Education: Once upon a time nobody noticed: Angela Thomae feels that her son's primary school let him down when it failed to realise that dyslexia lay behind his reading problems

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CHRISTOPHER was six and in his second year at primary school when I first started to worry about his reading. A bright and alert little boy, he loved me reading him stories and went to bed each night with his bed covered in a vast array of books. Yet he showed no interest in letters and seemed unable to remember even the simplest word staring from the page of his school- book, often a word he had read correctly just minutes earlier. It was enough to try most mums, and I was becoming less and less patient. I simply could not understand how he could be so lacking in concentration.

I spent the whole of that school year trotting in and out of the classroom to talk to his teacher, who put a lot of effort into thinking up little incentives to tempt Christopher to try harder. And Christopher did try harder, with the help of Wally stickers from his teacher and extra treats from me when he had finished one schoolbook and progressed to the next. But he still seemed to be taking one step forward only to take three back.

I engaged a private tutor to give him extra lessons. But two months later he had not moved forward. So why was he underachieving compared with his elder brother at the same age, and with some of his own friends?

Finally, I took him to see an optometrist, more to satisfy myself that there was nothing wrong with his eyesight. His problem was identified: Christopher was dyslexic. My immediate reaction was one of relief. Of course, I'd known all along that my son wasn't slow, stupid, dull, dim . . . but it was still reassuring to have it confirmed.

School had just broken up for the summer holidays, so Christopher started private lessons with a specially trained dyslexia teacher. Within a few weeks things started to fall into place. He suddenly began to take an interest in letters. He copied whole bubbles of words out of his Tintin books and waved the pages triumphantly at me. He began to read road signs when we were out in the car. The big breakthrough for me came when he read the title of a film from a poster in the sweet shop window. I felt that at last we were on the road to recovery, or at least on a road that made sense to him.

I feel Christopher's primary school let him down. Not because the staff did not care, but because they were not equipped to identify his difficulty. Unfortunately, this is one of the commonest complaints from parents of dyslexic children. My son was lucky. Although I knew nothing about dyslexia, his difficulty was identified early.

The British Dyslexia Association is targeting the importance of early identification of dyslexia this year. Jean Augur, the organisation's education director, says: 'If children whose reading development is erratic could be identified early, they could be put straight on to a structured multisensory programme and avoid the abysmal process of assessment at the age of nine or 10.'

Children of average or above-average intelligence will manage to bumble along - just about keeping up, never quite at the bottom of the class - and will usually first be identified when they have been at school for some years. Yet the early signs of dyslexia should have been apparent to any pre-school educator, health visitor, doctor, or nursery teacher with the awareness and training to recognise them.

Signs include being late in learning to speak, the use of jumbled phrases such as tebby-dare for teddy-bear, inability to remember the name for known objects, confusing directional words such as up/down and in/out, difficulty remembering nursery rhymes and putting shoes on the wrong feet. These can be found alongside enhanced creativity - often the child is good at drawing, has a good sense of colour, an aptitude for constructional or technical toys such as bricks, puzzles, Lego, computer keyboards, or for the television remote control. The result is that the child appears bright, but is an enigma.

The association would like to see a pre-school profile on children whose development is erratic, put together by pre-school educators. This would point out the difficulties the child might experience. Armed with that early warning, the teacher would be in a stronger position to monitor the child's development in the key stages of learning to read, write and spell, and quickly take steps to implement appropriate specialist teaching.

Literacy skills are more essential than they have ever been, yet too much is still being left to chance. Teacher-training colleges vary greatly in the emphasis they place upon dyslexia, and local education authorities too often place it at the bottom of their priorities.

No amount of remedial help by educational psychologists, specialist teachers and parents can match the benefits of early identification. Until that is widely recognised, and the resources made available to address it, parents will continue to criticise schools for failing their children, teachers will continue to feel under fire, and education authorities will continue to have to implement recovery programmes at considerable expense. And the child will always be the loser.

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