Why the deb doesn’t support the Dyslexia Foundation

Many of you may be wondering why we have added the Dyslexia Foundation to our not recommended list. The Dyslexia Foundation was started in 2006 to help children and help get dyslexia recognised in New Zealand. They made major steps in getting dyslexia recognised in particular, and have done many good things for dyslexics. We don’t want to take away the successes they achieved in the early years. They stood up when no one else would. 

The focus of the Dyslexia Foundation has been on gifts and strengths and how dyslexia is a “superpower.” Its other focus to date has been about accommodations, which they call “notice and adjust,” as well as building self-esteem and acceptance.

We are going to unpack a few concerns we have with their approach. 

Is Dyslexia a Gift?

Treating dyslexia like a gift doesn’t actually make it one, nor does it take away the issues dyslexia causes. Constantly implying that because you have dyslexia you can make rockets and go to space, you can be a famous singer, or you can be a movie star, can be harmful to kids because most kids will never have these opportunities or be able to live up to these unrealistic expectations – that’s a lot to place on a kid’s shoulders who is already struggling at school. A major obstacle in the way of their success, is their dyslexia not being addressed, sometimes it is even outright ignored. The evidence also does not support the claim that dyslexia is a gift. The odds are, if these people were born without dyslexia, they would still have achieved the same dream, but likely had an easier journey. Plus, some of the big names that are mentioned by the Dyslexia Foundation did in fact get access to an evidence-based approach as they were privileged enough to have the money to pay for it. 

Ask any child or adult if they want dyslexia and if they think it’s a gift. Their answer will be no. It’s time to accept and call dyslexia what it really is. It is a learning disability but with the right interventions and supports it doesn’t need to stop you being successful.

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as follows:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” 

Supporting Strengths

We are not saying we don’t support strengths, as parents we do that every day. All our kids have “superpowers.” It has nothing to do with dyslexia. When we promote dyslexia this way, we are not acknowledging or helping the weaknesses. It is important to work on the weaknesses to make them a strength. The weakness here is reading.

Notice and Adjust

“Notice and adjust” is the Dyslexia Foundation’s main statement and it’s all about accommodations. While we recognise they have a place, we only recommend them as an adjunct and as subordinate to using an evidence-based approach. Accommodations should not be a go-to, they are an add-on to an evidence-based approach being taught. 

If teachers have not been taught how to teach dyslexic children, then the only tool in their toolkit is accommodations. While accommodations (when used appropriately and with adequate training for both the teacher and the child), can assist with accessing some aspects of the curriculum, they do not help these kids learn how to read.  

We recommend educating teachers and parents on how dyslexics’ brains learn and then educating them in Structured Literacy to teach the children to read.


Anxiety and low self-esteem start in Year 1 when kids start to fall behind. Because they are not taught to read the way their brain learns, the self-doubt, bullying and anxiety start to build up. If we teach kids to read from day one, we can help eliminate anxiety and help prevent low self-esteem taking over. This is true for adults too – many don’t understand why they couldn’t read and that if taught how they learn, they can learn to read. We need to target the root of the problem, not the surface. Early assessment in Year 1 is crucial and intervention is key.

Dyslexics’ main issue/barrier is they have not been taught how to read the way their brain learns. The main issue is not self-esteem as stated by the Dyslexia Foundation. Poor self-esteem is a product of poor knowledge, understanding and teaching on how to help dyslexics. 

We also recommend seeing a professional, like a counsellor, who has relevant and genuine qualifications to work on self-esteem and anxiety issues over time – not a very expensive three-hour Neurol Coding programme that is full of quackery that is being promoted by the Dyslexia Foundation. Things that take years to build up often take just as long to breakdown. 

The reality is, whether they understand this or not, the Dyslexia Foundation is now part of the problem as to why children are not accessing evidence-based approaches. We don’t say this lightly and we don’t believe this is intentional. Their website openly supports the Davis Dyslexia Programme and offers their free screening assessment. We decided to take the assessment and it has a heavy sales pitch at the end saying they have a programme that can help with all the issues they have highlighted. 

To be honest, our biggest concern was the lack of knowledge of what dyslexia is. The free assessment clearly implied the main part of the problem is disorientation triggered by stress and confusion causing the person to have an inaccurate picture of their environment. They also say the most common issue for reading and spelling is dyslexics can’t get a visual picture of 217 words. No mention of decoding or phonological awareness. 

For your reference, the meaning of “disorientation” from the Oxford Dictionary is: “A condition of having lost one’s sense of direction or a state of mental confusion.” 

How does this relate to dyslexia?

Which leads us into the next part: nowhere on their website could we find any mention of Science of Reading, Structured Literacy, or The International Dyslexia Association. We did find sentences like what the Dyslexia Foundation believes dyslexia is, what they believe the biggest issue is, and what one man’s (a UK dyslexia “specialist’s”) opinion is. We learned so much about this man in two paragraphs.

Taken from the Dyslexia Foundation website:  

“At this point, the best approach – based on a ‘notice and adjust’ philosophy – is about teaching students to use their literacy skills in the best way they can. The proof that thinking is more important than reading? Weak readers who can think and who are valued for their intellect go on to achieve their potential. Strong readers who can’t think go nowhere.”

“Likewise phonics has a very important part to play, but should be approached holistically. This means synthetic phonics can be good, but analytical phonics can be equally as good, depending which the student responds to best. Bottom-line, what is good is the approach which best helps students to learn.”

This information is dangerous and wrong, and not because we say so, because all the robust and peer-reviewed research proves that it is. This includes the Rose Report done in the UK which tells us dyslexic children need to be taught explicitly using a systematic, synthetic phonics approach. This misinformation also highlights why there has been so much confusion over phonics in NZ. 

Their website also openly promotes Reading Recovery as an intervention for dyslexics – the Ministry of Education has now confirmed the best intervention for dyslexics is Structured Literacy not Reading Recovery. 

The Dyslexia Foundation’s website also openly supports NLP and TLP (Neurol Coding) which is classed as pseudoscience, and some countries have referred to it as being cult-like. Besides the fact it’s expensive, it won’t help your child learn to read, which is the underlying problem causing the low self-esteem.

They continue to promote the idea that dyslexics see in pictures; this is false. There is no evidence or research showing this to be true and, trust us, we looked and asked the experts in the field too. This is the Davis Dyslexia philosophy on what dyslexia is. 

This one really annoyed us: the businesses they have listed on their website are not evidence-based, and some even feed into the myth that dyslexia is a visual condition. These interventions they are promoting cost a lot of money, get no results and waste valuable time these kids don’t have. This money would be better spent on an evidence-based intervention such as Structured Literacy. 

Here are a few companies of concern listed on their website. None of these are evidence-based: 

  • Cellfield  
  • Davis Dyslexia Programme  
  • Danks Davis
  • A1 Arrowsmith
  • Irlen NZ 

We didn’t have time to investigate all the other companies and tutors, but the odds are neither have the Dyslexia Foundation. 

Our question to you is, if you hear the Foundation say on national TV that they support an evidence-based approach, then why wouldn’t you believe what they have listed on their page is evidence-based? The fact is parents and teachers are wasting thousands of dollars that would be better spent on evidence-based approaches. Worse still, the Foundation they trust is misinforming them. How can they say they support an evidence-based approach to teaching but list non-evidence-based companies and recommend non-evidence-based interventions to parents and schools? They also pass on incorrect information and don’t even mention the Science of Reading.

We couldn’t understand why a Foundation with the name Dyslexia in it has such a confusing and misguided website. We decided to dig a little deeper and discovered that out of the four trustees, two are Davis Dyslexia facilitators in New Zealand and the other two are and Guy and Suzanne Pope-Mayell, whose children went through the Davis Dyslexia Programme. We also discovered that both Suzanne and Guy have completed a course in Neurol Coding. We are not going to summarise this paragraph; we think it is very clear and you can work out what we are saying.  

So, in the end we had to take a stance on this – if the founder of the Dyslexia Evidence Based group doesn’t call them out, who will? 

We hope we have explained why the deb will not support the Dyslexia Foundation or allow any links to be posted from their website; the danger of being lead down the wrong path is too high a price for our children. 

It is really important that our members and any Ministry of Education members see what harm the Dyslexia Foundation are doing and how it prevents your child or student from accessing an evidence-based approach.

Sharon Scurr, Founder of the Dyslexia Evidence Based, 2021