Article in The Daily Mail
05/11/10. Journalist: Sarah Stacey
"Lazy", "wilfully disobedient", "thick", "badly behaved", "no support at home" – these are typical of the comments that youngsters with dyslexia and dyspraxia often have hurled at them by classmates and teachers. Both conditions are categorised as learning disabilities. Dyslexia leads to difficulties with reading and (in consequence) learning, and is thought to affect between five and 17 per cent of the population; with dyspraxia, the brain has a problem processing information, so messages of all kinds are not accurately or fully transmitted. But these conditions tend to inhabit very bright brains. Susan, whose son James, now 17, is dyspraxic, says, "These are often incredibly intelligent children; they're fed up because they can't understand why they can't get what they know down on paper."
After struggling through GCSEs with reasonable grades, James came unstuck in spring this year when he was revising for AS-levels in politics, economics and history. "These children have no ability to sort and prioritise information – it's chaos in their brains, as if there's a neurological missing link," says Susan. Although many schools are supportive, most teachers don't really understand how to deal with them. "People would ask if I'd tried writing a revision plan with James. Well, that's the easy bit. Getting him to stick to it, showing him how to organise his time and getting thoughts out of his brain-swamp to then write them down in his slow and laborious handwriting was very frustrating."
As exams loomed, the tension mounted. "There were huge rows, lots of stomping around and black looks. People would say, "You're just not strict enough with him, are you dear?" Then in April, two months before the exams, the situation changed dramatically. James's father read an article by journalist Caroline Scott, mother of Felix, also 17 and dyslexic/dyspraxic, who'd been helped by an online tutoring and mentoring service called The Tutor Crowd, which had been developed by qualified teacher Patrick Wilson, himself dyslexic, specifically to help these teenagers to pass exams.
It was clear to Susan that Patrick understood the problem. "He passed us to a coordinator who became James's revision mentor and his contact for organising tutors. They communicated in a virtual classroom via Skype, and set up a daily roundup of revision. We did it just for politics, and it certainly helped to keep him on track." As much as anything, Susan says, it was a relief for her: "I felt less impotent and calmer, too, as did James."
The school predicted James a D/E grade for politics. Despite the short tuition time, he achieved a good C, borderline B. "It was marvellous," says his mother. He's now resitting economics and history, and his parents have decided to invest in further tutoring with The Tutor Crowd. "It's not cheap [£30 an hour], it may not suit everyone but we've been very pleased with it." So too is Caroline, whose son Felix – with the help of The Tutor Crowd – is now taking A-levels: "We never thought he'd be able to. Patrick's method is different from other tutoring; he understands how to harness the disarray in their brains, and tutors them hard on how to provide the right answers. It's difficult at the start but after six months, it's a part of our routine. It's not a miracle, and the effort from Felix and everyone else has been huge. Felix used to rail at Patrick, saying, "I just can't do it." Patrick told him: "I did it. You can too. Just do what I say." I was sceptical, but for Felix, this approach really helps."