Dyslexia History – This All Started Much Earlier Than You Think

Dyslexia History starts before the term dyslexia was actually attached to a learning disability. It dates back to 1869 when Sir Francis Galton, a psychologist (and half cousin to Charles Darwin) began looking into the individual differences in children’s academic abilities.

Back in the time of Galton, neither Psychologists nor educators were investigating and making major contributions to the causes of childhood learning difficulties. They were thought to be caused by an underlying medical condition, so primarily it was the medical profession that took the dominant role in treating learning difficulties.

During Galton’s time (and for sometime thereafter) dyslexia, and other childhood learning difficulties that were similar, were often referred to as word blindness or strephosymbolia. Doctors and teachers alike did not understand the disorder. They often described children who had it as “feeble minded” or “partial imbeciles”. This was due to limited medical advances and not having the tests for dyslexia that are available today.

In 1878 Adolph Kussmaul, a German neurologist, began the first recorded investigation into people that suffered with reading difficulties. He was aiming at making a connection between adults with reading difficulties and neurological impairment. He found that many of his patients could not properly read and often would use words in a “wrong order”. He used the term word blindness to explain their difficulties.

Dyslexia history then moves on with an 1891 report in The Lancet medical journal by Dr. Dejerne. He was describing a brain injury one of his patients suffered after he was hit over the head by a crowbar. He wrote that the patient lost several language functions, including the ability to read. The result of this report was a general consensus that people with difficulty reading had most likely suffered brain damage or a brain injury.

By the 1930’s the term dyslexia began to appear more often in professional literature and then, in 1963, the Invalid Children’s Aid Association (ICAA) established the Word Blind Centre for Dyslexic Children in London. It allowed for specialized teaching for children that had been diagnosed with dyslexia. The Orton Dyslexia Society began in the US in 1967. The group’s main goal was raising public and political awareness and stressing the needs of dyslexic children.

It wasn’t until 1994 when the US Department of Education finally recognized dyslexia as a disorder or disability. Even when it was finally recognized, professionals would still use the term dyslexia in the same sentence as ‘specific learning difficulties’ showing that even the people that recognized it as a disability still held reservations about the designation.

In 1997 the Orton Dyslexia Society changed it’s name to the International Dyslexia Association due to the influence the association had beyond the borders of the USA.

Even with advances in medicine, it still took a while for the general teaching and medical fields to accept that learning difficulties were not necessarily brought on by a medical condition. In fact, it was not really until the 21st century that schools fully accepted the condition and began making accommodations for those that suffer from dyslexia. When you trace dyslexia history, it is easy to see that more attention and more research are still needed.