Education quandary

'My son is seven and seems to be slow at reading. His teacher says that he is doing fine, but I think that he may be dyslexic. How can you tell, and how can I get the school to take it seriously?'
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The Independent Online

HILARY'S ADVICE

It may be that the teacher is right, and your son is doing fine. At this age, children progress at different rates, and it isn't unknown for anxious parents to be impatient about their children's achievements (and to grasp at the word "dyslexic" to explain their worries).

On the other hand, no one knows a child better than a watchful parent, and if you feel that something is not right, you are probably right and you must pursue it. Try to identify exactly what is worrying you. Does he mispronounce words, have trouble writing some letters, or run into difficulties with certain sounds? Does he muddle up left and right, find it hard to remember instructions, and struggle with fine motor skills such as holding a pencil or using scissors? And does his progress with reading and writing seem out of step with his development in other areas?

None of these things automatically signal dyslexia, but having a number of them can indicate problems. Read up on the condition, using the many excellent websites - The British Dyslexia Association (www.bda-dyslexia.org.uk) and the Dyslexia Institute (www.dyslexia-inst.org.uk) are good starting-points - and then, if you feel this is his problem, make an appointment to talk to his class teacher and explain why. Ask whether your son can be assessed by a special-needs expert in school, or by an educational psychologist, but be aware that the latter may take a long time to happen. The school may say that it doesn't think he needs it. If so, you have the right to ask the local education authority for an assessment, and to appeal if your request is turned down. Or you can pay for private assessment, although this will cost several hundred pounds, and the school will not be obliged to act on its findings.

For more support, contact a local dyslexia organisation (national organisations should be able to put you in touch with one) to find out about specialist teaching, or ways in which you can help a dyslexic child at home.

Whatever happens, try not to fall out with the school. It won't help your son in the long run. Instead, be patient but persistent. Go back again and again if you feel he needs help but isn't getting it.

READERS' ADVICE

First of all, you need to find out whether your fears about your son's reading are well founded. Ask the school to give your son a standardised, properly normed reading-test and report the results to you.

Getting someone to test your son's blending ability (linking sounds to form recognisable words) and segmenting ability (pulling apart sounds in words) is also a fairly good measure of a child's phonological processing aptitude - a key skill in learning to read.

If your son has fallen behind in his reading and spelling, ask the school what they are going to do about it, and using what method; how often, each week, extra help will be given; and how long it will take for him to catch up.

All the evidence indicates that children who have fallen behind in their reading do not catch up spontaneously, so if the school can't do the job, you need to find someone who can.

John Walker, Buckingham

You must get him the help he needs. My daughter was not diagnosed as dyslexic until she was in her early teens. All through primary school she battled with spelling and writing. We asked for extra help, but were told that she did not need it. It was only when one of her secondary- school teachers spotted how she was struggling that she was finally diagnosed. She will now get extra time in exams, and has also learned specific techniques to help her to organise information and remember things, but I feel guilty that we did not get this help for her earlier.

Louise Marcham, Devon

Schools fob off worried parents because, if a child has special needs, it means extra time and money, which they don't have. They would rather a child scrape along without any support, even if performing well below what they are capable of.

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

Our son, aged 14, has been doing quite badly at school. He has made a New Year's resolution to work harder, but we can already see that it isn't going to happen. He wants to do well, but he doesn't have a clue how to make it happen. His concentration and work habits are non-existent. What can we do?

Ros Mcguire, Lancashire

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 12 January, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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