1920 – 1949: Foundation of Understanding & Birth of an Organization
Samuel T. Orton, M.D.
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) is the oldest organization dedicated to the study and treatment of dyslexia. It is also committed to providing complete information and services to address the full scope of dyslexia and related reading and writing challenges. The IDA was born in the 1920s with direct roots to Dr. Samuel T. Orton’s pioneering studies in the field of reading research and multisensory teaching. In 1949, after Dr. Orton’s death, June Orton, Dr. Orton’s wife and colleague, formalized the Orton Society to continue this important work, train teachers and publish instructional materials.
1950 – 1979: Centering a National Debate
During the postwar period, the Progressive Education movement gained increasing influence and began to shape educators’ views on the nature of reading instruction. As the debates heated up, the IDA adopted an ideologically neutral stance, preferring to focus instead, on research. The public debate reached a heightened pitch in 1955 when Rudolf Flesch published, Why Johnny Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It, a critique of the then popular practice of teaching reading by sight, otherwise known as the “look-say” method.
Jeanne S. Chall, Ph.D.
In 1961 the Carnegie Corporation of New York called on renowned researcher, IDA standard bearer, and Samuel T. Orton Award winner, Dr. Jeanne Chall, Director of the Reading Laboratory and Professor of Education at Harvard University, to review the controversy. In her landmark book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate, published in 1967, Chall found methodology rather than ideology was of paramount importance, especially for children of lower socioeconomic status. As Dr. Orton and Anna Gillingham described many years earlier, for a beginning reader, knowledge of letters and sounds had more influence on reading achievement than the child’s tested mental ability or IQ.
1980 – 1999: Research, Ideological Neutrality, IDA’s Definition of Dyslexia
Norman Geschwind, MD
In 1982, The Orton Society changed its name to The Orton Dyslexia Society, which reflected the growing acceptance of the term “dyslexia.” Respected neurologist, professor, and IDA board member Norman Geschwind, MD, published ”Why Orton was Right,” in the 1982 Annals of Dyslexia, Vol. XXXII; in addition to reminding his readers of all the ways Dr. Orton was right, he suggested there may be possible advantages to dyslexia. Dr. Geschwind’s strong interest in the relationship between brain anatomy and behavior was a major force leading to the IDA’s Neuroanatomy Study.
IDA Continues to Support Evidence-based Reading Approaches
Remaining true to its research-based origins, the IDA helped center national dialog while purposefully avoiding firebrand rhetoric. The IDA’s focus remained, as it always was, on supporting individuals with dyslexia. Meanwhile, in the educational community, the debate sparked by Flesch in 1955 led to what the popular press called the “Reading Wars,” and, in turn, the Whole Language movement in the 1980’s. During this period, advocates for multisensory, evidence-based reading approaches were subjected to considerable scrutiny by spirited policy makers. Undeterred, IDA luminaries continued to provide a balanced scientific backdrop for a national dialog.
Definition Consensus Project: G. Emerson Dickman and G. Reid Lyon, PhD
In 1994, G. Emerson Dickman (IDA), led the Definition Consensus Project, with Reid Lyon (NICHD) and William Ellis (NCLD). Together, three organizations with the support of important thought-leaders developed the first widely accepted definition of dyslexia. For more information about this important milestone and the hard-working group that made it possible, click here.
To highlight this important milestone, our organization was renamed The International Dyslexia Association 1997.
2000 – Present: Dyslexia Defined and Structured Literacy in the Digital Age
In 2000, the National Reading Panel issued a landmark report focusing on the critical years of kindergarten through third grade reading skills. After reviewing more than 100,000 reading research studies that met demanding criteria, the panel analyzed the results of these studies and identified five skills critical for all beginning readers: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. The panel also suggested implications for classroom instruction and proven strategies for teaching these skills. The results of this study aligned with decades of IDA evidence-based research.
The definition of dyslexia continues to evolve to reflect knowledge born out of advanced brain research. In 2002, with sponsorship from the NICHD and the IDA, G. Emerson Dickman again convened a consensus group to update and expand the IDA’s 1994 definition. This definition currently serves as the foundation of many state laws.
Parent movements leveraging social media drive public policy and increasing demand for trained teachers. The IDA definition of dyslexia is being used in states across the U.S. to form the basis of public policy.
In the digital age, illiteracy is not an option; with a solid track record advocating for individuals with dyslexia, supplying foundational research, codification of the definition of dyslexia, and centering national debate, the IDA is focused on helping shape reading instruction in American classrooms.
In 2010, the IDA published its Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, which details the knowledge base required for skilled reading instruction for all teachers of reading. Programs that certify teachers of reading may differ in a number of ways, but they should ascribe to a common set of professional standards. IDA has defined evidence-based reading through our Knowledge and Practice Standards and given our approach a name, “Structured Literacy,” an explicit, systematic, multisensory approach that focuses on giving students the ability to decode the words they encounter when learning to read. Full literacy, intended for all readers, includes basic reading, spelling, written expression, vocabulary development and reading comprehension, all of which are encompassed in the term, “Structured Literacy.”
As part of this campaign, IDA has begun accrediting universities that prepare their graduates to teach reading in accordance with the Structured Literacy approach. More recently, IDA began work on a certification exam that will provide credentials to teachers who have the knowledge and experience to bring Structured Literacy to the classroom. Finally, IDA is working to share evidence of the effectiveness of Structured Literacy in improving reading skills and help school districts find and train teachers who can bring Structured Literacy into their classrooms.
Today IDA membership exceeds 10,000 teachers, other professionals, individuals with dyslexia, and parents. We have 42 branches in the U.S. and Canada and 24 Global Partners across the globe. Our annual international conference has grown to an exciting meeting of several thousand diverse participants from all corners of the globe. The mission of IDA continues to be the same as the mission embraced by the early Orton Society pioneers – seeking to study and treat dyslexia for the benefit of those with dyslexia and their families. In the words of two Orton Society pioneers, Margaret Byrd Rawson and Roger Saunders:
“Dyslexia: The differences are personal; the diagnosis is clinical; the treatment is educational; the understanding is scientific; and the Orton Dyslexia Society serves the united whole.” – Margaret Byrd Rawson and Roger Saunders ca. 1982