Alastair's Battle

7th June 1996 at 01:00
The COPS test might have spared the Duncan family years of frustration and wasted opportunity. Two years after staff at 10-year-old Alastair Duncan's first school first noticed a large gap between his intelligence and his reading ability, his parents are still battling for appropriate teaching for their dyslexic son.

He has now been assessed byseven different people, using eight tests. While most show that he has a poor memory and difficulty with auditory and visual sequencing, which is typical for dyslexics, the local authority psychologist says that Alastair has no problems with short-term memory and that there areno psychological reasons for hisreading difficulties.

Julia Duncan finds it difficultto recognise her son from the local authority assessment. "At 6pm he'll ask if it's time for lunch," she said. "Whenhe wakes up in the morning, he doesn't know what day it is or what he needsto take to school with him."

Ever since he started school, Alastair's parents had been aware that he was struggling with reading."He used to forget to bring his book home, or he'd refuse to read more than a page," recalls Mrs Duncan.

The Duncans paid Pounds 225 for a full private assessment by an educational psychologist. This showed that although Alastair was in the top 7 per cent of his age group in intelligence, his reading age was 17 months behind and his spelling 26 months behind.

The psychologist also suggested that he could be suffering from depression. She recommended up to three hours of multi-sensory teaching a week.

At home, his frustration was beginning to show in aggressive behaviour towards his younger sisters. Despite the hourly session of specialised help provided by the local authority, Alastair began to suffer from insomnia and became increasingly reluctant to go to school. A consultant paediatrician concluded his sleeplessness was aresult of his problems at school.

So far, the authority seems to have brushed aside the implications ofboth the paediatric and psychological assessments. The specialised help has been discontinued.

The county's learning support team has told the Duncans that Alastair can't receive specialised help again unless his reading age falls more than two years behind his chronological age.

Mr and Mrs Duncan are nowawaiting the results of their appeal against the LEA's decision not to carry out a statutory assessment on Alastair.

"The lack of an accurate test for young children puts the onus on the parents to prove their child is dyslexic, and you need exceptional determination and considerable knowledge to do that," said Julia Duncan.

Mrs Duncan rejects the idea that "labelling" could damage a young child. "It's a relief to know what's wrong. Alastair's behaviour actually improved after we told him. And it's helped usto understand him - you can start to get impatient if you can't see why a childis always disorganised and forgets a word he has already seen several times on the previous page. We were tired of being told, "He's not the worst," or "It's immaturity. He'll grow out of it."

Sadly, from the Duncans' pointof view, the Code of Practice which was referred to in the 1993 Education Act is failing, even though it was designed to help parents by increasing their involvement. "It is difficult for schoolsto follow the Code of Practice because they don't have the money to implement it, " said Mrs Duncan.

"Local Management of Schools means that it is in a school's interest to pass the buck onto the next school. If the LEA were responsible from the start, they might take the view that prompt action would save them money later."

She is hoping that COPS will be available for her five-year-old daughter, who is already showing signs of dyslexia.

* Information on COPS from Chameleon Educational, Fiskerton Manor, Fiskerton, Southwell,Notts, NG25 OUH.

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