Intervene early with dyslexia
SH O R T L Y A F T E R my son Alex was born 10 years ago it became clear t h a t h e w a s a very bright boy. Of course I cannot claim to be unbiased but at 10 months he was saying his first words and by 18 months he was speaking fluently. Obviously, by this stage his mother and I were investigating which Cambridge college would cater for his massive intellect. Meanwhile, Alex would stage elaborate scientific experiments involving toys and large amounts of water (followed by considerable mopping up and, on one occasion, a plumber — but all in the cause of educating our tiny genius).
Soon Alex was at school. His teacher said he was inquisitive and clever but had trouble recognising letters. We were not unduly alarmed. But at six, he seemed not to have progressed. He could identify half of the letters of the alphabet in a patchy way. He was very confused between p, b, d and between f, l and j. I would painstakingly sound out c-a-t with him and ask what it meant. I gave him a clue — “It’s a furry pet” . “Oh, is it dog?” he replied.
Fifty years ago, despite his skill with numbers and his ability to displace water, Alex would have been labelled educationally backward. Thankfully schooling has changed. Teachers informed us that Alex was probably severely dyslexic, although an official diagnosis could not be made until he was seven. Obviously we did not want to wait. We found tutors who catered for dyslexic children and Alex started to attend sessions. At first he found the repetitive exercises tedious and tiring. He was given words to separate verbally into syllables; he had to locate patterns of letters in a sequence. He traced the outlines of letters to imprint the shapes on his brain. His reading books used dyslexia-friendly fonts and content.
Alex was also dyspraxic, which affected his writing. The school co-operated with us and the local education authority to ensure he was given a statement entitling him to one-to-one help at school and the use of a laptop — a vital tool with which to express himself as until about a year ago even the Bletchley Park team would have had difficulty in decoding his handwriting.
Three years on, Alex is reading slightly beyond his age and his comprehension skills are those of a 12-year-old. On the last day of term his class was allowed to watch a film — but he decided to sit at the back and read. As we drove home he told me he intended to finish the book as soon as he got in. From worrying if he would ever read, now I just worry if he is getting enough fresh air.