Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Early testing helps

Monday August 4, 2008

Awareness up, but the ‘vast majority’ not getting treatment: Dyslexia group

Sheralyn Tay

WORDS made no sense to her and she grew up thinking she was slow and stupid. But Ms Wahida Remahl got the help she needed for her dyslexia when she was about eight-years-old, thanks to an alert teacher.

“I got lucky,” admits the 26-year-old, who was diagnosed in 1989, two years before the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) was founded and when the problem that impairs the ability to learn to read was not well recognised.

Ms Remahl, who now teaches dyslexic children, managed to do much better in school due to early intervention programmes.

But is Singapore still in danger of most dyslexic children not getting help?

According to the Ministry of Education, there are 2,000 students identified with dyslexia in mainstream schools from primary to junior college level; about half, the highest proportion ever, are enrolled in DAS programmes.

DAS believes, however, the “vast majority” of students who need help are not getting treatment. Going by international incidence rates, about 20,000 primary and secondary students, or about 4 per cent of the total enrolment, may have dyslexia that requires specialist intervention.

“It can be hard to pick up dyslexia here due to our bilingual culture, which masks the symptoms,” said Mr Roslan Saad, director of education programmes at DAS, as poor spelling and reading can be mistaken as poor English language skills.

In Singapore, where academic performance is key in deciding one’s future, more awareness must be done to raise the awareness of the problem and tackle it early, said Ms Remahl.

Early intervention is also needed given that there are no assessment tools for ages over 17. Many adults here have likely “missed the boat” — with their dyslexia undetected when they were young — and Mr Roslan estimates that some 147,000 have dyslexia severe enough to impact their lives.

This includes working slowly, having poor memory skills or difficulty planning, organising and managing time and tasks.

However, according to Dr Ng Kit Seng, director and chief psychologist at The Centre for Psychology, most children who exhibit severe dyslexia can be identified and receive help, while those with moderate or mild dyslexia do learn to cope and “outgrow” the problem.

It can be hard to pick up dyslexia here due to our bilingual culture, which masks the symptoms.
Mr Roslan Saad, Director of Education Programmes at DAS

The MOE has also been beefing up its capabilities, in addition to a 50-per-cent grant to needy families for early testing and intervention.

Since 2005, all teachers have had to complete a 12-hour module on special education. The MOE aims to have 10 per cent of all teaching staff in primary schools and 20 per cent in secondary schools trained in supporting pupils with special needs by 2012. To date, 1,125 teachers have undergone training while 47 special needs officers had successfully completed the DAS Diploma in Dyslexia as of last year.

Concessions, on a case-by-case basis, are also made for pupils with severe dyslexia, who may be exempted from taking Mother Tongue at national examinations such as the PSLE, or given extra time to do so.

According to Mr Saad, some progress has been made as there have been more parents bringing their children in for assessment. He said: “The number of direct referrals is a clear indicator that awareness is increasing.”

But gaps do remain. “The remaining challenge is to address children from families of lower socio-economic status because they tend to be unaware, ignore or underestimate the problem,” he said.
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