Schools to begin testing five-year-olds for dyslexia

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The Independent Online
All five-year-olds could eventually be tested for dyslexia under a new scheme being tried out by 10 local authorities.Hampshire will begin using it in its infant schools from next year and the British Dyslexia Association has called for its introduction nationwide.

Computer tests developed at Hull University in conjunction with Humberside County Council will allow the problem to be identified much earlier than in the past. Previously the condition has rarely been discovered before the age of seven, when reading problems become obvious, and it can go undiagnosed for years. Hampshire is facing legal action from Mark Christmas, a 21-year-old whose dyslexia was not diagnosed until he was 11.

The new tests work by assessing children's visual, verbal and memory skills as they play games, and are easy for teachers to use. They reveal how well a pupil has done in comparison to norms. The British Dyslexia Association is to run trials of the tests in six areas while Bradford, Suffolk and Humberside are also using them.

As many as one in 10 children are believed to suffer from dyslexia, and Hampshire has put aside pounds 100,000 for its project, which will cover eight infant schools from this September and others 12 months later. Children who are identified as dyslexic will then be treated using a programme devised by education advisers. This will concentrate on helping them make connections between sounds and symbols and to hear sounds within words.

Pauline Benote, Hampshire's senior teaching adviser for learning difficulties, said that in this way children's difficulties could be tackled before they became disillusioned with education. "Our aim is to try and identify the child before he or she experiences a sense of failure, loses self- esteem and becomes disinterested in reading."

It is hoped that the tests will identify problems before they have become entrenched, and ease dyslexic children's progress. The British Dyslexia Association has received funding from British Telecom to try out the tests in six areas. These include Islington, in north London, and education authorities in the North-east, Wales and the Midlands.

A spokeswoman said the association would like to see tests introduced nationally. "If children are tested early they can be caught early and proper techniques can be used to treat their dyslexia," she said.

Five facts about dyslexia

n Dyslexics often have a high IQ and a low reading age.

n Some estimates suggest one child in 10 is a sufferer.

n It is thought to be hereditary and boys tend to be more severely affected than girls.

n Recent research in the US has shown anatomical differences in the brains of dyslexics.

n Dyslexics also have problems with co-ordination, organisation, memory and concentration.

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