In­ter­vene early with dys­lexia

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY SIMONROUND A lap­top was a vi­tal tool to ex­press him­self

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.

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