of dyslexia as
the criterion variable. Results showed that both political orien-
tation (β = 0.111, t = 2.02, p < 0.05) and knowing an acquaint-
ance with dyslexia (β = 0.116, t = 2.12, p < 0.05) were signifi-
cant predictors in the equation, with educational attainment just
failing to reach significance (p = 0.07). A significant model
emerged: F (4, 323) = 3.92, p < 0.01 and the model explained
4.6% of the variance (Adjusted R2 = 0.034) in attitudes towards
the biological causes of dyslexia. Results suggest that individu-
als with right wing political affiliations were more likely to
consider dyslexia the result of a biological and/or genetic defect,
as were those who knew of individuals with the condition.
In attempting to predict lay attitudes towards treatments of
dyslexia, a model containing political orientation, personal
history and knowledge of another person with dyslexia, educa-
tional attainment and participant age as the independent vari-
ables and attitudes towards treatment as the criterion variable
was computed. Results showed that political orientation (β =
0.137, t = 2.44, p < 0.05) was the only significant predictor in
the equation. A significant model emerged: F (5, 313) = 2.54, p
< 0.05 and the model explained 3.9% of the variance (Adjusted
R2 = 0.024) in attitudes towards treatment of dyslexia. Results
suggest that participants with right wing ideology are more
likely to believe that dyslexia is treatable via the use of various
In a model containing political orientation, knowledge of an
acquaintance with dyslexia, participant gender and participant
ethnicity as independent variables and attitudes towards social
causes of dyslexia as the criterion variable, results showed that
participant political orientation (β = 0.138, t = 2.55, p < 0.05)
and ethnicity (β = 0.149, t = 2.73, p < 0.01) were significant
predictors in the equation. A significant model emerged: F (4,
324) = 4.44, p < 0.01 and the model explained 5.2% of the vari-
ance (Adjusted R2 = 0.040) in attitudes towards social causes of
dyslexia. Results suggest that participants with left wing politi-
cal affiliations and of Caucasian descent were least likely to
Inter-correlati o ns between t h e f i v e fa c t o rs.
Characteristics Biological Causes Treatment Social Causes Prevention
Characteristics 0.42** 0.29** 0.52** 0.37**
Biological Causes 0.11* 0.39** 0.38**
Treatment 0.32** 0.16**
Social Causes 0.34**
**p < 0.01 *< 0.05.
Dyslexia Q-Sort analysis.
5. The escalading prevalence of dyslexia is caused by the br eakdown of the family unit since the 1960s.
13. The growth of dyslexia is the result of ineffective liberal changes in how we teach children to read.
14. The increase in technology to facilitate our fast paced lifestyle has made it too easy for people to succeed without good literacy.
29. Embryos that do not receive enough intellectual stimulation in the womb are more likely to develop dyslexia.
32. Dyslexia is a biological dysfunction present from birth.
41. The dysle xic individual is born with dyslexic tendencies due to differe nces in brain structure and/or functio n.
58. Brain sca n studies show that dyslexics brains work differently from those of non-dyslexics.
1. People ca nnot help being dyslexic—it is in thei r g enetic make -u p.
51. Dyslexia is a specific bra i n weakness; a genetically-based, neurological difficulty with sound awareness and processing skills.
56. Dyslexia is caused by inherited, faulty genes with evidence coming from studies of tw ins.
Prevention 2. Parents should ensure they have learning aids (e.g. dictionaries) in the house to prevent dyslexia.
4. It is essent ial that primary school children are ta ug ht how to use a dictionary to prevent dyslexia.
17. Teaching children foreign languages from an early age would improve literacy in their native language and prevent dys lex ia.
6. Spending 1 00 hours with a dictionary and an English teach would eradicat e dyslexia in every British child.
11. Curing dyslexia must sta rt with educating the parents if it is to have long-term benefits.
28. Practising grammar and vocabulary in the home every evening would improve dyslexia at any age.
37. Dyslexia can be cure by intensive and special training.
62. Dyslexia can be cured or helped by techniques such as special balancing exercises, fish-oils, glasses with tinted lenses, vision exercises,
modelling clay letters, and inner-ear-im proving medications.
20. Lazy, demotivated children are thought of as dyslexic mainly because they “ c ould not bother to learn to read”.
26. Few people are perfect spellers—the boundary between “dyslexia” and poor English is poorly defined.
35. Dyslexic symptoms range from mild to seve re.
36. Dyslexics usually have poor self-esteem.
40. Dyslexia is a difficulty wit h learning in some academic areas but not others.
46. Even with learn ing opportunities, dyslexic people still struggle more than others of the same age, grade and ability.
47. When reading is hard, dyslexic people read as much as others and this results in their learning new words and their meanings more slowly.
48. Dyslexic people often d o not read as much as others and this re sults in their learning new words and their meanings more slowly.
50. Dyslexics form a special and identifiable category of poor readers.
15. Teachers should receive training to detect dyslexics symptoms from the offset.
18. Companies should provide free courses for dyslexic employees to improve staff literacy.
21. Every dyslexic child in t he education system should get a personal coach.
22. Self-help groups/clubs in schools should be established where dyslexic children can help each other.
30. Widely advertised national help lines would help red uce any stigma attached to dysle xia, if not reduce some of the symptoms.
Stigma 7. Dyslexia comes with too much stigma to ever be completely cured.
38. Middle class parents cannot face the fact a child of theirs may have low intelligence and prefer to call it dyslexia.
Prevalence 24. More boys than girls are dyslexic.
53. The prevalence of dyslexia is estimated to be somewhere between 4% - 8% of the population in English-speaking c ountries.
61. Dyslexia can be found world-wide.
Diagnosis 54. Those who have been “professionally” diagnosed with as having Dyslexia nee d a special sort of lite racy instruction which is different from
that deemed suitable for ‘ordinary’ poor-education readers.
60. Dyslexia can be properly diagnosed by an educational psychologist using special tests.
8. Dyslexic people are sim ply of lower intelligence and efforts to prove otherw ise are a waste of the tax payer’s money.
10. Many dy slexics are extremely intelli gent individuals.
16. Dyslexia is a difficulty w ith l anguage, not being unintelligent.
45. Most dyslexic people show a t least average ability and intelligence.
42. When readi ng, dyslexic people often take longer to recognize a word they know.
43. Dyslexic people have more trouble sounding out a word or automatic ally remembering what sounds the letters make.
44. Dyslexic people have proble ms related to the a bility to notice, remember, pronounce, identify and manipula te the sounds of the language.
49. Dyslexics do not easily l earn various aspects of language and they often have a hard time learning vocabulary and understanding language
concepts as they go through school.
Misc: 3, 9, 12, 19, 23, 25, 27, 31, 33, 34, 39, 52, 55, 57, 59.
believe that not possessing and utilising a dictionary causes
In the final regression analysis, the model contained partici-
pant age, ethnicity, educational attainment, political orientation,
previous history of dyslexia and knowledge of an acquaintance
with dyslexia and attitudes towards prevention of dyslexia as
the criterion variable. Results showed that knowing someone
with dyslexia was the only significant predictor (β = 0.318, t =
5.83, p < 0.001). A significant model emerged: F (6, 309) =
6.62, p < 0.01 and the model explained 11.4% of the variance
(Adjusted R2 = 0.097) in attitudes towards treatments of dys-
lexia. Results suggest that knowing people with dyslexia pre-
dicts attitudes towards the various prevention programmes avai-
lable for dyslexia.
The aim of this study was to investigate lay theories of dys-
lexia. The present findings suggest a clear pattern of lay atti-
tudes towards various aspects the characteristics, causes, pre-
vention and treatment of dyslexia in the UK. The five factors
revealed via factor analysis lend some support to the argument
that research questions about lay theories seem to be concerned
with etiology, structure, relationships, function, stability and
behavior consequences (Furnham, 1988). Finally, supporting
Gwernan-Jones and Burden (2009), the findings attest to the lay
belief that individuals with dyslexia can be helped with special-
ist learning. In addition, attempts to ascertain demographics that
predict attitudes successfully returned consistent predictors of
dyslexia-related attitudes. This supports previous studies that
have shown clear links between lay theories and various demo-
graphic variables (Clark & Binks, 1996), including ethnic
background (Hall & Tucker, 1985) and prior knowledge (Arn,
Ottosom, & Perris, 1971).
The finding that participants generally considered the char-
acteristics of dyslexia to be a learning disability characterized
by problems with words and language suggests that participants
had a modest awareness of what constitutes clinically diag-
nosed dyslexia. Regression analyses revealed that participant
political orientation was the sole predictor of this finding.
Specifically, participants self-reporting right wing political
ideology were more likely to consider dyslexia a learning dis-
ability characterized by poor reading, difficulty with learning
new words and phonology.
Over the last fifty years there has been a greater awareness
and understanding of dyslexia, made possible by research ad-
vances, media portrayal and social taboos. Whilst academic
debate continues over the term “dyslexia” and its usefulness in
explaining developmental language-related difficulties (e.g.
Kerr, 2001), the present findings suggest that people are gener-
ally well informed of its constituent symptoms. Movement
away from descriptive labels in the 1960’s, including the
“mentally retarded” used to explain the failings of the lower
classes and the less stigmatizing “learning difficulties” to ex-
plain that of the middle classes, clearly highlights awareness
and understanding advancements of what is currently recog-
nized as “dyslexia”.
The finding that participants disagreed with or at most were
unsure of the neuro-biological causes of dyslexia, including
brain abnormalities, suggests a general ignorance to scientific
research evidence documented over recent years. On the other
hand, the majority of participants believed that dyslexia is, at
least in part, genetic and found across the world. Thus, partici-
pants were generally open to other explanations for the cause of
dyslexia insofar that they believe it to be a heritable condition
however the negative attitudes towards neurobiological causes
of dyslexia suggests that participants were less open to dyslexia
being a complex mu lt i-causally determined disability.
Regression analyses revealed that political orientation and
knowing other people with dyslexia were the significant pre-
dictors of such attitudes. Specifically, participants self-reporting
left wing political ideology and who knew of at least one per-
son with dyslexia were less likely to endorse the biological
origins of dyslexia. This result is surprising and does not lend
support to previous lay theories research on psychiatric disor-
ders, suggesting that having friends with psychiatric disorders
results in more positive attitudes and greater understanding of
their etiology (Furnham, 2009). One finding that participants
were generally unsure or at most disagreed with prevention
methods for dyslexia suggests a lack of detailed understanding
in the participants what such measures entail and their value.
Regression analyses revealed that knowing people with dys-
lexia resulted in more scepticism over the usefulness of prac-
ticing grammar, specialist training or educating the parents. It is
likely that by knowing people with dyslexia participants would
have firsthand experience of the disability and its potential
severity, thus questioning whether they would have prevented
language problems from the offset.
In terms of limitations, the authors acknowledge that whilst
the present findings attest to the variability in attitudes towards
and knowledge of dyslexia, the sample tested were predomi-
nantly well-educated, middle class, young people and thus cau-
tion must be exercised when extrapolating the present findings
to other age groups. Thus, the study used a convenience rather
than representative sample. It is possible that lay theories of an
older or working class sample would include more myths than
facts of dyslexia. In addition, the dyslexia dimensions identified
in the present study are, to some extent, inter-related, inter-
dependent and not mutually exclusive. There are indeed other
myths that this study did not assess and it may have been ad-
visable to look at myths with various features of dyslexia such
as occurance, diagnosis, aetiology, treatment etc. Future re-
search should replicate this study to clarify whether the dimen-
sions are related or whether the present results are in fact attrib-
utable to methodological limitations. Revision of the question-
naire may also be warranted with items both added and re-
Taken together, the present results suggest that lay people
show modest curiosity and understanding but also ignorance
and naivety with regard to the multifaceted learning disorder of
dyslexia. They suggest that educational programs are required
to improve learning difficulties literacy in relation to dyslexia
among the general public, teachers and parents. Schools may be
particularly encouraged to do this. Given the potential implica-
tions for stigmatization, childhood development and career
success, it is paramount that perceptions of dyslexia in a literate
country continues to be worthy of research attention.
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