Doing well in school when you don’t speak the language is difficult enough. If you suffer from dyslexia, then the task is even tougher. French Entree has received a number of letters from parents who have found it almost impossible to get the help and support they need for their child’s dyslexia in France.
Traditionally, France has been behind the UK in support for dyslexic children. The good news is that this is changing. Today, there is a system for diagnosing dyslexia and the cost of the initial test is reimbursed, unlike in the UK where it must be taken privately. Some schools even allow portable computers that make it easier for a dyslexic child to work and take exams.
A good place to start when you need help is the charity APEDYS (Association des Parents d’Enfants Dyslexiques). It has a website in English, as well as an English-speaking contact to help with information and advice.
Marion Rondot, originally from Scotland, has lived in France for almost 20 years and is a fluent French speaker. With other parents, she set up APEDYS in the Languedoc when her son was diagnosed with dyslexia and she struggled to get the support she wanted. APEDYS is staffed by volunteers, all of whom are parents with dyslexic children.
When faced with dyslexia, the first step, says Marion, is getting your child assessed. If your child starts their schooling here, the possibility of dyslexia will be thrown up once they have had 18 months of learning and have started to read and write. ‘If your child is having problems and their eyesight and hearing is fine, then you need to go to your GP and ask for a referral for a Bilan de Langage,’ says Marion. ‘This is an assessment of language skills (in French) carried out by a language therapist that investigates a child’s vocabulary, how well they write and if they can speak clearly.’
If your child is considered to have a mild form of dyslexia, they will be allocated 30 half-hour weekly sessions of language therapy to help them reach the level for their age group. A session with parents will also be set up, explaining what the extra teaching aims to achieve and how parents can help their child cope better.
If your child is considered to have severe problems, they should – and if it does not happen, request that it does – be referred to a Centre Referent for further help and support. These are usually found in the bigger cities of France and have a neuro-psychologist, educational psychologist and special needs teacher. Here, your child will have an IQ test. ‘Which is a good thing,’ says Marion. ‘It is good for a child to know that they are not stupid; it helps their self-esteem.’
The problem, however, is that these centres often have a waiting time of up to a year, which is a long time for a child to struggle, unaided at school. ‘They will lose that year, and most likely be kept back a year at school,’ says Marion. It is here that APEDYS can help. ‘I have made phone calls to try and get a child seen to faster,’ says Marion.
If you arrive from the UK knowing that your child has dyslexia, Marion recommends you get a Bilan de Langage done and then take this to the school, along with any documentation from the UK. ‘Remember that a key person is the school doctor,’ she says. ‘Go and see him/her to explain that you are getting a Bilan de Langage done, but that in the meantime you would like some help. The doctor should see your child and then speak to the teacher.’
A child with dyslexia is entitled to extra time for exams, including the baccalaureate. For this to happen, you will need to show the school a medical certificate confirming that your child has dyslexia.
According to Marion, discovering that your child has dyslexia is just the beginning. “We are here to boost the courage of parents so they keep going to the school and insisting that their child is helped. Parents are not as welcome in French schools as they are in the UK so you have to be careful in the way you approach them. This is where we can help too – there is always a parent who has gone through a similar situation and knows what works best.’
If you child has dyslexia:
– Read to them and get them to read too – not just for practice but so they associate reading with enjoyment and not just struggle.
– Continue to discuss your child’s progress with the teacher. If you are well informed, you are more likely to be able to help.
– Get your child onto a computer and encourage them to write, even short letters. This will help their confidence in communicating.
– Together, do activities that help practice movement and rhythm, whether this be singing songs or riding bikes.
– Make sure your child does not become isolated: invite friends round to play and enrol them in extra-curricular activities that they enjoy.