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Research puts dyslexia tests on a new footing

A new screening method has children standing on one leg while they count and wobble. Karen Thornton reports

A SIMPLE test involving children standing on one leg and counting could be used to screen all pupils for dyslexia.

The test - which could be available from this autumn - can also distinguish between the specific learning difficulties associated with dyslexia and the "routine" problems of learning English as an additional language faced by bilingual children.

Initial research results suggest the test has a 90 per cent or better success rate in identifying children who are suffering from dyslexia - as opposed to those who are struggling with English, but do not have a specific learning difficulty.

The British Dyslexia Association estimates that between 6 and 10 per cent of the population is affected by the condition.

Undiagnosed "word blindness" can drive frustrated pupils to misbehave as they fall further behind their classmates in reading and writing.

The new test has been developed by Kathleen Kelly, head of sixth form at an Oldham special school, who has spent eight years working on the project as a masters and then doctoral research student at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Her work builds on previous research suggesting that dyslexic children may have problems with "automatic" tasks, such as balancing.

In a trial involving 210 11-year-olds, the test proved 98 per cent accurate in identifying pupils who were later found to have dyslexia problems, said Mrs Kelly, who was speaking at a BDA conference on dyslexia and bilingualism in Manchester last week.

The three-part test takes 10 minutes, and is effective with children aged from eight years.

A child's "wobble factor" is tested in a timed balancing test, and compared against the results of a second balancing test in which he or she also has to complete a counting task.

The counting task is individualised, to ensure the right amount of challenge is provided to take the child's mind off the effort of balancing.

A result indicating dyslexia should be the starting point for further investigation of a child's particular difficulties, as the test doesn't distinguish between mild and severe symptoms of the condition.

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