THE number of children being diagnosed with dyslexia is constantly on the increase. It is estimated that about four per cent of the UK's population now suffers from the condition, leading to a host of new measures being brought in to schools and colleges to help pupils cope.

However, a leading professor has made a controversial claim that dyslexia doesn't in fact exist and says the condition is a label used by middle-class parents who do not want their children to be seen as low achievers.

Professor Julian Elliott, an educational psychologist at Durham University, said he had found no evidence to identify dyslexia as a medical condition after more than 30 years of research.

"There is a huge stigma attached to low intelligence," he said. "After years of working with parents I have seen how they don't want their child to be considered lazy or thick.

"If they get called this medically diagnosed term, dyslexic, then it is a signal to all that it's not to do with intelligence."

But Worcestershire campaigners and dyslexia sufferers have rubbished the claims saying that the condition is a "very real problem".

Caroline Needham, of Cutnall Green, near Droitwich, has two sons who are both dyslexic.

"Both are highly intelligent," she said. "But they have problems processing the written word. It is ridiculous to claim dyslexia doesn't exist when it is clearly evident."

Mrs Needham's eldest son, Bob, aged 17, first showed signs of dyslexia at the age of five when he was first learning to read.

"He would get very frustrated that when he was reading he would forget words that he had learned just moments before," she said.

"At that time we didn't know much about dyslexia and it wasn't until our middle son James, who is now 15, started to learn to read that we noticed something was wrong."

Mrs Needham said she paid for a private assessment which found Bob, who has since achieved nine A-grade GCSEs and is now studying for four A-levels at Worcester Sixth Form College, was dyslexic.

"We were then able to get the proper help and support to help Bob achieve his full potential," she said. It was after her experience dealing with Bob's dyslexia that she noticed similar symptoms in her youngest son, 11-year-old Sam.

"He was having trouble learning to read but, because he was not below average, like Bob, it was difficult to get the school to recognise he had dyslexia," Mrs Needham said. "Again, we paid for a private assessment which found Sam was also dyslexic."

Mrs Needham said both boys had received additional help from Hereford and Worcester Dyslexia Association, which runs special workshops.

Jim Smith, 36, from Chestnut Street in Worcester's Arboretum, was diagnosed with dyslexia late in life, but went on to achieve a BA in English literature and an MA in creative writing.

"It is outrageous to say that dyslexia doesn't exist," he said. "Dyslexia is a very real problem for many people but it in no way means someone is not intelligent. Some of the world's most famously intelligent people were dyslexic.

"This professor must just be seeking publicity. He can't possibly believe the condition isn't real with all the evidence that is available."

Marion Griffiths, from Worcester, is the author of the best-selling guide Study Skills And Dyslexia In The Secondary School. She agreed with Mr Smith.

"Studies into dyslexia show that sufferers may have literacy problems but they are by no means low achievers or thick. They often have tremendous strengths or talents in other areas.

"I am astonished that this professor could say it doesn't exist."

Early signs that a child is dyslexic can include confusion between directional words like up/down, in/out and difficulty with sequences such as days of the week or numbers.

As more becomes known about the condition, the number of people diagnosed increases. Surely if someone has a problem with any aspect of learning it is important to identify ways of dealing with it positively, rather than just branding someone thick' or stupid'.

No matter what the condition is called, it seems evident that this problem really does exist.