The year 1896 marks the beginning of research into developmental dyslexia, when W. P. Morgan, an English ophthalmologist, published in the British Medical Journal a description of the first case of reading disability in a 14-year-old boy with normal intellectual development. Percy – for that was the boy’s name – was bright, intelligent, agile and in no way inferior to his peers.

“He had great difficulty […] in mastering the art of reading […]. Written or printed words seemed not to reach the boy’s consciousness at all, and only when read aloud did they acquire meaning for him. It is possible that this disorder is congenital”.

Morgan referred to the difficulties observed in the 14-year-old as ‘congenital word blindness’ (ibid). From the first publication on dyslexia in 1896 to the 1917 monograph by J. Hinshelwood’s Congenital Word-Blindness, the first period in the history of dyslexia research lasted. This was a time of identifying and recording the symptoms of dyslexia in the form of publications that included case reports, which contributed greatly to the identification of specific reading and writing difficulties in children as a nozological unit.

In the second period, which lasted from the First to the Second World War, research moved from Europe to the United States. The focus then was on the root causes of dyslexia, the so-called aetiology. In 1925, the American physician S. T. Orton drew the attention of neuropathologists and psychiatrists to the fact that even children with no detectable signs of brain damage or defects have serious problems learning to read and write. S. T. Orton is recognised as a pioneer of dyslexia research. He also became the inspiration and co-developer of the first pedagogical therapy programmes in cases of specific learning difficulties in reading and writing.

A third period of dyslexia research dates from the Second World War. It is dominated by research into the direct causes (so-called pathomechanisms) of dyslexia. Systems of therapeutic support and care are intensively developed.

Interdisciplinary cooperation between representatives of different scientific disciplines has resulted in a common position, assuming a polyetiology and multiple pathomechanisms of dyslexia. Unanimity has also been achieved in terms of terminology.

The most common term for specific learning difficulties in reading and writing is developmental dyslexia. Only in German-speaking countries is the term legastenia used.


    * Artykuł napisany na podstawie monografii Anny Szkolak-Stępień pt. Nauczyciele wczesnej edukacji wobec problemu diagnozowania specyficznych trudności w uczeniu się (2017)