`His teachers thought he was being naughty'

Dyslexic children with high IQs need special help.
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The Independent Culture
ALEXANDER FALUDY is an extraordinary 15-year-old. He suffers from severe dyslexia, can write only two illegible words a minute and has the so-called "clumsy child syndrome", or dyspraxia. Despite this he has been awarded a place at Cambridge University to study theology and art history.

Had he been able to go to university in September he would have become the youngest undergraduate since William Pitt the Younger. But on Tuesday the Faludy family lost a High Court battle to force their local authority to fund the special help Alexander needs.

His parents, Andrew and Tanya, both English teachers, had asked Portsmouth City Council for between pounds 5,000 and pounds 10,000 a year to pay for one-to-one help and special equipment to enable their son to study for his degree.

However the presiding judge ruled that the local authority had no statutory obligation to fund special needs for anybody in higher education. Although the family say they are bitterly disappointed, they have pledged to continue campaigning.

Clearly, Alexander is remarkable. His phenomenal IQ, way off the normal scale, allowed him to dictate an analysis of Othello at eight and at nine he became the youngest person to pass an English GCSE.

But it is all too easy to dismiss this story as a one-off. It's so unusual to have someone brilliantly adept on the one hand and so inept on the other. Yet Alexander should not be dismissed as an educational "freak", because he is not alone.

When Corrine Pitman read about Alexander Faludy she realised that someone out there was experiencing the same difficulties and dilemmas as her own son.

For years Corrine and her husband Nick had struggled with their often frustrated but brilliant son Alec. At the age of seven he had an IQ of 144, but had difficulties cutting his food or writing a single sentence.

"We knew Alec was a bright child but had no real idea how clever he was," Corrine says. It was as though he missed out on the baby and toddler stage and went straight on to being a child."

When Alec enrolled at school the Pitmans thought nothing of him having difficulties with his work.

"When a child is five or six it's acceptable for them to have problems with writing and learning," Corrine says. "Only when they get older do the teachers think they are deliberately playing up if they don't progress. Because Alec had an inquisitive mind he used to ask a lot of questions. The teachers thought he was just being naughty and this opinion was confirmed as he got older, when they realised he couldn't manage his classwork."

Alec, like many unusually bright children, withdrew into himself. He stopped asking challenging questions and, his mother says, became depressed and lethargic and developed a nervous tic that needed medical treatment. Eventually his parents withdrew him from school and taught him at home.

"Obviously his teachers had never come across anyone like Alec before. One even said that they didn't know what to do with him. At that point we decided to take him to an educational psychologist, who said he had an IQ that put him in the top 0.2 per cent of the population. She also said Alec had dyslexic tendencies and attention deficit disorder."

During his eight months at home Alec's confidence returned, and his parents enrolled him into another school, this time in the state sector.

"His teachers were supportive but still they didn't understand his problems, and it is easy to see why. Because he is bright he can distract attention away from his own problems and pretend to be an ordinary Joe," Corrine says.

Unlike Alexander, Alec's intellectual capacity has been hampered by a difficulty in reading. He once described words on the page as misbehaving little ants which move around all the time. This leaves the 10-year-old in the strange situation of finding his schoolwork both too easy and too difficult.

"Alec excels in oral work. He's got a dictaphone and occasionally he will dictate his school work into it and give it to a friend to transcribe for him. But he can barely write more than a couple of sentences. The school recently allowed him to use a word processor which has helped him enormously," Corrine says.

The way forward for Alec may be with a computer rather than a pen, but for this gifted child saddled with special educational needs, his family admit that technology alone is not going to be enough.

"At the moment Alec is lucky if he gets half-an-hour special needs help a week. We don't want to take him out of school again because he has started to enjoy the social side of things. Unfortunately it is all a question of resources and red tape," his mother says.

Nothing Alec does is automatic. He has had to learn everything, from making a cup of tea to writing the letter E on a piece of paper. He can't cope with classroom pressure and the neuro-developmental delay from which he suffers can make him appear slow. Yet despite all his problems, he has the intellectual potential to do great things.

"Just because Alec has a high IQ it doesn't mean he is going to get on OK. We are certainly not going to put any pressures on him to do brilliant things, because he wouldn't be able to cope with that type of demand."

Like Alexander, Alec would benefit from full-time educational help to capitalise on his IQ, but the Pitmans do not want to push their gifted son down the academic path.

"We have to let Alec find his own levels," says Corrine. "It's no good our son having this brilliant brain if he is not comfortable about using it. I'm just relieved that the Faludy case has shed some light on our own predicament. If people accept that some children may be very bright but still have learning difficulties, it will save other families some of the heartache we've been through. There are other people like Alec out there. They just need the recognition."