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Rod Liddle

Dyslexia is meaningless. But don't worry – so is ADHD

How many illnesses of modern childhood are excuses for bad behaviour, stupidity or parental neurosis?

15 March 2014

9:00 AM

15 March 2014

9:00 AM

There is a beautiful symmetry to all things, I think, and probably related somehow to the concept of karma. Only two weeks ago, a bunch of researchers at Durham University came up with a report which insisted that dyslexia is a meaningless term. You and I know that, of course, but we dare not say so in public. For decades now dyslexia has been the crutch upon which middle-class parents support themselves when they discover that their children — Oliver, eight, and Poppy, ten — are actually denser than a ton of highly enriched uranium, contrary to their expectations. The fact that these kids cannot spell their own names is the consequence not of a magnificent, breathtaking stupidity, but is the result of a disease, or an affliction or an illness — something which does not reflect too badly upon the parents and which the state has a duty to combat and put right. ‘Poppy is such a brilliant, intelligent child,’ they will tell you, ‘it’s just that when it comes to words, she is stricken with this terrible disorder.’

Nope. Afraid not. She’s a dingbat who finds stuff like spelling ‘cat’ a bit on the taxing side; lower your expectations for the child. Given the appropriate parental support, she’ll end up stacking shelves in Waitrose, rather than Aldi (‘Remind me again, how do you spell hummus?’). Anyway, the team from Durham — that most middle-class of all universities, just to rub it in — suggested that the word ‘dyslexia’ be consigned to the history books. It is utterly meaningless. It is a pretentious word for ‘thick’.

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And then, this week, as if in the form of a riposte, an American neurologist stuck it to the working class. Dr Richard Saul, who has been investigating this area for many years, has come to the conclusion that ADHD is a meaningless term, too. Again, you and I both knew this instinctively, but even more so — even more than with dyslexia — we dare not say it. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the other crutch, the crutch which has been supporting working-class parents when their offspring — Jayden, ten, and Kayleigh-Anne, 12 — have stabbed several fellow pupils and two members of staff in their ghastly secondary school’s teacher support unit, where they have been placed for being perpetually vile. ‘Sorry about Latifah, she’s got ADHD,’ has become a familiar mantra whenever Latifah has done something truly appalling: not any more, not now. Latifah is just an unpleasant, over-indulged, half-witted brat with a crap diet: sort it out, quickly. Dr Saul believes the expensive and horrible drugs — such as Ritalin — with which these devil-monkeys are chemically restrained are more injurious than helpful. Give the kids a proper diet rather than drugs, he argues, try not to feed them an almost continuous supply of brown, deep-fried, fat-soaked, filth. And look after them properly — read them Auden and Eliot and get them working on Fermat’s last theorem. A refusal to pay attention is not a disease, not a medical condition — it’s a character flaw, and one which could be stamped out given the necessary willpower from the parents.

As I say, we probably knew this, deep inside our nasty little minds. Shall we go a little bit further, without the benefit of scientific research, just a bit of guesswork? Food allergies: balls. If you are over the age of 40, think about this: do you remember any kids being ‘coeliac’? Perhaps back then your classmates were secretly suffering and it’s simply that there was no medical terminology appropriate to their illness. No, I don’t think so. It’s a modern affliction, the consequence of over-indulgence and hyper-sensitivity to what the headstrong and idiotic child tells you it wants. I had a coeliac kid over for one of those unspeakable kiddy birthday parties not so long ago — everything had to be gluten-free, nut-free, lactose-free, according to its neurotic, mimsy halfwit of a parent. I gave it bread and peanut butter and a glass of milk and it was as happy as a sandboy. I’m not absolutely sure what a sandboy is, but either way, the child didn’t die or retch or collapse or erupt in boils. It was perfectly fine when it went home, although it wheezed a bit. Hell, I don’t know, maybe it died later, but I think I would have heard. My guess is that 98 per cent of children whose parents have, with the connivance of incredibly weary GPs, diagnosed some form of food intolerance for their charges, are nothing more than averse to eating proper food.

Shall we continue with this trope? We are getting into dangerous territory, believe me. Asthma? Doctors these days hand out the inhalers in the manner of a paedo with a bag of lemon bonbons. And then there are the multifarious conditions supposedly afflicting adults — such as fibromyalgia and that other thing, yuppie flu, or ME as they like to call it. The last time I wrote about this the police and the Press Complaints Commission got involved, so maybe for safety’s sake I should draw a line in the sand. Leave it for another day. The sufferers alleged that it was a hate crime to suggest — as most medical practitioners do, in private — that both ‘illnesses’ were rooted squarely in the noggin. Uh-oh, let’s draw a veil, I can see my inbox filling up already and the plod calling round.

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