Thousands of children are being misdiagnosed as having special needs while suffering from glue ear, according to a study, writes Dorothy Lepkowska.
It found that the symptoms of the illness, which causes dulled hearing, are often mistaken for dyslexia or other learning difficulties. An estimated seven out of 10 children have had the condition by the time they reach the age of four, but it can continue to affect them sporadically until adulthood.
Psychologist Dr Lindsay Peer said symptoms such as poor communication and literacy skills, particularly in spelling, a lack of concentration and behaviour problems due to frustration at not being able to hear properly were often thought to be due to a special educational need.
Of the 1,000 people who had already been diagnosed as dyslexic, studied by Dr Peer, 703 were also found to have suffered from glue ear at some point in their lives. "Some children get it just once, but for others it is a recurring problem," she said. "Specialists in ear, nose and throat problems say that it can appear from as young as nine months, so it can affect speech development and the processing of sounds as the child develops.
"The condition can carry with it a specific inability to hear soft sounds.
For example, in a word such as 'sometimes', where the 'm' is soft, the pupil does not hear it and so will have problems spelling it correctly.
"Glue ear can create a series of problems which mimic dyslexia. There needs to be more communication between GPs and health visitors, parents and teachers so that everyone is aware that this can seriously affect the way a child learns."
Children may experience school phobia and behaviour problems, as well as feelings of stress and anxiety, because they are unable to follow lessons or don't know what is expected of them in the classroom.
Dr Peer, who has spoken to officials from the Department for Education and Skills about the need for greater awareness of the condition, added: "The Government needs to do more to inform parents and schools of long-term effects. Medics are not forwarding information to schools and parents.
There is a total lack of communication.
"The person who suffers is the child, both academically and emotionally, and the taxpayer, who has to fund years of special needs support, which could have been prevented, or is unnecessary."